A Visit To The Pope
( Originally Published 1907 )
Pius X is the latest of that long line of Popes which reaches back to the reign of the Emperor Nero. Previous to the year 1903 he had been the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, one of the best-known and best-loved bishops of Italy, the friend of the poor, the peacemaker, the faithful pastor; but in that year he was chosen by the Cardinals of the Church to succeed Leo XIII, and to take up a great burden as Head of the Church. He passed from the government of a diocese to the government of an organization which must number two hundred and fifty millions of believers scattered over the world.
It is an easy and at the same time a difficult matter to get an audience with the Pope; easy, because it is part of his daily labor to receive pilgrims from all parts of the world; difficult because the regulating of the public and private reception of so great a multitude makes delay inevitable. Meanwhile, awaiting their billet of invitation to an audience, visitors em-ploy their leisure in seeing Rome, the new Rome seated on its seven hills ; the old Rome discovered in its ruins; mediaeval Rome, built up on the ruins of the old, and jostled by the new; and all three still washed by the yellow Tiber, beloved of Horace and his brother-poets, and nearly as disastrous in its floods to-day as in the ancient times. The grafting of the new modern city upon the ruins of the old is a curious and interesting process, and no less interesting is the establishment of the new kingdom on the ruins of the old Empire. This is the living, breathing interest which encircles modern Rome. Rome is a mysterious city, old in years but young in activity, struggling to be modern while clinging to the dead but glorious past. The new is very new, the modern very up-to-date, the dead past very dead. Cicero and Horace would weep hitter tears could they see the handful of ruins which make up the remnant of imperial Rome as it was in their day. This is the condition on the east side of the Tiber.
But now when we cross the Tiber to the Vatican hill we come upon a new order of things, to appreciate which one must get the locality clearly fixed in the mind, must know something of the history attached to it; above all one must get its atmosphere into the imagination, as it were, if the experience is to be fully enjoyed. As to the locality—St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace stand together on the west bank of the Tiber in the northwest part of the city. The territory in ancient times was used for the imperial gardens and for Nero's circus. In this circus Nero put to death barbarously hundreds of Christians, among them Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, who was crucified head downward. His body was buried by his disciples in this vicinity. The devotion of the Christians to the spot explains the growth of this district afterwards ; although outside the ancient city, and still re-moved from the modern city whose progress is towards the east and south, it remains the place of pilgrimage for the Christian world. Therefore the Popes erected upon it the great structures which have made it wonderful to all men.
You approach sacred territory as you cross the Bridge of San Angelo. In the city of Rome you may see the old and the new, the ancient and the modern, the dead Past and the living Present, but separated by the impassable gulf of time and essential unlikeness ; here you are to see the ancient and the new side by side, living, acting, for they are one. The rule of the Popes began in Rome when Claudius Tiberius was on the throne, and has continued without a break until this moment. Macaulay became enthusiastic in gazing upon this en-during kingdom which seemed to defy Time itself. He declared that he could see no reason why it should not still be in existence, fresh, elastic, vigorous, in that far-off age when some cultured visitor from New Zealand, sitting on a broken arch of London Bridge, should sketch the ruins of St. Paul's.
The government whose Head you are soon to visit is one of the most active in the present world. Its missionaries seek every nation, and are to-day on every shore. Age has not diminished its activity or its power. It is one of the strong forces of society, whose roots are in the first century and whose branches shadow the earth in this century. Here stands the external and material setting of a government which, in its first centuries, has seen all other governments perish, and which has stood at the cradle of all the modern governments.
Consult Map 1 and find in its lower right-hand corner the spot marked by a red figure with a red circle around it. That is where you are to stand when you take your first look at St. Peter's and the Vatican. It is on the top of a house. Two red lines reach out from this point towards the west; they mean that you will be looking towards the west, and that you will see the things that are set down on the map between these two lines. Notice that one line is shorter than the other. It ends up against the Vatican palace, and you will be able to see no further. The other line indicates by its greater length that you are to see farther off, and that you may have glimpses of other buildings beyond St. Peter's. You are to be looking full towards the west; and the city of Rome will be behind you and below you on your left. Before you will stand the most wonderful church in the world, St. Peter's.