Back when we lived in London, we used to make the odd journey on the famous red London buses. Our favourites were the routemasters (now sadly defunct) whose engines had a nice purring, but more often we ended up on the bendy 436.
When we weren’t looking out of the windows, we would occasionally spy adverts for the “Redeemed Church of God” (which always caused the Vicar to ponder whether we were part of the unredeemed Church), but we never did see any of those old-fashioned Gospel texts designed to strike fear into the heart of the average public transport user.
In the old days, the train companies used to get quite upset by these messages of doom appearing just as people boarded their services, but nowadays everyone just takes it for granted that you might get stabbed on the bus, and nobody minds very much.
The Vicar herself has been much-travelled these past couple of weeks – first to the Eternal City, and then to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, England’s Nazareth. No doubt she prepared to meet her God in both these holy places, but ironically it was back at home in sunny old Forton where she came closest to the pearly gates (or the other place; we wouldn’t wish to presume…).
No sooner was she back from Rome than she started to make noises like a consumptive sealion. As if that wasn’t enough to disturb our rest, by the end of the week she was complaining about being unable to breathe and doing some comedy falling-over, generally swooning into the arms of the nearest parishioner.
We refuse to believe that a week in the Vatican could have induced charismatic evangelical tendencies in the staunchly Anglo-Catholic Vicar, and can therefore only presume that she was not being slain in the spirit, but rather trying to recreate some of the heavenly experiences of her holiday. Of course, most of the week was spent in Comandini’s (buying six thousand rosaries) and Euroclero (chatting to Francesco and ordering… well, more of that another day).
But she and her travelling companion, the Holy Curate of Sheppey, did take some time to visit the real stars of the city: the gatti di Roma. They made the usual two pastoral visits to our friends in the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary, where they found several inhabitants sunning themselves on the ancient monuments.
The Vicar is a great fan of this wonderful sanctuary, which never gives up on a cat with even half a chance at life. This year an old gal called Somalia took an instant liking to the Vicar, and spent at least four hours curled up on her lap. Meanwhile the Curate of Sheppey was kept busy as Vittoria and Veronica used her back as a climbing frame. Both travelling priests delighted in the antics of three black and white kittens, who bounced around like atoms and reminded the Vicar of us when we first adopted her.
The unholy two also spent a happy afternoon in the Non-Catholic Cemetery next to the Pyramid of Caio Cestio, which houses one of Rome’s oldest feral cat colonies.
Deftly sidestepping the graves of such famous dead folks as Keats and Shelley, the intrepid travellers made straight for the cats who hang out amongst the gravestones, known poetically as the Guardians of the Departed.
Their guide for the afternoon was a charming boy they named Pierrot (though if they were being culturally accurate, it ought to have been Pedrolino), who gave them a leaflet and directed them along the paths to all the best 19th Century Puginesque monuments.
The Vicar, of course, had an ulterior motive for dragging her dear friend all the way across the cemetery on a baking hot day: she was off to find the final resting place of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian socialist and activist, who died in 1937 after ten years’ harsh treatment in Fascist-run prisons (and has a road named after him in the Vicar’s old stomping-ground of Bellingham).
It took a while, but eventually they located him (fittingly, perhaps, just down from the Russian section). The Vicar had neglected to bring flowers; but, borrowing a custom from Jewish tradition, she laid a stone on his grave.
Socialist tributes paid, and sacerdotal legs well bitten by Testaccio’s resident mosquitos, our friends were back on the bus winding its way through the Roman rush hour to the Piazza del Risorgimento, bus stop for the Vatican (the street-naming committee of SPQR definitely had an ironic sense of humour…).
There can’t be many pilgrims who go to see both Gramsci and Ratzinger, but the Vicar did. The Pope was kind enough to bless not only her and her many purchases, but also us and various other of our cat and dog friends. This we know because the Curate of Sheppey laminated a sign with our pictures on it to receive the Papal Benediction, and we entrusted her teddy (Mohammed Benedict) with its safe passage to Saint Peter’s Square and back:
The only great disappointment of the trip was that the voyagers never did manage to pay homage either to the head of S. Agnes or to the relics of S. Benedict Joseph Labre, the holiest hobo and one of Forton’s favourite Saints. This was mainly because the Vicar couldn’t remember where Benedict Joseph’s relics were, recalling only that they were in the Church of Santa Maria Something (which doesn’t exactly narrow it down amongst Rome’s seven million churches). Medals, statues and pictures of him weren’t in superabundance either (nor in Walsingham, where the Head Server’s best efforts to procure one resulted only in a picture of the Pope, who is called both Benedict and Joseph but is hardly the same thing).
The Vicar was all set to wander Rome’s streets in the Saint’s footsteps until she found him, but luckily she and the Curate of Sheppey happened upon this statue in the Spanish Church of S. James in the Piazza Navona:
The photo is rather grainy, but the Vicar had to take it illegally whilst the Curate of Sheppey created a diversion by coughing. Then they both had to buy a brochure and admire the spider plants adorning the high altar so as not to offend the man at the door.
So you see, what with the dangerous photo-taking, and the not breathing, and the leaping in and out of Roman traffic, you could forgive us for being a bit worried about the Vicar of late, even without those dreadful Protestant doom-laden Scripture posters. As it happens, though, just when the Trinitarian Bible Society seemed to have given up frightening the folks on the Camberwell omnibus, the atheists have stepped in with this little offering:
Hmm. Anyone remember this?
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30)
Far be it from us to paraphrase the Messiah, but we think this roughly translates as:
THERE’S A GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.