Where There's Smoke, There's Ire; the Rite Stuff

Italy Grapples With a New Ban

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By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, JAN. 20, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Italians fumed all week over the no-smoking ban which went into effect Jan. 10.

Although the law prohibiting smoking in all public places was passed in 2003, the actual enforcement was postponed until 2005. Italian authorities considerately waited until the Christmas season was over, before imposing this New Year’s resolution on smokers.

Although probably a coincidence, enforcement day aptly fell on the day after the feast of the Baptism of Christ, emphasizing a new beginning for Italy’s 12 million to 14 million smokers.

The ban will bring Italy into the fold of the EU no-smoking policy. The fines range from 27.50 to 275 euros ($35 to $350) and are doubled if small children or pregnant women are present. Vatican City, on the other hand, has had a ban on smoking in Curial offices for years, lighting the way for laggard European nations.

In the country where operatic drama was invented, the event could not fail to provoke theatrical responses.

The melancholy melody was intoned in restaurants and bars, as Italians gave farewell dinners in their favorite establishments featuring menus from smoked salmon to smoked mozzarella.

Flashes of coloratura arias were provided by the eruption of Miss Italy and her gang of «smoke-busters» in nightclubs dousing the defiant with water pistols and toy extinguishers.

Anti-smoking associations patrolling the city in search of transgressors provided the chorus. A 22-year-old Neapolitan was the first to be burnt by their efforts — he was fined at 12:01 a.m.

A single booming baritone underscored the melodrama in the form of Jesuit Father Giuseppe della Rosa who published an article declaring smoking not only illegal but potentially sinful as it misuses the body as well as harming others through secondhand smoke. No reprise from the Holy See — the Catechism of the Catholic Church counsels against the excessive use of tobacco, but does not declare smoking sinful.

After such a theatrical night, it is perhaps understandable why many national newspapers dedicated up to the first four pages to the application of this law, relegating news of Palestinian elections to the back pages.

While in Italy smoking once was synonymous with glamour — Marcello Mastroianni and «La Dolce Vita» or the intellectual existential set — now it is at best the object of humor. The dressed-up gladiators, selling photographs with tourists, are more often photographed with cell phone and cigarette than with the mighty arcades of the Colosseum.

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Two Lungs, Liturgically

The Church celebrates the week spanning Jan. 18-25 as the octave of Christian Unity. In Rome, festivities included the unveiling of a new statue at St. Peter’s Basilica this past Wednesday.

The statue is of St. Gregory the Illuminator, patron saint of Armenia. The Pope was present at the unveiling shortly before the general audience. St. Peter’s also hosted an Armenian-rite Mass in commemoration of the event.

A smaller, lesser-known church also does its part in celebrating Unity Week. Santa Maria in Via Lata hosts an Eastern liturgy every night this week in a different rite.

Santa Maria in Via Lata sits on ancient foundations. The structures under the church date from the first century B.C. and are traditionally held to be the one of the places where St. Paul stayed in Rome. This perhaps plays a part in this church’s role toward Christian unity. Every day the nuns open the church at 5 p.m. for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for unity of Christians, Catholics, families and mankind.

The church was restored several times over the years, most notably in the 17th century, when both Bernini and Pietro da Cortona worked on it. Today the lavish Baroque interior makes a splendid setting for these stately and complex liturgies celebrated by the pontifical colleges of various Eastern European nations.

For the past 25 years, this event has been organized by Monsignor Lino Lozza, rector of the Santa Maria in Via Lata and secretary of the Unitas Association, which is dedicated to promoting Christian unity particularly among the Churches of the East. Monsignor Lozza died a few days after Christmas and therefore in his honor, the vice rector, Servite Father Ermanno Toniolo, is organizing the Masses.

Father Toniolo, who also teaches Eastern liturgy and Mariology at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, offered a few reflections on the meaning of liturgy and Christian unity.

He explained that these liturgical celebrations had formerly taken place at the Church of the Gesù and were later moved to Santa Maria in Via Lata, because «of the devotion on the part of the sisters to Christian unity.»

When first started in 1969, it was «terribly difficult to arrange these Masses, since the Iron Curtain prevented seminarians from coming to Rome,» Father Toniolo explained. «Today, it is much easier, after 1989 and destruction of the Berlin Wall.»

They have hosted many different rites at the church. Each rite has its own character and identity. Some have been more successful than others. Father Toniolo says that they probably won’t use the Ethiopian rite again as it «had drums and dances and was difficult for the faithful of the Western rite to understand.»

The Armenian rite, on the other hand, «has such nobility, and it is tinged with a moving sadness,» said the vice rector. «It seems to reflect the years of persecution that they have suffered.»

Insofar as the Byzantine rites are concerned, Father Toniolo says that while the languages, melodies and gestures change from Ukrainian to Russian to Greek, the texts remain essentially the same. He singled out the Liturgy of the Russicum college for particular praise: «The quality of the singing is so fine, that one remains enchanted.»

Celebrations began on Tuesday night with the Byzantine-Romanian rite to help participants enter into the mysterious world of Eastern liturgy. «The Romanian language is the closest to Latin and therefore the most familiar sounding to people,» Father Toniolo noted, «and the students have been practicing constantly and are very excited about being part of this.»

They didn’t disappoint: The singing was magnificent, filling the sumptuous church with sound as splendid as the decor.

Father Toniolo beamed, «This occasion is beautiful, because we can feel the universal character of the Church.» Then he added, growing more serious, «The Western Church is the church of reason; we want to know, discuss, explain and learn. The Eastern Church marvels at the sacred mystery, listening and contemplating the liturgy as a path to enter into the mystery.»

For the East, the liturgy is the «doctrinal breath and daily life of the Church,» said Father Toniolo.

This image of the two natures of the Eastern and Western Church, remind us of John Paul II’s analogy of the «two lungs» of the Church, drawing in the rich and complementary air of East and West.

* * *

Agnes Dei

This week sees the feast of St. Agnes on Friday. St. Agnes is one of the most beloved saints of Rome, and is celebrated with several charming traditions.

St. Agnes was probably martyred under the Emperor Diocletian around 305. She was a young girl — 12 years old according to St. Ambrose and 13 according to St. Augustine — when she was denounced to the Roman authorities as a Christian.

She was subjected to a series of tortures, from burning at the stake to being publicly undressed. She was saved from the flames when they were turned from her toward her torturers, and she was preserved from the shame of being exposed when her hair miraculously grew and cloaked her. Ultimately, she was beheaded, and the site of her martyrdom in Piazza Navona now boasts a beautiful church by Baroque architect Francesco Borromini.

At the place of her burial, another church
was erected, St. Agnes Outside the Walls. Placed over the catacomb where St. Agnes was buried, this basilica is the site of one of Rome’s special traditions.

Every year on Jan. 21, two lambs are chosen to be brought to the Pope and blessed by him; they are then taken to St. Agnes Outside the Wall, where they are blessed again by the rector of the church.

These lambs are later shorn, and their wool is used to make the palliums, which on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, are given by the Pope to all those who have been made archbishops within the previous 12 months.

St. Agnes’ connection to lambs dates back to the Middle Ages. Not only do they represent her purity, innocence and sacrifice, but «Agnes» is very similar to «agnus,» the Latin word for lamb.

Many Romans will commemorate St. Agnes by visiting one of her churches or the catacombs dedicated to her. One of the loveliest things to see on this day is the number of young people out honoring Agnes and remembering that she, seemingly helpless victim of the immense Roman imperial government, heroically stood her ground and defended her faith. A far better role model than any movie or pop star.

* * *

Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Rome campus. She can be reached at lizlev@zenit.org.

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