By Carmen Elena Villa
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Vatican City State has had an important role for Rome, particularly during World War II, says a French philosopher and economist.
Jean Dominique Durand affirmed this in an interview after his talk on “The Two Cities: Rome and Vatican State,” which was part of a congress titled “A Small Territory for a Great Mission.” The Feb. 12-14 conference commemorated the 80th anniversary of the birth of Vatican State.
The speaker is a history professor and president of the Fourviere Foundation of Lyon, France. Last month, Benedict XVI appointed him a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
ZENIT spoke with him about the history of Vatican State, its dependence on the Italian state and its relationship with Rome during its 80 years of independence.
Q: How did Rome regard the Vatican prior to 1929?
Durand: The city of Rome did not regard the Vatican in a physical manner, because the Vatican was at the limits of the city.
At that time, all the urbanization of Aurelia — a neighborhood that lies behind the Holy See — had not been constructed. Hence Rome practically ended in the Vatican.
Moreover, the Via della Conciliazione — which runs from the Tiber River to St. Peter’s Square — didn’t exist. One must imagine how it was; it wasn’t visible.
An Italian historian says that for Romans, the Quirinal Palace [former residence of popes and current residence of the president of Italy] or the Capitolio [headquarters of the municipality of Rome] were more important than the Vatican itself.
Everything changed with the creation of the Via della Conciliazione. The urbanization of Vatican City made it a central part of the city. Now the Vatican is visible, something that wasn’t true in the 30s.
Q: Over these 80 years of history, what has been the relationship between Rome and Vatican State?
Durand: Rome is a shrine-city. In other words, its religious character is not reduced to the Vatican, to Vatican State, not even in the broad sense of the term.
With so many very important places for the Christian memory, the whole city is a shrine-city. Let’s think, for example, of the catacombs. For this reason, the city attracts millions of pilgrims.
It is necessary to add, moreover, the permanent presence in Rome of so many religious, young people who come to study in the Pontifical Universities, seminarians, professors, the Roman Curia, the general houses of religious congregations, etc. It isn’t just the presence of pilgrims but also a permanent presence. It is also necessary to mention the internationalism of the Curia, which is a very important presence for the city of Rome.
Q: Rome’s situation during World War II has been repeatedly mentioned in the various addresses of this congress. What was the role of the Vatican as state, especially in assistance to the inhabitants of Rome?
Durand: It played a very important role in the protection of the population.
Pope Pius XII was truly the defender of the city of Rome against the bombardments by declaring and acknowledging Rome as an open city.
The Vatican was the population’s defender at a time when the Italian government wasn’t present. The king had fled, he left Rome, and Rome was under the terrible occupation of the Germans.
Here in the Vatican they organized the distribution of food, the protection of refugees and the protection of the persecuted.
Q: In one of the points of your address you referred to the Vatican’s endeavors to “make Rome Catholic.” How do you believe that Vatican City can contribute to the evangelization of the Eternal City?
Durand: The pope is not only the pontiff and head of Vatican State. He is also the bishop of Rome. Hence, it is his responsibility to be seriously committed, through the Vatican, at the pastoral level.
The popes have a permanent interest in the city of Rome as a diocese. Above all through pastoral visits to parishes, associations and movements — all the living forces of the city of Rome.
Q: During your talk you also referred to John Paul II’s pontificate. How did he, being a foreigner, take this message of the Holy See concretely to Rome?
Durand: John Paul II’s role as Bishop of Rome was very important.
He visited almost all the parishes and also other living forces such as the ecclesial movements. He was also present among the poor and in many more spheres. His was a daily presence and, in truth, very committed.
Q: A historical event, such as the Jubilee of the Year 2000, shows the relationship between the city of Rome and Vatican State. How was it?
Durand: The Jubilee illustrated well the relationship between the city of Rome and the papacy. The municipality of Rome was committed to works of reconstruction, transport, with subway lines that were later amplified, the connection with the airport and the railroad line, among others.
Then, at the start of the Jubilee the whole of Rome was clean and this implied a very big effort on the part of the municipality. And during the Jubilee, several efforts were made for the organization and reception of foreigners. I recall that everywhere there were volunteers giving information and help to people.
It was an unprecedented effort on the part of the two entities, of the two Romes: secular Rome and religious Rome.