By Elizabeth Lev
VATICAN CITY, OCT. 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Those who find fall in Rome disappointing due to its dearth of foliage would be heartened by the swathes of scarlet and fuchsia that brighten the streets these days. These brilliant hues however, are not produced by the first chills of autumn, but by the arrival of hundreds of bishops and cardinals for the world Synod of Bishops on the Word of God
But as the Bible is not reserved only to the prelature, so the festivities for the synod have not been confined within the walls of the Vatican; Rome itself has found a way to celebrate the word through a 24-hour-a-day Bible reading at the Church of Santa Croce.
This reading, which, in a remarkable collaboration between Church and state is broadcast day and night on Italian television, began Sunday as Benedict XVI voiced the opening words of Genesis. Over 1,200 people will read in a myriad of languages before the Pope’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, concludes the series Saturday.
Fittingly, this initiative takes place in the church built by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, which contains the relics of Christ’s Passion. As the readers reach the narrative of Jesus’ suffering and death, they will be in the very presence of the cross upon which he died and the thorns which crowned his head.
The Italian media, irrespective of political alliances, splashed the news across the national newspapers, reporting the presence of movie stars, authors and musicians.
Roberto Benigni, the Oscar-winning director of “Life is Beautiful,” already well-known for his intense love of Dante, riveted the attention of young and old on the event by reading a passage from Genesis.
Within days of the opening of the synod, it is already bearing its first fruits by bringing Italy back in contact with the word of God.
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Perhaps it has something to do with the King Arthur stories I read as a child, but I have always been fascinated with knights. The ideal of a noble and virtuous warrior, protective of the weak but deadly to enemies, seemed to be the perfect balance of manly qualities.
Through the years, I learned how faith inspired and upheld such men, whether the Knights of Malta — hospitalers by day and Mediterranean SWAT team by night — or the Templars, who had fought and died to protect the Christian faith.
But this week I had the pleasure of meeting modern knights, not armed with swords and shields, but employing the same bravery and virtue as they battle new threats in contemporary arenas. Like their predecessors of old they wear their deep love of the Gospel and their fervent commitment to the magisterium more proudly than any medal-of-honor or badge of distinction.
Last week, the administrative board of the Knights of Columbus came to Rome for a pilgrimage. This turned into a wonderful opportunity to learn more about them and the remarkable work they do.
The Knights of Columbus were founded in 1882 in Connecticut as a fraternal benefit society, intended to provide assistance, as well as life or injury insurance to its members.
In the late 19th century, the immigration boom brought many Catholics to the United States, but while they were readily employed, their jobs were often dangerous and without benefits.
Prejudice against Catholics excluded them from many workmen’s associations, leaving families in a precarious position in the New World. It was a small group of laymen, led by a young priest Father Michael J. McGivney, who formed the fraternal organization in the basement of their parish church.
Today the Knights of Columbus still run one of the most highly-rated insurance companies in the world, highly esteemed for both economic success as well as ethical practice. The story of the Knights of Columbus provides an example of the American dream, the combination of enterprising spirit, hard work and success.
The Knights took Christopher Columbus to be their patron. One-hundred years ago, before Hollywood and revisionist historians began hacking away at his reputation, Columbus, a devout Catholic and an Italian immigrant to Spain, was revered as a hero for his brave and determined search for the New World.
In choosing Columbus, the Knights emphasized how much Catholics had contributed to the creation of this great nation. These men were from working class backgrounds, and their fine example shows how the Christian virtue of charity ennobles men more than any knighthood based on bloodline.
A century later, the Knights are just as chivalrous as ever, helping the weakest and most vulnerable from the poor to the disabled to the unborn.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a professor, author and member of several Pontifical councils, besides heading this international organization of 1.7 million members, showed the same courage of a warrior taking the battlefield, by publishing an open letter to Senator Joseph Biden, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.
Senator Biden, who claims to be a practicing Catholic, defended his pro-abortion position on American television, citing St. Thomas Aquinas as his theological warrant. Anderson not only exposed Biden’s faulty theology, but also firmly returned the focus of the argument back to the life of the unborn child.
Supreme Knight Anderson’s championing of the unborn also demonstrated another great chivalric quality: leading by example. Like the greatest of generals, Anderson charged into the thickest fray of the battle heedless of the consequences to himself.
This witness was meant to galvanize the laity, reminding them that we should not be hiding behind the skirts of our bishops but out defending the teaching of the Church in every one of our lives.
Benedict XVI exhorted the Knights during their audience Oct. 3 “to discover, according to the spirit of their founder, the Venerable Michael McGivney, new forms of serving as leaven of the Gospel in the world and a force of renewal for the Church in holiness and pastoral zeal.”
Now that’s what I call Camelot.
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus. She can be reached at [email protected].