A Costly Ambiguity

So, a couple of days ago, someone stole the ‘Mother Earth’ statues used in the opening ceremony of the Pan-Amazon Synod at the Vatican and threw them into the Tiber River.

If nothing else, whoever did this has a good sense of the historical.

But were their actions right?

If the statues were actual idols then I’m only sorry that the thieves didn’t burn them first before scattering the ashes across the Tiber.

However, if the statues were representations of Our Lady then what happened was an act of desecration.

If they represented a thing or an idea, such as life, fertility or motherhood, etc, then they should have been let be. Having them in a church wasn’t ideal but they are not idols and, to be honest, we accept the presence of worse things in our churches.

So many ifs, and that’s the problem. All this could have been avoided if those behind the Pan-Amazon Synod had explained clearly what exactly the statues were meant to represent. They didn’t, and so naturally some people applied the worst possible meaning to them.

Responsibility for the statues’ destruction lies with the thieves, but they were helped along the way by the either deliberate or accidental (in)actions of others.

  • For footage of the statues’ theft, see the Catholic Herald website here

18th June 1901: Belloc Almost Gives Up His Narrative

Belloc stepped out of the inn and into the rain. It rained all day.

LECTOR. It does not seem to me that this part of your book is very entertaining.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003), p.303

Here is a ‘friendship’ that I don’t think I have mentioned yet – that between AUCTOR and LECTOR. I shall do it now to stop this post being about five lines long: Belloc’s account of this day is dominated by the story of how a ‘Learned Man’ sold his soul to the devil only to outwit him and keep it, and then by Belloc’s musings on the subject of Germany. When these are finished, so is his day.

The AUCTOR (capitals as that is how Belloc writes it) is Belloc himself and the LECTOR supposedly his reader. In reality, of course, LECTOR is a rhetorical ploy that allows Belloc to banter with the us the readers and take the narrative in directions that would otherwise have been closed to it.

I was not quite correct to say that today’s entry ends after his ruminations concerning Germany. Belloc trudged through the rain and mud to Piacenza. There, he ate in a run down palace, now a hotel called the Moor’s Head, before resuming his journey. Let us tarry there a little longer though, for we have the inn keeper of the Moor’s Head to thank for stopping today being a total wash-out in terms of looking at friendships that Belloc made or experienced along the way to Rome. He writes,

He was a good man, the innkeeper of this palace. He warmed me at his fire in his enormous kitchen…

The Path to Rome, p.317

From Piacenza, Belloc walked to Firenzuola where he stayed the night. Tomorrow morning, he will wake up to find the weather ‘still cold, still heartless, and sodden’. The memory of both breaks his patience and he refuses to discuss either Firenzuola or the morning in the book.

Belloc Leaves Toul

On the evening of 4th June 1901, Catholic journalist Hilaire Belloc set off from Toul, France on pilgrimage to Rome. He intended to arrive in the Italian capital on 29th June, the feast of SS Peter and Paul and after many adventures did just that. In 1905, he published his account of his journey in a book titled The Path to Rome.

For the last few years, I have read The Path to Rome between 4th and 29th June. The book isn’t divided up into chapters but with one or two exceptions, Belloc is very clear about when the days start and end so I have been able to read that day’s entry on the anniversary of it happening and arrive in Rome with him on the 29th.

Previously, I have followed his journey on Twitter; this time round, however, I will do so on the blog. As previously, I’ll use Google Earth to show (roughly) his location. This time round, I’d like to give the posts a little focus by noting the times that Belloc made friends or found friendship. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

After leaving Toul, Belloc’s pilgrimage got off to a quiet start. For that reason, we find him pausing when he should be walking and reminiscing about his time in the French army. As he does so, he recalls ‘the best companions in the world’ (Belloc The Path to Rome, p.17 (Ignatius edition 2003). Who deserved such a great title? No man, as it turns out, but 156 battery guns!

I wonder where you all are now? I suppose I shall not see you again; but you were the best companions in the world, my friends.

Ibid

As Belloc walked, he passed a flock of sheep and their shepherd,

… who gave me a good-night.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome p.23 (Ignatius edition 2003)

This friendly act, as brief as it was, helped induce in Belloc ‘the pleasant mood in which all books are conceived (but none written) (Ibid)!

It was twilight when Belloc passed through a village which he knew as St. Peter of the Quarries. There, the

… peasants sat outside their houses in the twilight accepting the cool air; every one spoke to me as I marched through, and I answered them all, nor was there in any of their salutations the omission of good fellowship or of the name of God.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome p.24 (Ignatius edition 2003)

One man, ‘a sergeant of artillery on leave’ (Ibid) invited Belloc to join him over a drink but Belloc declined – as the days were very hot, he intended to make his pilgrimage in the evening and overnight, so he had to keep moving.

As he left St. Pierre, though, Belloc admits that he ‘was not secure from loneliness’ (The Path to Rome, p.25). The night began to ‘oppress’ him. How much was Belloc affected by his loneliness? It’s hard to say but despite coming across to me through his books, and in books about him, as a strong man, there are one or two hints in The Path to Rome that mentally he did suffer as much as many of us do from a certain fragility. I take comfort from that.

That night, Belloc lit his pipe and began singing. Suddenly,

… I… heard, to my inexpressible joy, some way down the road, the sound of other voices. They were singing that old song of the French infantry which dates from Louis XIV., and is called “Auprès de ma blonde.” I answered their chorus, so that, by the time we met under the wood, we were already acquainted.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome p.28 (Ignatius edition 2003)

I love Belloc’s choice of words here. He wasn’t just happy to hear the soldiers’ singing, but felt an ‘inexpressible joy’. If this is how happy he could be at the sound of strangers singing, no wonder he could feel loneliness as well.

In the past, I have held the end of Belloc’s day to be midnight. I will try and keep to that in these blog posts, whether or not he is still walking. If he does keep walking, I’ll note it in the next day’s post.

The singing soldiers were the last people Belloc encountered at all, let alone under friendly circumstances, before midnight on 4th June 1901 so I will end this post here.