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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, December 29, 2006

AP Exclusive: An Interview with Giovanni Cardinal Marotta (Part II)

Rome (AP)--We continue our exclusive interview with Giovanni Cardinal Marotta. In part II, our own Lucia Feruzzi probes the Cardinal about his formative influences and his personal experiences. Part III of this interview will be published in several weeks.

Q: Your Eminence, I would like turn now to yourself. Would you share with us a bit about your family and early influences?

Marotta: I come from very devout family. Very typical of the time. You know, daily rosary, celebration of feast days. My mother, Agnese, was a member of the famous Farnese family. She was a very devout woman who had an especial devotion to her patroness, St. Agnes. I recall as a small child traveling with the family to Rome on the feast of St. Agnes and attending the solemn High Mass at the Basilica in the Piazza Navona. The titular cardinal and concelebrants were vested with red, white and gold. During the Mass, there was a procession of little girls veiled and dressed in white lace, followed by carabinieri carrying the baby lambs. The lambs are blessed and incensed before being taken to the Vatican for the Pope's blessing. The wool from these lambs would later be used for the pallia.

Q: What a delightful memory.

Marotta: Yes. I recall watching my sisters process into the church amidst very heavy incense. It was one of those very impressionable memories of my youth. After the Mass, I remember all of us--there were 12 children--walking to the other side of the piazza to Tre Scalini where my father would buy all of us a chocolate tartufo. I think he enjoyed it as much as we did! It was an annual pilgrimage.

Q: Tell me about your father.

Marotta: My father was Giovanni Battista Giuseppe Marotta. He was the paterfamilias and made sure that my brothers and sisters and I knew it. He was born in 1867 in what is called the Marche region of Italy. Shortly before his birth it had been a part of the Papal States and there was much tumult and rebellion against the pope at that time. You see, it was the time when the movement for a united Italy was gaining ground and the territorial possessions of the pope were being displaced. When my father was born, the last vestiges of the Papal States were being eliminated from the map. The whole thing wasn't resolved until the Lateran Treaty in 1929.

Q: What an exciting and dangerous time! Where did your father's family's sympathies lie?

Marotta: Though I never knew him, my grandfather, Giuseppe, was a staunch defender of the papacy and its rights over the Papal States. I believe that is where my father received his vehemence. I recall, as a youth, my father sitting in the back of our home under a trellis of grape vines arguing politics and religion with some of his friends. This seemed to be a weekly occurence. They were drinking their wine and arguing the fine points of the unification of Italy. I remember one such occasion, in particular, where an argument came to blows.

Q: Really?

Marotta: Yes. I think that it would be helpful to give some background on my father. He was quite an educated and literate man, though he had only several years of formal schooling. He was farmer in Tuscany--I was born in Firenze--and we lived a very simple life. Yet, he knew how to read and would travel whenever he could to Firenze to pick up books for the family. We had quite a library in our humble little home! Anyway, because of his humble rusticity--sancta simplicitas, I would call it--he was not always the most elegant in a controversy. The occasion that I began to speak of occurred right after the first world war--I was about 11 at the time--probably around 1920. I recall it being a beautiful day and my father was arguing with one of his friends who had no love for the Church and was rather taken with Fasci di Combattimento. My father began to dissect his friend’s position with what I would call common sense. The next thing I knew, his friend had said something terrible. He blasphemed the Most Holy Sacrament. I cannot describe the look on my father's face as it was horribile visu! In my whole life, I do not think that I was as terrified of my father as I was on this occasion. My father put down his jug of wine, did not say a word, stood up and very quietly asked his friend to repeat what he had just said. When the poor man repeated it, my father acted like a man possessed! He grabbed his friend--vis et manus--and proceeded to bloody his face. First one blow, then another. Minutes seemed like hours! He then picked the poor man off the ground and told him never to return. He never did. I never knew what became of that man.

Q: I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree--to give it a turn of phrase!

Marotta: [laughing]