For our Order (the Camillians) the Church of St. Mary Magdalene constitutes a fixed point of spiritual reference given that for centuries it has been the guardian of the living memory of our Founder, St. Camillus de Lellis, and the most evident signs of the various historical stages of our Institute. At an artistic level as well, the experts and connoisseurs classify it as a splendid – indeed almost unique – example of Roman barrocchetto.
As was widely reported in the press and in a number of news bulletins, in the evening of Saturday 20 December 2014, at 22.09, one of the three elliptic ‘goggles’ of the cupola was the subject of an attack by vandals, with the breaking of glass which fell down a very bad way near to the altar and the simulacrum containing the mortal remains of St. Camillus.
According to a specific custom – which begun in a successful way during the recent events of the fourth centenary of the death of the Founder – on Saturday evening and Sunday evening the church remains open to a public of the faithful, or simply of tourists, until midnight, more or less! This is an initiative that has been much appreciated and which has allowed the religious who are permanently present in the church not only to look after it but also to meet people, to point out the beautiful sacristy, and often also to accompany those who are most interested in visiting the Cubiculum and the Camillian museum.
In addition to the shock of what happened at an actual level (violent and unjustified damage to a church) and at the level of form (the more than realistic possibility of grave injury to the people and the religious who were present in the church), a large dose of bitterness remains, even though Providence assured that everyone was unharmed.
This bitterness, made greater by the drawing near of the feast day of the birth of Jesus, was often expressed not in the search for those responsible for the deed – which is not our task – but in a deeper question which would like to provoke thought about ‘civilisation’ or more simply a greater civic sense or ‘common sense’: why?
Why climb about at night on the roof of a church and break its stained glass windows? But also: why endure every day – and with the advantage of shadows – unpunished heaps of garbage at the doors of the church and then have to scare away sewer rats or disinfect in the early morning with bleach the steps going into the church where during the night…(this we will leave to your imagination)?
Why transform the picturesque little square of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene into an uncontrolled car park or a suk worthy of Marrakesh, at every hour of the day, to the point of having to say ‘excuse me’ to the vans to reach the church steps, stepping over, with all one’s agility, the counterfeit products that are for sale on the cobble stones?
Why do people walk through the church – at times with the liturgy clearly underway! – eating an excellent piece of pizza that oozes excellent ‘Roman’ sauce onto the floor or leaving a little cup of very good ‘Giolitti’ ice cream inside one of the six confessional boxes?
The litany of whys could go on for a long time…
Yes indeed: the whys listed above are full of responsibility and gravid with very different consequences! Some concern young people – very young people! – others, on the other hand, have as their agents adult men, old ladies – who could easily be the parents or the grandparents of the first – some of whom even have rather elegant clothes and ‘sophisticated’ manners, above all when they roll their eyes when you point out to them their behaviour which is worthy of Attila and the barbaric hordes!
The damage done to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene is being dealt with very well: the police have carried out their investigations; the FEC (the Fund for Buildings of Worship – the Ministry for the Interior), as the legitimate owner of the property, has made its presence felt; the Ministry for Arts has demonstrated promptitude and skill in assessing the damage and identifying procedures to repair it; and the Vicariate of Rome through its representatives has demonstrated solidarity, encouragement and concern for the pastoral activity that we engage in at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.
The damage will be dealt with over time and in the ways identified by the various and proper authorities. We – the inhabitants above all else of the enchanting historic centre of Rome – have a much more demanding task: a leap of healthy pride in the beauty of the city; angry indignation at the daily and unpunished gashes to which it is subjected and above all to respond in a conscious way and achieve a responsible remedy to the various whys?
Only in this was can we say that we are the educators of our children. Otherwise ‘with the feast day over, the saint is put back in the crate’ And that includes St. Mary Magdalene!