- Link to the fuller Mongabay.com story is here.
You take your opportunities where you can get them. I have been in email contact with Marcus Wandinger (left, above), a member of the Holy See Delegation to COP 21, for two days. This morning, he put me in a position to meet the cardinal Pope Francis put in charge of researching and writing Laudato Si, On Care of Our Common Home, the widely influential papal encyclical on environmental protection. I managed to wrangle a 15-minute interview. It will factor into a larger story I will write for mongabay.com, but here’s an excerpt.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana told me about how the Vatican and Catholic delegates have been fanning out around the world to educate bishops, seminaries and parish priests on the encyclical, and how to teach it to their followers. Asked where he is getting push back, he didn’t hesitate: “Your country, the United States.
“The U.S. has many places that are stubborn. When we talk about social responsibility, they think about Socialism. That’s unfortunate. This is about doing good work. The pope believes faith without works is worthless. We must we live it, and it must play out so that we can show others what we do. That’s how the Jesuits teach it. It’s not Communism or Socialism or anything like that. It is caring for our common home. But that’s a hard message to get across in some American parishes.”
In early May, Jon Sawyer, founder and executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, asked me to take on a special assignment. He believed it was tailor-made for me. The topic: Pope Francis’ upcoming already-controversial encyclical, or Catholic, teaching document on climate change and environment protection. The premise: how is the document being received in Latin American, the popular pope’s home region. I was honored to accept the assignment.
After being able to cover the Vatican press conference on June 18 while in Rome with my Wake Forest travel writing students, I traveled to Peru twice during the summer — a total of three weeks — to report the story. I was joined by incredible professionals such as guide and consultant Enrique Ortiz, fixer Aldo Villanueava, photographer Jason Houston, and for two weeks, my daughter Emilia Catanoso, who was my first photographer.
I was proud that my first stories were published on one of the nation’s most respected environmental web sites, mongabay.com. Here’s a link to the first story.
In this travel story, printed in a Wells Fargo custom magazine, I write about three of my favorite domes in Rome. There are hundreds of them, of course, and favorites can shift from day to day. But these? They are always near the top, and always worth visiting again and again.
Roman Holiday: Three Spectacular Domes
By Justin Catanoso
It happens every time I visit Rome. My pulse quickens as I near the city’s historic center. It’s not the chaotic traffic that has my blood pressure rising, nor the anticipation of one marvelous meal after another. Like a lover separated from his partner for too long, my heart races at the first sight of Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
There it is, tall and majestic, off in the distance, across the Tiber River, high on a hill. It dominates this ancient skyline and announces in no uncertain terms that you are entering a place of architectural wonders.
Rome is a city of domes. There are scores of them topping churches and cathedrals, baths and basilicas. They are visually arresting from street level. But with three domes in particular, a special experience awaits you if you get closer, if you look closely or if you’re there at the right time.
Take the steps. Resist the urge, after a long wait in line, to go directly into St. Peter’s cavernous interior. Instead, shell out 5 euros and ascend the 551 steps to the cupola atop the dome. Midway up, you will enter a walkway that circles the famous main alter of St. Peter’s far below. It feels a little bit like heaven there. Light streams in through 16 tall windows.
Unseen from the floor, but now at eye level, a ring of plump cherubs in gold and silver mosaics by Baroque artist Cavaliere D’Arpino surround you. Before reaching the top, wander the roof of the basilica. Only there can you see the carved coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V – lions roaring above garlands of pears and flowers – around the base of the dome. It’s an apt honor. Sixtus, who made sure Michelangelo’s design was strictly followed, died the year the dome was completed, 1590.
Don’t be fooled. When is a dome not exactly a dome? When it’s tromp l’oeil, or French for optical illusion. The grand Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the historic center of Rome, was supposed to have an imposing dome to crown its sanctuary. It was never built. The casual observer would never know it. Baroque artist Andrea Pozza, working in St. Ignatius in the late 1600s, was a master of tricking the eye. The nave ceiling fresco appears to open directly to the sky above.
Beyond the nave is what looks like the dimly lit vault of a dome. Eight marble ribs appear to arch upward to support a windowed cupola. It’s only when you walk in farther and stand beneath the “dome” that you realize you’ve been fooled. There’s no dome, only a huge round canvas stretched flat and painted to look like one.
Raining roses. It is quite natural, when standing inside the Pantheon in Rome, to stare transfixed at the nearly 2,000-year-old ceiling of the dome. It’s a marvel of advanced architectural achievement from an ancient world. I’m always astonished by its precise roundness, its honeycombed beauty, its unblinking oculus. I often think the sight is so powerful that it cannot be improved upon.
But on Pentecost Sunday, which comes seven weeks after Easter, it happens. During a long, elaborate Mass, Roman firemen clamor on top of the dome to the lip of the oculus with huge bags of red roses pedals. As the Mass ends and music swells, the firemen empty their bags to a collective gasp of excitement. When I was there in June, a thick shaft of light angled through the oculus. Rose pedals shimmered and fluttered through the light. People reached to grab as many pedals as they could.
All by itself, any day of the week, the Pantheon is one of Rome’s most incredible sights. But in one burst of color and magic that lasts a few minutes just once a year, the Pantheon and its glorious dome are rendered even more incredible.
While having lunch last spring with good friend David Ford of WFDD, I told him about the time my wife and I — during our honeymoon in 1984 — witnessed the charismatic aura of Pope John Paul II while visiting the Vatican. Ford liked the story so much that we headed straight back to the studio to record it, unscripted. It aired right around the time of the former pope’s canonization. You can hear the recording here.
On the occasion of Pope Francis canonizing two of his beloved predecessors in April 2014, Zach Everson at AOL Travel asked if I would write about story about the spectacle of canonization in Rome from the perspective of someone who had a good reason in 2005 to attend one. I was glad to do it. The story is here.
Excerpt: “On that memorable day, my family and I –- more than 60 of us from America, each of us bursting with pride –- crowded into St. Peter’s Square for what was Benedict’s first canonization ceremony. Rome goes crazy for these events. Stores and restaurants, not to mention buses and cars, are festooned with posters of the saints-to-be. Everywhere we looked in the vicinity of the Vatican, we saw our family name and cousin’s gentle smile. We felt like special guests at a giddy global block party.”