Piazza Navona

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

August 22, 2001

 

The rock concert took all afternoon to set up. It had all the high tech gadgets; laser lights, huge speakers, a fog machine, and a complex soundboard in front of the stage. The stage itself filled one end of the famous old Piazza Navona in central Rome, only a mile or so from the Vatican.

In the late June afternoon, the musicians took to the stage for a warm up. They tested the microphones and tuned their instruments.

Since my room faced directly onto the Piazza Navona, I could hear them practicing. They sang a lot of old rock and roll standards, including bits of "Jail House Rock" in fractured English.

I figured that this was going to be just another one of the free concerts that the city of Rome provided for tourists in the summer. A diversion for the crowds wandering around with their ice cream cones, on a hot summer evening. I was only partly right.

After sundown, the concert started. It was a group called "Tutto Fouri", which means "All Out" or "Everybody Out" in Italian. They sang songs written by their band members based upon their missionary experiences in Italy and all around the world. The songs had titles which evoked their larger spiritual meaning like "Bread in the Desert" and "One Little Seed. Between song sets they band members witnessed to the crowd about conversion of heart and care for the needy and above all about returning to Christ.

At first, I thought that this was a Protestant evangelical group trying to convert Catholic Italy. But the bottom of the program they passed out caught my eye. It said, "Presented by the Diocese of Rome."

These were Catholic young people from Rome in a group called "Italia Solidale". Their spiritual advisor is a priest, Fr. Angelo Benolli, OMV, at a place called "Center for a Better World" near the pope's summer residence in the Alban Hills, outside of Rome.

The back of their programs says that they are a group young Catholic volunteers in missionary life. They have as their goal the satisfaction of the hunger of world, "in spirit and in body." They bring material aide to poor countries and spiritual renewal to rich ones. The crowd in Piazza Navona was certainly in the later category. They were the idle and contented wealthy of the modern world.

This movement, like many others in the Church, is certainly needed. Within fifteen minutes walk of Piazza Navona are dozens of huge and historic Catholic churches. Although they are often full of tourists, hardly anybody is in them to pray. Less than a mile from the Vatican the church needs to be replanted in the hearts of the people. These rock singing missionaries were doing what St. Philip Neri did in the same neighborhood 400 years ago when he revived the church.

Italy, like much of Europe and North America, has wandered off after bogus spirituality. Around the edges of Piazza Navona are dozens of tables of fortune-tellers and tarot card readers. People are clearly seeking spiritual guidance, but they don't make their way into the churches. They are prey for the charlatans on the streets.

So, these young people took to the streets to meet the people. They had a great message. They were touched many hearts. One priest set up to hear confessions on the steps of St. Agnes church on the edges of the crowd. A young man was praying with him.

The singers called the crowd back to their Catholic faith, the sacraments and prayer.

These young people challenged me too. I realized that we too should go out and meet the people where they are. We need to talk to them in a language and they can understand.

Our Lord certainly would be out in the streets with them. The spirit of Jesus was alive in Piazza Navona, speaking to the crowds wandering around eating their ice cream searching for something to satisfy their souls.