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The Jubilee’s Lighter Side


Jubilee year 2000, though filled with drama and controversy, had its lighter side. Here is a rundown of some of the Holy Year’s more whimsical moments:

  • Dec. 1999: Vatican officials had previously specified that a Jubilee indulgence, or forgiveness of sin, could be earned by walking through the Holy Doors of the four major basilicas in Rome and others around the world. The pope, however, announced that lesser indulgences could also be gained by visiting the chapel at the Rome airport (perhaps for pilgrims on their way home who realize they’ve skipped a basilica), or even by giving up smoking for a day. Local wags immediately began to speculate on which of their notorious habits Italians would prefer to break: smoking or avoiding churches. To most, it seemed a toss-up.
  • Jan. 20: John Paul II celebrated the Jubilee of Traffic Cops in St. Peter’s Square, the first of several events for men and women who work in municipal capacities in Italy and around the world. Perhaps the good will explains why, in early July, during the Jubilee of Prisons, the pope’s Mercedes went unticketed as it cruised the wrong way down the Via della Lungara toward Regina Coeli prison. On that street, among the narrowest in Rome, a violation of the traffic laws is sometimes an invitation to a brawl in addition to a citation. The pope, however, was simply waved through.
  • June 15: John Paul lunched with a group of 200 homeless Romans, along with a few high-ranking Vatican potentates, in a gesture of solidarity with the poor. Just as the ravioli arrived, a 40-member choir from the Legionaries of Christ began belting out selections ranging from “O Sole Mio” to “La Bamba.” At the end, John Paul gave each guest money, a rosary and, somewhat inexplicably for a group of homeless persons, a keychain with the Jubilee logo.
  • July 2: John Paul welcomed approximately 2,000 bikers to St. Peter’s Square for the Jubilee of Motorcycle Riders. During the papal remarks, the bikers roared their engines, honked their horns and brandished their helmets to show approval. The pope then offered a blessing for the riders and their motorcycles, prompting wry headlines such as “Holy Harleys!”
  • July 7: John Paul welcomed tens of thousands of his countrymen for the Jubilee of Polish Catholics. The event was surrounded by controversy because it occurred during the height of the worldwide Gay Pride festival, which drew some 700,000 homosexuals to Rome. Despite fears that the Poles would be accosted on the streets, the event went off without a hitch. John Paul showed his special favor by appearing twice in the same day. For the better part of two days, Polish military bands filled the Roman air with the sound of oom-pah-pahs.
  • Oct. 25: Among the more popular of Holy Year events was the Jubilee of Pizza Chefs, when several thousand cooks converged on St. Peter’s Square for a papal blessing and then distributed 50,000 free slices of pizza. The chefs prepared a special pizza for John Paul, which they called a “papizza” (papa being the Italian word for pope). It featured mozzarella, zucchini and yellow peppers to represent the papal colors of gold and white.
  • Oct. 29: For the Jubilee of Athletics, the pope went to Rome’s Olympic Stadium for a specially arranged soccer match between the Italian national squad and a collection of foreign all-stars who play for Italian teams. It was said to be the first match the pope, once a passionate fan, had watched since 1982, when he saw Poland play Italy on TV. Unfortunately, the uninspired play (the match ended in a 0-0 draw) hardly justified an 18-year wait. Fans made their displeasure known. At one end of the stadium, fierce devotees of Rome’s squad have a sign that reads “devi morire,” meaning “you must die,” which they wave at opposing players. During the second half of the Jubilee match, somebody changed the second word to dormire, so the sign then read “you must sleep.”
  • Dec. 16: The pope welcomed some 2,000 style setters and their families to St. Peter’s Square for a Jubilee of Fashion Designers, where the pope lauded the industry for “trying to transmit to others the love for beauty.” Unfortunately for the pope, the “beautiful people” were overshadowed by a riot exploding down the street to protest his reception of far-right Austrian politician Jörg Haider.

National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 2001