Monday, December 29, 2008

Buon Natale

Christmas Angel at St. Peter's Nativity scene.

Remembering the Real in the Capital of the World
Christmas Reflection by Hilary White

ROME, December 24, 2008 ( ) - I'm in Rome. And it's Christmas already. These facts have only in the last few days really sunk in. I've hardly noticed the last two months passing and have had no time to think about anything but work and the difficulties and expenses of moving from England.

I know, you who are reading probably already know this, having read the headlines of the LifeSite stories I've written in the last two months, but it still seems very odd to me to find myself in Rome, The Capital of the World.

Many mornings I wake in surprise and ask the cat, "What are we doing here?" She seems as unconcerned with the question as does the Urbs itself.

Christmas fair in the Piazza Navona

The correct way to eat your Christmas cotton candy

Today, I spent the day in a magnificent 17th century room, watched by the portraits of Baroque popes, cardinals and saints, helping to repair the hand made lace on an antique linen altar cloth to be used tonight at the Midnight Mass in the only Roman parish dedicated to the ancient "Tridentine" liturgy of the Church.

My little gang of friends, the parish "irregulars", laity who help organise and prepare the Masses, bustled about the altar putting out its gold candlesticks and reliquaries. Steps away is a little church where the body of St. Vincent Palloti lies, like an ecclesiastical Snow White, in a glass and gold coffin, miraculously incorrupt after 150 years. Miracles, and wonders are the commonplaces of daily life. I've fallen into a strange and glorious dream.

This is a city of contrasts, where the ancient and the medieval, the pagan and the Christian, the Renaissance and the Baroque, the modern and the secular, are not separated. Time here seems not to operate in a line, but as a crowd in a piazza during a festival: all times and eras milling boisterously together at once. Romans, some looking in profile like the marble statues in the Capitoline Museum come to life, still leave candles and flowers at the statue of Julius Caesar on the anniversary of his assassination.

Madam, may I hack you a gobbet?

Here all things, even the paradoxes of modern life, live together in a tangled skein of the here and now. Rome and Christmas, the eternal and perennial; me and work, the immediate and transient.

This is Rome, a city and a state and a culture and, if not the cradle of western civilisation, its true home and place of its youth. But this city, when Christianity was just reaching out through the world, was already ancient, and the centre of the western world.

People have called Rome the capital of the world, and there is still a sense, fifteen centuries and more after what historians call the 'fall of the Roman Empire', in which this is its true name. I walk every day through its windey, twisty medieval streets, with the walls of the Baroque Palazzos held up by ancient Imperial Roman columns; the little portrait shrines to the Blessed Virgin, "Madonellae", on the corner of every building, statues of saints and angels, Roman generals, and nationalist politicians, the gypsy beggars, the graffiti, the peddlers of silk shawls, the blaring ambulance sirens, and the Carabinieri, the military police, keeping watch over the whole, carrying automatic weapons out of fear of terrorist attacks. Rome is the whole world, the ancient and the modern.

Rome has been called the most beautiful city in Italy and standing on the Ponte Sisto, looking down the length of the Tiber towards the ancient Mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, topped with its statue of St. Michael the Archangel, it is easy to believe that Rome is the most beautiful city in the world. It is the place where the cultural treasures of our civilisation are found in their original context. Where the great religious paintings of Carravaggio are not in museums behind bullet-proof glass, but over the altars for which they were commissioned.

And it is still true that all roads lead here. Earlier this month, the great Australian cardinal and hero of the antipodean pro-life movement, George Cardinal Pell of Sydney, celebrated Mass in our parish, giving a homily in Italian, laced (so I'm told) with his charming Aussie accent.

Rome is like a mountain peak from which all the world is spread out before one's eyes and for a journalist, there is no more exciting place to be. I've observed that once in Rome, there is not much need for a travel budget since it is inevitable that anyone one might want to interview will eventually come here.

Madonna and Child at St. Peter's

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and the day to remember that we are not here forever, that even Rome itself will one day be gone and that only truth will have mattered. The only thing worth knowing will have been the incarnate Truth, the one Who came to us on a still night in an insignificant and unfashionable backwater province far from the centre of the Empire. The place where the Emperor would send you if you were unpopular at the Imperial court.

The other day, I took a walk through the centre of that Empire: the Roman forum, where the laws and governance of the whole world originated when Christ was born to the sound of Angels' trumpets. In that forlorn and almost forgotten place, the Senate building from late Imperial times, a few columns and an arch were almost the only things standing. And even these have only recently been dug from under the city streets where they had lain forgotten for centuries.

It is said even here that the Feast of the Nativity is being forgotten in the midst of a secularised and commercialised - and above all forgetful - modern culture. And many have denounced this, complaining that the Christ Child and His mother, Joseph and the shepherds, the angels and the Magi are slowly being edged out in favour of Santa Claus and some of the most glittering shopping districts in the world.

But Rome is a place that never forgets and knows the difference between the transient and inconsequential absurdities of modernity and the Real. The wise adage "this too will pass" means more here than anywhere else because what matters, what is real and lasting, stays here, while all that is false passes down the Tiber and is forgotten.

Tonight the church will be full of worshippers and tomorrow the Holy Father, the man who is not only successor of the Apostles of Christ, but the inheritor and guardian of the entire ancient pagan and medieval Christian western world, will address the crowds in St. Peter's square, and I will have answered my own question. This is what I'm doing here.
Copyright ©

Monday, December 22, 2008

To paraphrase the great Jewish prayer,

"Oh Lord, thank you for not making me 'nice'."

From Nice Bishops, good Lord deliver us in your mercy.

That's better

Now I'm definitely feeling more Christmassy

Yep. It's that time of year again.

Speaking of annoying my enemies...

Time for today's "Demonized by the Left" gallery feature

António de Oliveira Salazar
the Prime Minister and dictator of Portugal from 1932 to 1968. He founded and led the Estado Novo ("New State"), the authoritarian, right-wing government that presided over and controlled Portugal's social, economic, cultural and political life from 1932 to 1974.

As a young man, his involvement in politics stemmed from his Roman Catholic views, which were aroused by the new anti-clerical Portuguese First Republic. Writing in Catholic newspapers and fighting in the streets for the rights and interests of the church and its followers were his first forays into public life.

And thanks to all who have suggested names. I think this has turned out to be such a good feature that we'll keep doing it, so keep 'em coming.

Why Kathy is still my favourite blogger

Mostly because she saves me the trouble of doing all that tedious typing.

How many arguments have I had on the web...with idiots who -- after I've made a matter of fact, everybody-knows statement about the importance of preachers/barbershops/grandmothers/basketball/hair in Black culture, for instance -- leap at the opportunity to engage in some moral exhibitionism:

"Do you have proof to back up that racist statement? Any studies? Any statistics??"

Of course not, you dickhead.

Unlike you, I didn't waste the last good years of my life being brainwashed in academia; I lived with and worked with and talked with actual, normal human beings (professors definitely don't count) and that's how I formed my knowledge of how the world really works. Through the evidence of my senses and my own personal experiences.

I do not rely upon junk science or faux history or Marxist theory.

And also because liking her, and linking to her regularly, just seems to annoy my enemies so very, v e r y much.

What's the point of backpacking around the world if you can't admit to yourself, let alone your friends, family and strangers on the web when you finish, that different people in different countries are different? Wasn't that kind of the point? Actually no: today the point of aimless bourgeious gap year wandering is to a) try different kinds of booze, b) sleep around and c) reaffirm in spite of all evidence to the contrary everything you've already been taught your whole life: that "deep down, we're all the same..."

(How much energy do these people expel trying desperately not to notice, for example, in general, that Asians and natives can't handle their booze as well as Caucasians and Blacks? If you just accept this stuff, life is so much easier and less stressful. But then I supposed lots of useless stressing over trivial provides Leftists with the semi-satisfying sensation that they're engaged in something resembling work

Natale in Piazza Navona

It's beginning to look a lot like (Italian) Christmas. But I'm afraid it is all entirely lost on me. I've been so wound up with work in the last few weeks, I've only just now surfaced long enough to realise that Christmas is only a few days away.

In Italy, Christmas is brought not by a large man in a red suit on a sleigh, but by a witch on a broomstick. (You're starting to get why I'm not really getting the Christmas vibe here, huh?) And the whole thing, apparently, emanates from the Piazza Navona where there is a fair.

Went on Sunday after Mass to try to pick up the Christmas mood, but no go.

Had a pretty good time anyway though.

And got some good pics for y'all.

These "living statues" are very popular, and there are always a few at least in the Piazza N. They're often not very good, though, and rarely stand still. But this Pinocchio was quite good, and she had some very charming movements that looked very much like she had strings attached to her arms and legs.

Lots of balloons.

My friend wanted nothing more in all the world for Christmas than a toffee apple.

The Natale Strega are all over.

I'm told that this is the first time in years that anyone has seen the Three Rivers fountain. It has been covered in scaffolding for repair and cleaning for a decade.

The sun was brilliant, but the air cool. A lovely October day.

A demonstration of correct candy floss technique from Boyden and Magdalen.
"You see, you have to do it properly. You take a giant wad, and you stuff it in your mouth, tamping it down with your finger like wadding for a canon."

Like this.

It was fifteen degrees yesterday.

No respect for great works of art.

Triton battling the most EVIL THING IN THE OCEAN! These Romans understand the radial symmetry threat.

A bit of an overreaction, I thought. It's only a pigeon.

One of Italy's last children.

Getting the prize for "most adorable".

Bernini's allegorical figure for the Nile. I'm told that his pose is a comment (an expression of horror) at the Borromini church opposite. They didn't like each other, apparently.

Bernini's allegorical figure of... um....another river somewhere. Possibly in Europe.

It's difficult to get an idea of the scale of these figures from the photos, but they are at least five or six times life size.

There was a row of places where you could chuck balls at bottles, and shoot balloons and all that sort of thing. Lots of clowns, and some very good street performers doing magic, and playing music.

and a very beautiful carousel.

A proper fair, in other words.

But one that could not possibly be complete in Rome without nuns.

Oh come on, look on the dark side

there's a gloomy core to every silver-lined cloud. Disappointment, setbacks and obstacles are just around the corner...

A kind friend offers the following to cheer us all up:

When I'm blessed with a day that's gray and lonely,
I just put down my chin, and grin and say:

The sun won't come out tomorrow,
bet yer bottom dollar that tomorrow
there won't be sun...

Magnetic-Shield Cracks Found; Big Solar Storms Expected
An unexpected, thick layer of solar particles inside Earth's magnetic field suggests there are huge breaches in our planet's solar defenses, scientists said.

These breaches indicate that during the next period of high solar activity, due to start in 2012, Earth will experience some of the worst solar storms seen in decades.

You caught the date on that right?


Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Angelicum

Update: Oooops.

Forgot my "Demonized by the Left" gallery pic:

Today's offering is appropriate to the Dominican theme:

Tomás de Torquemada
(1420 – September 16, 1498)

was a fifteenth century Spanish Dominican, first Inquisitor General of Spain, and confessor to Isabella I of Castile. He was famously described by the Spanish chronicler Sebastián de Olmedo as "The hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the saviour of his country, the honour of his order". He is known for his zealous campaign against the crypto-Jews and crypto-Muslims of Spain. He was one of the chief supporters of the Alhambra Decree, which expelled the Jews from Spain in 1492. The number of autos-de-fé during Torquemada's tenure as Inquisitor General have been hotly debated over the years, but the number is now generally put at about 2,200; with roughly half of these beings proxy burnings of straw figures.

Went up there this morning and got some pics.

I'm told the oranges are just coming ripe.

Morning constitutional.

The vile Victor Emmanuel Monument from over the garden wall.

Lemons not quite ready.

Lots of mums.

The oranges all over the ground beneath the trees give it the air of a place where a careless greengrocer has come and dropped his wares.

So, how's December where you are?

Having hailed from somewhat colder lattitudes, I was fascinated by the orange trees. To me, oranges don't come from trees. They come in boxes.

The hallowed halls.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I always laugh when leftists talk about how we have to be "balanced".

Well, the Spanish government is run by a particularly foul and juvenile pack of southpaw cretins and the latest news sounds a lot like the kind of "balance" they mean.

The Zapatero régime in Spain continues to pour salt remorselessly into the wounds of the Civil War. It has removed all statues of Franco and renamed streets commemorating Nationalists, in honour of Red murderers. Yesterday the last statue of Franco on mainland Spain was removed from the town square of Santander, though one survives in Tenerife, fiercely defended by locals.

I have to say, I really am just getting a little fed up with people telling me who I can and cannot like.

So, in the interests of "balance" I think I have a whim to begin all my posts this week, until, say, Christmas eve, with a photo of an important historical figure that has been vilified...dare we say "demonized" by the left.

I'm accepting nominations in the chatterbox.

Classic Trad line

Heard today in a teashop in the Borgo neighbourhood of Rome:

"Read it?! What do you mean read the Bible? A Bible is to be incensed; not read!"

Bump up: Our Annual "Keep Hilary in Tea n' Biscuits" drive

Or: "No more Rome pics for you guys until you cough up ten bucks."


No, not really.

But we could really use your help.

LifeSite staff is engaging in a novena to Our Lady of Good Remedy.

Wanna know why?

Because LifeSite runs almost entirely on donations, and (bloggers will support me on this, I'm sure) internet readers are really crummy at donating. They get the 'net for free, and figure that it doesn't cost anything to put up a website. But it's not true. And the news is no small undertaking to sift, collate, chase, interview and write. We've got writers in four countries and two continents, web engineers (or whatever they're called) and all kinds of support and techincal staff (all of whom make, and deserve to make more than I). It costs about $350,000 Can. a year to run it all which seems like peanuts when you consider that other international pro-life non-profits (like HLI) run on annual budgets of a couple of million or more. It's a constant source of frustration that we can't do the things we want to do (like a blog/forum) (or getting me a mobile phone) because of lack of funds.

And experience in the pro-life movement, or any non-profit donations-based thing, shows that the real money, the money that actually makes the whole thing keep running, doesn't actually come from the one-shot big donors. It's great to get ten or fifty thousand once in a while, and we put it to good use, but surprising as it seems, it really is the multitude of small donations that most non-profit groups rely upon.

So, I'm not kidding when I say that we could use your help and if you think, "All I've got is ten Euros, or five bucks, of fifty pounds...and look at the financial markets, what difference could it possible make?" Take a look at this:

and ask yourself, "How big is a single snowflake?"


If you happen to have a few extra shekels you're not doing anything with, you can click here to donate from the US and "abroad", and here from Canada.

(PayPal link, for those who quibble.)


O Queen of Heaven and earth,
most Holy Virgin,
we venerate thee.
Thou art the beloved daughter
of the Most High God,
the chosen mother of the Incarnate Word,
the immaculate spouse of the Holy Spirit,
the sacred vessel of the Most Holy Trinity.
O Mother of the Divine Redeemer,
who under the title of
Our Lady of Good Remedy
comes to the aid of all
who call upon thee,
extend thy maternal protection to us.
We depend on thee,
dear Mother,
as helpless and needy children
depend on a tender and caring mother.

Pray the Hail Mary...

Dear Lady of Good Remedy,
source of unfailing help,
thy compassionate heart knows a remedy
for every affliction and misery
we encounter in life.
Help me with thy prayers and intercession
to find a remedy for my problems and needs,
especially for...

(Fundraising for

On my part,
O loving Mother,
I pledge myself to a more intensely Christian life,
to a more careful observance of the laws of God,
to be more conscientious
in fulfilling the obligations of my state in life,
and to strive to be a source of healing
in this broken world of ours.

Dear Lady of Good Remedy,
be ever present to me,
and through thy intercession,
may I enjoy health of body and peace of mind,
and grow stronger in the faith
and in the love of thy Son, Jesus.

Pray the Hail Mary...

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of Good Remedy,
R. That we may deepen our dedication to thy Son,
and make the world alive with His Spirit.

And here's LifeSite's official pitch.


We are delighted to report we just received a generous donation of $10,000 from a couple that is challenging other readers to "match or exceed" their gift. They are really hoping their gift will spur others to realize the serious financial need that LifeSiteNews has and will imitate their level of commitment or at least finally make the effort to give whatever amount they can.

They told us they gave such a donation because they highly value LifeSiteNews as an exceptional support for the Culture of Life and that LifeSiteNews "deserves that level of support and even more."

We know there are readers who are capable of making such a gift, to support what Britain's John Smeaton calls "the most widely read pro-life news service in the world."

Are you a reader who can respond to the challenge with a similar or even larger gift? Why not make the decision to do so today,

This campaign is nearing its end. In order to reach the goal of at least covering our operating expense for this past year, larger gifts, as well as many smaller ones, are necessary.

Year to date, including this Christmas campaign, LifeSiteNews total revenues from donations and advertising is $199,409. However, that includes a rare, one time donation of $100,000 received earlier in the year. Without that generous gift from an especially appreciative supporter our situation would be of much greater concern.

We are still about $150,000 short of covering this year's expenses. There are also the months ahead to finance as well as the implementation of new plans to serve you better.

Occasionally we are asked how much of the donations we receive go towards the work that LifeSitenews does. The answer, of course, is all of it. Administative costs are a negligible portion of our expenses. We do not really have a main office, with all our staff working from their homes. Donations processing and our few mailings are mostly done for us by another organization, although we are in the process of making even that less necessary.

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Again, whether you can give $5 or $10,000 or less or more, every personal gift commitment to the work of LifeSiteNews is crucial and hugely appreciated.

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Give a Christmas gift of $5, $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or more - for life, family and truth.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

St. Peter's has got the tree up,

and is working on their creche.

Had rather a vexing day today, so went for a mid-workday stroll through the piazza

and for tea in the Borgo.

Felt a little better.

This place is still often quite overpowering.