It is Maundy Thursday in the Christian week of Easter, a fine warm spring day with a touch of breeze, and we seek the breath of the Lord in the hills around Paliano, in Frosinone Province.
For lunch, we settle to eat a simple but tasty pasta dish with a glass of white wine at Terremoto, a local ‘trattoria’ since 1890 near the castle of Genazzano and afterwards begin our search through this medieval town.
Despite our interest, the Church of San Giovanni and the Colonna Castle are well and truly closed so we venture to the Sanctuary of Mother of Good Counsel noting that April 25 is the 550th anniversary of the founding of the church with the gift by the angels of an image of Mary from a church in Albania.
The facade of the church has six coloured glass mosaics in various states of repair and inspiring cast bronze doors with ‘extraterrestial’ figures in the main entrance. In expectation, we buy an ice-cream each and sit to await the opening of the church but find eventually that the 3pm opening time is void for today. Maybe God is praying alone.
We return to the car deciding to head home without achieving any goals and are reminded that today, Pope Francesco will be visiting Paliano. On arrival below the town of Marcantonio Colonna, we encounter groups of people spread along the road, apparently awaiting the Papa Francesco motorcade. An accord is struck and we park at a corner near home to join the expectant ‘throng’.
There were only about 12 people collected at our corner, but all seemed enthusiastic about the possibility of greeting the Pope. Standing there looking across to the end of the mountains of the Castelli Romani, the mountains of the traditional summer palace of the Pope, I was thrust back to my memories.
It was about 1954 when as a very young school-child, I and my classmates were lined up on the roadside in Sydney, Australia, with three quarters of the population, to welcome our new queen, Elizabeth II, and her consort, Prince Philip, with each of us holding a national flag to wave. On that day, the cavalcade, to my distant memory, comprised an open landau Daimler Landaulette for the Queen, travelling at 10km per hour.
Today the rural road from the Rome-Napoli expressway to Paliano was but a small reminder of those years past, but it still retained some of the aura from seeing a famous person close-by. In common with the Queen’s cavalcade, Papa Francesco was transported in a black, but less ostentatious, vehicle with the supporting cast of Carabinieri in Alfas and on motos in front and aft.
I am not sure if I espied his wave through the darkened glazing of the vehicle, but as he passed I did recall the words of Australia’s great post war Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies, from 1963 during the Queen’s second visit to Australia, when he repeated the words of a 17th century poet with the greatest pride – ‘I did but see her passing by, but I will love her till I die’.
The cavalcade, all too quickly, disappeared up the winding road to Paliano and we moved on to compose our reminiscences. We may not have seen the Lord today in Genazzano but, as Christians, I guess we achieved a good second on the rural roads of Paliano.