Apart from very obviously being a vast, highly organised money-making industry, the thing that struck us most was how central the figure of the Pope is to everything. Every stall (there is one every few yards) selling tourist tat and over-priced strings of coloured beads to the 'faithful' carried a huge assortment of pictures of smiling Popes in various forms of fancy dress, sometimes with humorously phallic headwear, making pious magic gestures with two fingers, or just grinning beatifically.
Most of them were of the current Pope (how quickly they must have got those to the printers and out onto the stalls in such quantities); quite a lot were of his predecessor, Benedict XVI trying hard not to look like a leering paedophile who can't believe he's gotten away with it, and a few were of the Polish Pope, John Paul II. Conspicuous by their absence were photos of John Paul I whose mistaken election is reputed to have been corrected just 33 days later when he was found dead, allegedly by a nun who was visiting his chamber early in the morning.
Outside in St Peters Square, almost the entire area is divided up with crowd-control barriers for the vast numbers of Catholics who descend on the Vatican whenever a planned papal manifestation is announced. A couple we met in our hotel were telling us excitedly how they had queued (no seats are provided) for hours in the shade-free square in temperatures approaching 35-40 degrees and had been 'rewarded' with a brief glimpse of 'His Holiness'. One could only sympathise. Nuns in various costumes, looking for all the world like devout Muslim women in a hijab, only dressed in white, blue or brown, with every hair, ankle and neck well covered lest they arouse uncontrollable passions in men, twitter excitedly like groupies outside the stage door of the latest boy-band, hoping for a glimpse of the Pope - even the hem of a disappearing white cassock or the wave of a hand from a window will induce raptures.
Some even believe the image of John Paul II will cure terminal illness.
What we both noticed particularly was how the proverbial visitor from outer-space would see Catholicism as Pope worship, with the Pope as a living god in just the same way that the Japanese Emperor was to pre-WWII Japanese and the way the Emperor was in the latter days of the Roman Empire. It looks for all the world as though the pre-Christian official Pontifex Maximus, or high priest of all the gods, had been transformed into the Christian Bishop of Rome.
|Emperor Augustus 27 BCE - 14 CE,|
Pontifex Maximus. The first Pope.
This explains why the Catholic Church is still rigidly hierarchical with the cult leader being the source of all clerical powers, the source of all religious dogma and the inerrant, infallible mouthpiece of God. To a devout Catholic, the Pope and God are as one. The Pope speaks the mind of God and announces His will. And with theological matters such as the existence of Limbo, and the qualifications for entry into Heaven, the Pope hands down policy to God.
Catholicism is the cult of Pope worship. The Pope is not the heir to an invented 'St Peter', but the heir to Augustus, the Roman God Emperor who died in 14 CE and whose title and role was passed down to the Christianised ruling god-king, the Pope, Papa or Holy Father.
If you want to see the last Roman god, Pontifex Maximus, a relic of a bygone age and the invention of a degenerate ruling class, go and stand for hours in the Roman sun - and remember to take plenty of money with you.
And women! Cover yourself up. God hates having to oggle at your bodies!