Of Bunnies and Benedictions
The sun rose, a shining beacon of promise casting its gilded rays over Vatican City. On the morning of Resurrection Day, there was a mood of quiet reflection that lingered in the temperate air of that April morning--a mood that was fairly embodied in itself by the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, Primo Amadore Dominici. While the congregation of bishops, cardinals and priests assembled in St. Peter’s below, Primo Dominici remained alone in the sanctuary that, for the moment, served as his private chapel.
These days, the new pope had much to reflect upon, the very least being his ceremonial name change.
Hadrian VII. With God’s divine help, the name would be remembered by history as that of the pope who had finally succeeded in bringing peace and diplomacy back to a Vatican administration long in turmoil, plagued for years by political division. For nearly a decade, the Church had been at war within itself, a conflict that threatened the very foundation of Christendom as those within the Vatican knew it. Where Primo was concerned, the time for change was now.
Standing here now, Primo couldn’t help but recall the words of his predecessor, Pope Pius XIII, who had told the world that tolerance and acceptance of all people were key to peace for mankind, to ending conflict and injustice in the world.
Time would tell, Primo supposed, whether or not he would live up to the expectations of the cardinals who had elected him, as well as those of his own.
It was a heavy cross to bear on the shoulders of any mortal man, to say the least.
Father in Heaven, I pray you give me strength.
Clad in ceremonial robes of glittering gold, Primo knelt at the altar and bowed his head. His fingers closed reverently around the crucifix that hung from his vestments. Merciful Lord, who gave His life for man upon the cross, thou art my salvation. Be with us all on this Holy day of your Resurrection, so that we might be mindful in your grace--
Presently, the pontiff’s thoughts were cut short by the sound of the heavy sanctuary doors creaking open and slamming shut in quick succession.
What on Earth?
The pope rose from the altar and turned.
There, with his back to the closed chapel doors stood a disheveled-looking Carlo Sandrini, scarlet robes in disarray, sash undone and zucchetto in hand. The cardinal looked as if he’d just done a sprint from St. Peter’s and been mobbed somewhere along the way. Primo arched one questioning eyebrow as he took in the spectacle of the man before him.
“Eminence?” The cardinal promptly straightened at the sight of the pontiff.
“Your Holiness,” he bowed deeply. “Forgive me. I wasn’t aware this sanctuary was occupied.”
“You didn‘t see the neon sign on the door, I take it.” An amused expression graced Primo’s stately features. “You should be glad it isn’t bad luck to see the Pope before ceremonies.” He smiled serenely, and Carlo eyed him a long moment. The way the cardinal was looking at him, Primo would have thought it the first time Carlo had laid eyes upon him at all.
“You look…striking, Your Holiness.”
“These are the same vestments every pope before me has worn.”
“They look different on you.” Carlo blinked. “You’re positively radiant. For crying out loud, Primo, you’re sparkling.” Primo laughed.
“To what do I owe this flattery?”
“I speak the truth.”
“That’s possible,” Primo said thoughtfully. “Or, perhaps, you’re up to something.”
“Me?” Caught off guard, Carlo faltered, his voice rising an unflattering octave.
“Yes. You.” The pope took a regal step forward, and Carlo fidgeted. “What are you doing traipsing around the Basilica? Shouldn’t you be down in St. Peter’s, rehearsing ceremonies with the rest of the gang?”
“About that,” said Carlo with a sheepish half-laugh. “I was down there, Your Holiness. Honest.” He paused a moment, pondering any possible way he might finesse his way out of the subject. “You know, I must say, those shoes are fierce. Are those Prada?”
“Fine. If you must know, your Master of Liturgical Ceremonies is a real hard-ass.” Primo raised both eyebrows, eyeing Carlo skeptically.
“You came up here to hide from Karolek Volodya?”
“Yes. The man’s snapped. He’s completely drunk with power, and he frightens me.”
“I see.” An amused smile played at the corners of Primo’s mouth.
“He’s a dictator,” Carlo insisted.
“He’s a perfectionist.”
“He’s a tyrant in scarlet satin.” Primo let out a laugh that was nothing short of a dignified giggle.
“Oh, stop it, Carlo.”
“Please, Your Holiness, I beg you. Grant me sanctuary. Or at the very least, hold me.”
“I make no promises,” said Primo with a playful smirk. “Though I should reprimand you for pulling such a rebellious stunt as this. Defying the order of a Master of Ceremonies, then presenting yourself before me, looking as if the second coming of The Beatles is going on down there, and you tripped and fell into the middle of it.” Carlo snickered.
“You aren’t going to make me stay after Mass, are you?”
“That’d be far too easy.”
“Then I shall throw myself at your feet and beg for your mercy.” Carlo stepped forward and took both Primo’s hands, kissing one and then the other. “I place myself completely in your hands.”
“You know, Eminence, that sort of talk might get you into trouble on a Holy day.” Primo turned his hand over and Carlo pressed his lips warmly into the palm, then turned his head into the velvet touch, closing his eyes. His voice was barely over a whisper when he spoke.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.”
“Even the holiest of men are prone to sinful thoughts.” Primo’s tone was satin, disarming Carlo‘s senses as his fingers lightly traced the line of his cheekbone. Carlo shivered.
“Those who don’t, Your Holiness,” he murmured, “have never met you in person.”
Primo smiled and turned to the window, drawing back the curtains. Carlo joined him at the sill, coming to stand behind him and wrapping his arms around his waist. They watched the sun make its ascent, a flourish of gold now far above the horizon.
“On the third day, He rose,” said Primo reverently. “To carry the burdens and ease the suffering of every mortal man with the promise of eternal salvation.” He leaned back slightly into Carlo’s embrace, clasping his hands warmly over the other man’s, and the cardinal felt his stomach do a flip-flop. “Carlo, do you ever wonder how it is that, for all the places where Easter is celebrated, there are people who do not recognize the true reason for it?”
“Commercialism,” remarked Carlo offhandedly. “It’s all about the colored eggs and chocolate bunnies. Now there’s a concept--rabbits and Jesus. I, personally, fail to see the correlation.” Primo laughed.
“That’s something you’ll have to take up with Cardinal Lutzinger. That tradition, I believe, is German in origin.”
“I’ll have to ask him about that,” Carlo said thoughtfully. “And speaking of Lutzinger, I should probably get back down to the dress rehearsal before he comes after me on Karol’s behalf.” He gave Primo’s waist a gentle squeeze. “See you on the terrace with your funny hat.”
“You may want to straighten yourself out first,” said Primo matter-of-factly. “You go out there looking scandalized and people are going to talk.”
Carlo straightened his sash as he headed for the door.
“Good luck, Your Holiness,” Carlo said with a wink before opening the doors and disappearing back into the hallway. Primo watched him go, feeling a twinge of an emotion that was caught between fondness and amusement.
Glancing back out the window, Primo could see the crowd down in the square below beginning to amass.
In just under an hour, every eye in Christendom would turn to him, and nearly all of Italy would be gathered below his balcony to hear him speak, to receive his blessing.
Lord, let me be worthy, Pope Hadrian VII thought as he offered one final prayer to Heaven above. God, have mercy. Give me strength. He crossed himself at the altar and turned to leave the chapel, thoroughly prepared to face the day ahead.