Pompeii and a Satanist Turned Saint
By Fr. Nicholas Federspiel
“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
For the second consecutive year, the folks living in the neighborhood of Pompeii made the headlines. In 2014, Pompeii the film premiered with a PG-13 rating starring Kiefer Sutherland in theaters across the world. Just a year later, Pope Francis arrived by helicopter to the Shrine of Pompeii for a Lenten visit on March 21, where he called the Rosary a “weapon of peace and forgiveness.” From all Eternity, Divine Providence planned a 2015 papal trip to the only church in Christendom built by an ex-Satanist. For some in our world who are seduced by cultural compromise and spiritual mediocrity, the papal helicopter landing in Pompeii is merely a happy coincidence. For others who have ears to hear, Divine Providence planned for all Eternity a fourth papal trip to the same neighborhood in the last 35 years. Who can measure adequately the importance of one man’s spiritual crisis and conversion? Pope Francis answered this question when he stepped from a helicopter in the ancient Roman city, once buried under the ashes of Vesuvius, and taught the city and the world about the relevance of Pompeii in the twenty-first century, saying that Jesus is “our only salvation in the world.”
The film Pompeii earned $117.8 million worldwide. While the characters were fictional,Pompeii received high marks for both scientific and historical accuracy. Paul Anderson, who directed and produced the film, relied upon the insights of Pliny the Younger, who was a witness to the burial of Pompeii under the ashes of Vesuvius on August 24, 79AD.Pompeii begins with Pliny’s famous quote, “You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.” According to Rosaly Lopes, a volcanologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the 2014 film “realistically captured the earthquakes that preceded the eruption, the explosions and the pyroclastic flows of hot ash and gas that buried the city and its residents.” Today’s Pompeii is a crossroads of people of every culture who are attracted by the archaeological site. The movie invites posterity to explore Pompeii today with an unfailing openness to mystery and a boundless desire for knowledge.
As Tommaso Caputo reminded us, Pope Francis became the third Pope in the last 35 years to stop by the neighborhood. Archbishop Caputo described the March 21 visit of Pope Francis as “an event of extraordinary ecclesial importance.” St. John Paul the Second visited Pompeii twice: October 21, 1979 and October 7, 2003. Pope Benedict XVI visited Pompeii on October 19, 2008 and reminded the world that “wherever God arrives, the desert blooms!”
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