Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Travel Report about Our Arrival in Florence

We're now in Rome. Arrived by train from Assisi this afternoon, and I have internet capability for the nonce, after several days without it. Assisi was our next stop after Florence, which I believe I mentioned in my past posting was our destination after Bolzano. Here's a snippet from my travel diary about our arrival in Florence on the evening of the 18th:


After we've rung several times at the door of the convent guesthouse, a nun, Sister Extern for the evening, appears. She's a young Indian woman.  All smiles that quickly turn to frowns after she has offered her hand, shaken ours and asked our names, but hasn't offered her own name.

It appears we have a reservation for a room matrimoniale. This is news to us. We made (and confirmed) the reservations online through some service that handles bookings in guesthouses run by religious communities across Italy--something like "Monastery Bookings." Nothing in the forms we filled out to obtain the reservation ever said anything about matrimoniale. Nor does the printed receipt we've brought along with us.

"But two men? No matrimoniale!" Frown. Finger shake. "I must speak to monastery guest reservations. They shouldn't have done this." 

"But our reservation, which we made online and printed out, shows we reserved a double room," we say. "We understood that meant one room with two beds. The printed reservation says nothing about matrimony." 

"No double room! We have only the matrimoniale. But two men? No matrimoniale!" Finger shake. "Only single rooms."

"Okay, we'll take single rooms. Fine."

"That will cost more."

"Fine." Thinking to ourselves, "What choice do we have? It's after dark; we've just arrived in a large city we don't know; and we have luggage to shlep."

"So you pay more?" Frown turns to smile. Smiling young Sister Sub-Extern, also Indian, now sweeps into the room, grabs our passports, and disappears with them. 

We ask if meals (other than the light breakfast, which is part of the room fee) are available. "No. Here's a map. Here are cards for some nearby restaurants."

This all in German, to which Sister Extern has now inexplicably switched--she tells us she has spent time working with children with physical and mental challenges in Cloppenburg. Young Sister Sub-Extern now reappears, passports in hand. I smile and thank her. She frowns in response. 

This is receiving every guest as Christ?!


The preceding is verbatim from my travel diary. Here are some footnotes I'd like to add now for the sake of this posting:

1. To readers who know some of my history and Steve's, something of our commitments and passions, it might seem we set this encounter up to test the willingness of a Catholic community of religious women in Italy to house a gay couple as an openly gay couple in one of their guesthouses.

2. Nothing could have been further from our intent. We had no clue that any rooms in any of these convent guesthouses are designated "matrimonial" rooms, and that reserving a double room would trigger some finger-wagging lecture about two men, no matrimoniale! on the night of our arrival, weary from a long train ride. Two old men seeking lodging for the night, not the least bit interested in proving some gay point with the nuns running this guesthouse . . . . 

3. Still, what I recount above did happen, and I'd maintain that it deserves attention for all kinds of reasons. The fact that it happened to us means that it could happen to other gay couples traveling together to these guesthouses, or to two people of the same sex who aren't a couple at all. My reasons for thinking that this deserves attention include:

4. This is the new church Pope Francis is bringing into being?! One opening and welcoming to the other, one that does not judge those who are gay? Have Sister Extern and Sister Sub-Extern, with their frowning faces and, in the case of Extern, finger-wagging, simply not gotten the new Francis message?

5. This is what young nuns are learning these days about embodying the gospel through their lives of ministry to those outside their religious communities? This kind of mean-spirited judgmentalism that singles out a certain subset of the human race, when that subset dares to show its face at their door? Is it any wonder gay folks turn their back on a church that behaves this way?

6. And is it any wonder that this particular community of nuns seems to have living in this particular convent only a number of very nice-seeming elderly Italian nuns and several young Indian nuns who appear to do the grunt work for the elderly Italian women? 

7. Is it any wonder many of our Catholic institutions--our churches, convents, schools, etc.--appear like tombs to many thinking people with strong consciences, who visit them? They are, in fact, tombs.

8. If a man and a woman showed up at the door of this convent guesthouse to reserve a suite matrimoniale, would they be asked to show a certificate proving they are sacramentally married? I very much doubt so.

9. It is demeaning, hurtful, destructive to be treated in the way this woman vowed to follow Jesus in religious life treated us on the night of our arrival in Florence.

10. In Florence, the home for many years, for God's sake, of Michelangelo . . . . Of Brunelleschi and Donatello, and on and on. What would the church in Italy, or anywhere else in the world, be without the contributions of gay men and women over the course of many centuries? What art would be there for anyone to visit in Catholic churches, Catholic museums, Catholic cities?

Steve, who is a far better Christian than I am, actually got to know Sister Extern and thought she was warmer of heart than her initial treatment of us suggested. She disclosed her name to him eventually and even offered the information (which contradicts what she told us amidst the finger-shaking and frowning) that the guesthouse does, in fact, have a double room available--a room two people can share, which has two beds in it. She gave him a direct number for the convent that he could call if we ever return to Florence, which would obviate the hefty booking fee we now discover the online booking service charges.

For my part, I'm still stewing--or had you perhaps already guessed this from what I've written above? I'm simply tired beyond description of having to deal with this kind of thing in the Catholic church. I'm tired of the pretensions to holiness on the part of people whose understanding of being holy seems to have little or nothing to do with Jesus and the gospels.

I'm tired of being treated as a second-class citizen by Catholic institutions. It's time for them to change or die, as far as I can see. And you may be hearing more about this when I post something about our time in Assisi.

Meanwhile, I apologize for a posting that may be something of a downer as many of you prepare to celebrate Christmas or the winter solstice. And I wish all of you very happy holidays!

The photograph of Michelangelo's "David" is from Wikimedia Commons, and is by Marcus Obal.

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