Fr Provincial at GC36: a distraction

POST BY DPreston

Fr Provincial (right) in conversation with other delegates at GC36
Fr Provincial (right) in conversation with other delegates at GC36

I have an armed guard outside my bedroom. Two soldiers and an armoured car.

At first I thought that it might be to protect the Brexit Provincial from the hordes of angry Roman Pro-Europeans, but I was assured that this was not the case and this strategy was part of a generally heightened security around Italy following the terrorist attacks in France and Germany. For the last five weeks, the Italian Army has been sitting under my first-floor window, an impressive presence, amiably restricting the movement around the crossroads at the Jesuit Curia front door, which is itself only 200 metres from the Vatican.

The Vatican is under the protection of the Swiss Guard, and their wonderful Harlequin-like uniforms are one of the iconic sights around St Peter’s Square. But when you look around, the Swiss Guard are not alone in their sartorial ambitions; the Italians, in general, have a certain style about the way they dress their confusion of security forces.

For example, the Carabinieri (a sort of paramilitary police) have a subdued dark blue uniform with sharp red-piping which gives them a sober style, reflected also in their weapons and vehicles. On the other hand, the Roman City Police seem to have been dressed by an uninhibited seven-year-old child with access to the back-catalogue of ‘The Army Surplus Store’: even the lowest constable appears to have the rank and riotous colour of an Admiral of the Brazilian Navy.

The Italian Army is different. From the eyebrows downwards, each soldier looks set for battle – camouflage fatigues, utility belt, heavy black boots and the Beretta ARX 160 assault-rifle nestling comfortably across his or her chest.

But from the eyebrows UPWARDS, the Italian panache exerts itself with a wonderfully dazzling array of hats and helmets. For example, the Alpine troops presently outside my window have a triangular bonnet in matching camouflage green with raffish black feather and gold badge; with the finely drawn beards they look like The Lonely Goatherd Regiment.

The team that the Alpines replaced also looked suitably impressive as soldiers, but they had a very peculiar maroon-coloured soft beret that looked like a giant squashed grape which sat uneasily on the back of the head. To add insult to injury, from the beret a luminous blue pom-pom dangled between the shoulder-blades. If Enid Blyton ever needed to feature an army of occupation in Noddy’s Toyland, these troops would be dressed for action.

Now what, you might ask, has this to do with the General Congregation? Perhaps you are thinking that the Congregation doesn’t work much over the weekend and thus the author has little for a Monday blog? Or that the present agenda of the Congregation is a little delicate and might be difficult to articulate in the blog without breaching confidentiality? Or perhaps you think that this talk of soldiers, as well as being a distraction for the author as he looks out his window, is being used as a distraction for the reader as well?

Perhaps you’d be right on all counts.