While I am somewhat sympathetic to this whole "Occupy" concept, I am perplexed at some of the extremes die-hard supporters of the movement have taken in recent months. In Europe, for examples, some of the protestors have run amok, destroying sacred images in some cases.
What concerned me the most was last week's incident, wherein protestors tried to "occupy" the Vatican. As reported by the respect UK publication, the Catholic Herald:
Some Indignados, as they are known, who are mainly Spanish and French, tried to set up a camp in the piazza, but were ejected by the police. One of the protestors climbed the Christmas tree (which will be in place until 2nd February, feast of the Presentation), and had to be forcibly removed from it.Although Vatican City is its own sovereign state, it is also the seat of the Catholic Church. St. Peter's Basilica is not a capitol building; it is sacred space. It is the place where we come to worship God through the sacred liturgies. As Fr. Lombardi noted, even St. Peter's Square counts among that sacred space because Papal liturgies are also celebrated there. For the most part, throngs of the faithful gather there to pray and to listen to the teachings of the Holy Father. This is not the same as Wall Street, the Washington Mall or some other secular place where the Occupy Movement has set up camp.
The police who removed the protestors were not the Swiss Guard, nor the Vatican gendarmes, but the Italian police. The piazza is Vatican territory, but it is policed, by long standing arrangement, by the Italian forces of law and order. The action of the police was fully supported by the Vatican itself. As Fr Federico Lombardi is reported to have said: “Considering the actions undertaken and the language used, these Indignados evidently wanted to use the piazza in an improper way, not in keeping with the spirit of the place and it was therefore considered just and opportune to move them out with the co-operation of the police.”
The actions in question are presumably the assualt on the Christmas tree, the fact that one of the protestors was dressed up in a mock-papal costume, and that the Indignados were shouting things like “The Pope is a criminal!” and “The Vatican should pay taxes!”, as well as “The Church is corrupt!”
Fr Lombardi’s point is one that all Catholics should share. The piazza is a sacred space, frequently used for religious worship, and as such no place for political demonstrations. In fact any attempted political demonstration in either the piazza or the Aula Paolo Sesto, the huge audience hall nearby, is routinely quoshed.
However, in some sort of twisted way, the Indignados at the Vatican do have the right idea, inspite of themselves and their cause. If we should be occupying some sort of space, it should be the Church. We should be occupying the pews, not protesting, but praying. It seems to me that in this day and age, we have made humanism more important than God. We rally around causes in a vain attempt to "save" the world, thinking that we can accomplish such secular salvation through human means.
We have never had a golden moment in the history of mankind, as Pope Benedict XVI once observed. Even in the time of Christ, things were not so grand and great. Every era has had its share of upheavals, whether these have been environmental, economical, political or some other catastrophe. For us to think that we can try to save the planet without factoring God into the equation is an even greater tragedy than the injustices that we are rallying against.
I am not saying that as Catholics, we should not have a voice in the public square. We need to have a presence. As Pope Benedict XVI told a contingent of American bishops during their Ad Limina visit
(W)e see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.
Before we can even think of "occupying" Wall Street, we need to occupy the pew.We need to boldly proclaim what the Church teaches and preaches. But, we also need to do so in the light of a solid foundation of faith. If we are to truly accomplish anything meaningful, it should be rooted in prayer, especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Without it, anything that we try to do, either as a Church or as individual members, loses its meaning.