Yesterday afternoon, the Reverend Tom had met on the plane to Rome, had invited us to a tour of the Vatican on Friday. Thus, at 15.45 we were on our way to meet him at St. Peter’s square, in front of the Basilica. However, due to the meeting of 27 European leaders with the Pope to celebrate the 60 years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the roads were blocked and we couldn’t find the French, American born, Italian Don Francesco Giordano. After we called his office and his secretary told him our location, we found each other in the queues in front of the entrance to the Basilica.
The kind man generously welcomed us, physically and mentally opening doors for us that otherwise would have stayed closed or would have taken us hours of queuing to look behind. The Reverend was seen as an attraction, people shouting: ‘Look! Priest!’ when he walked by. Consequently making us part of that as well. We felt pretty special, despite the exasperated sounds of the people we left behind us in the queue to get into St. Peter’s Basilica – ‘It’s a little less fun when you have been waiting for an hour’, was one man’s response. ‘It has to come with some advantages’, was Sinja’s witty reply.
It was strange to talk to a Reverend in this situation. You can understand that he would not have gotten to the place he is now, at the Vatican, without having the beliefs he does. Though, in my encounters with religious individuals before yesterday afternoon, conversations are not generally dominated by either one of our religious views. The main topic of conversation then, is just what calls for attention. Yesterday, however, the situation was quite different because we came to listen to him and what he told us about the Basilica, the Pope, religion in history and his own beliefs on current events. One can imagine what kind of conversation this was when he mentions he does not like progressive political views and is in favour of Trump, to a group of UCG students, predominantly existing of women. Therefore I felt especially surprised when he mentioned Simone de Beauvoir. Nevertheless this quickly turned into another direction when he mentioned he is disappointed in her because she had an abortion. This quickly moved us into a lecture on the ‘power of a woman’. Because I felt he had not clearly explained what exactly he thought this was, I asked him to please clarify.
At first it felt nice to have him recognise how special it is to carry a child, and that a woman can do this while a man cannot. Next to this, he acknowledged that women’s brains are wired differently and that we have more connections which enable us to see things men cannot. He called upon an example of having met a woman in his office, and not sure whether he liked her, he asked his secretary for her opinion. She could tell him exactly what it was about the woman: talking about the way she laughed, walked and talked. Though the most important thing brain-wise, according to the Reverend, is her ability to pull a man’s strings. That is why, in his opinion, women should not hold the ambition to become successful in a career, because they can accomplish more behind the scenes. He named the example of Hillary and Merkel being puppets for the men behind them, while St. Catherine made the Pope return to Rome in the 14th century.
It was strange to have my womanhood reduced to what my body can do, and my brain reduced to what I can do with it to manipulate men and pull their strings. ‘You know what I mean’, is what he said to me while looking me into the eyes, as if trying to convince me of this. Please don’t get me wrong, I am speaking with the utmost respect for the Reverend, being this open about his views, which are very conservative in my opinion. Though there are some things, which is prevalent in many of the world’s age-old discussions, that people do not agree on.
One thing that became crystal clear yesterday, is that in order to argue with someone in such a position, you better have your facts straight. Unfortunately, my knowledge of history and religious texts is extremely limited. This, he found out to much of his dismay, counted for all of us. Such a limitation in knowledge made it tough to engage in a valuable discussion. This was also the reason why, when asked what I study, I mentioned Journalism, not Gender Studies. I hope, one day, to have gained sufficient academic knowledge to be able to support my arguments when put in a situation similar to that of yesterday. All in all, I am truly grateful of the Reverend for the tour. I genuinely enjoyed it and talking to the Reverend, because hearing opposite views are never bad: ‘they can only help strengthen your own view’, to put it in his words.