Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"Roman Adventures" The Inside Story of Janice Sevre-Duszynska, Woman Priest's Arrival at St. Peter's/Vatican-Close Encounter with Police!

Janice Sevre-Duszynska, ARCWP, AP Photo

Day 1: (March 7) Upon Arrival

I moved quickly after getting through customs. A new pope would soonbe elected in an unjust and patriarchal manner, not by the people of God. Now was the time for women’s voices to be heard and our banner for women priests displayed. Now was the time for a woman priest to lead a Eucharist celebration with the people of God.  Our women priest community and supporters sent me to Rome.


I headed toward the baggage area with my computer bag and carry-on. As per Bridget Mary’s cautionary suggestion, which I heeded, they were filled with my old, “witnessing-to-the-bishops” alb, red cincture, pottery paten and chalice, purificator. stole and 70 copies of our “Liturgy to Celebrate Justice, Partnership and Equality for Women in Church and Society.”  If my luggage didn’t show up, I was still prepared to celebrate Mass.


To save time and effort, Donna had suggested that I take a taxi and not the train into the city. There were media waiting for a woman priest. I yanked my luggage from the conveyor belt and asked a police officer where I could catch a taxi. Seconds later, Giuseppe introduced himself and led the way to his car. I gave him the address of the convent guesthouse: S. Emilia de Vialar. Along the way, I noticed the cloud coverage yet also here and there a peek-a-boo sun. “Rain and cold for the next week,” he said, as he negotiated our way through the tight and boisterous Italian streets.


He dropped me off outside the enclosure and I arranged for him to pick me up when I would depart. When I rang the bell, the door opened into a realm as picturesque as a fairy tale, filled with huge ancient trees, chirping birds, flower gardens, a stately guesthouse and to the left, a spectacular view of the Eternal City, including the silver dome of St. Peter’s. After two trips up two flights of stairs, an English-speaking sister took my rent and explained the rules. I nodded as we made our way to the elevator and second floor. As we walked toward the room I basked in the spaciousness of the cathedral-like ceilings and the antique

cabinets and sculptures which lined the hall.


Once inside my room, I knew I had to hurry. I opened my carry-ons and piece of luggage and removed their contents. Then I grabbed shampoo, soap, washcloth to shower and wash my hair. Outside the bathroom, I set my hair in old-fashioned rollers and dressed in the undergarments to wear my homemade alb. In a plastic bag I would carry my stole, umbrella and our new banner: WOMEN PRIESTS ARE HERE. After I dried my hair, combed it out, prepared myself to leave, I put on the green rain and shine coat from my sister which she suggested I wear as it covered most of my alb. Before doing so, I used the red cincture from my old “bishops” alb to hold up this one, which was my ordination alb. I called the media to let them know I was on my way. Inside the office, I dropped off my key and the sisters told me that I should leave my passport in the room or it could be stolen.  Although I had a belt around my waist under my alb, I returned my passport to the room…as I tried to honor their wisdom.


It was raining outside as I made a right turn and followed the wall of St.  Peter’s,i-phone in hand, communicating with the press who I needed to find. I did not go in direct proximity of St. Peter’s where Roy and Erin and Miriam had been arrested in October 2011. I saw the Italian police gathered there. Instead I skirted around here and there, attempting to avoid them. Finally, I reached my destination and the AP folks were there to greet me. They whisked me up to a media loft, asked me many questions, and took photos. I must admit I felt dizzy on this soap box they had me stand on with the Vatican in the background.  I had eaten very little and had very little rest. Nevertheless, it all worked out. After the photo shoot, we walked toward the columns of St. Peter’s with my banner:  WOMEN PRIESTS ARE HERE.  I told them it was not my intention to be arrested and I would not go into St. Peter’s Square (I would be prevented from doing so as I had been dressed as a priest in November 2011 with Roy and Erin. The Vatican did not want to touch me representing women priests. Furthermore, a main focus of my Roman witness was to celebrate an inclusive Eucharist).


I walked with the AP folks down to the left column in my priestly garb.

Folks saw me, including a group being led by a male priest who looked at me with disdain. The press snapped pictures. In front of St. Peter’s Square I saw a woman talking to the Italian police. Perhaps she had seen my alb from beneath my sister’s rain’n’shine coat, I thought.

Soon an older Italian policeman walked toward me.

“Prove that you are a woman priest,” he demanded. “What gives  you the right to wear these vestments?”

I answered him. “I have been celebrating Eucharist for almost five years with inclusive communities in Cincinnati, and Lexington, with Eucharists inNew Orleans . Ft. Benning and other places. Our women priests community is growing.”

He was a man around my age (early 60s), dressed in his police uniform.

He immediately got on the phone with his superior. Meanwhile, as I had brought along our documentary, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” people were gathering around. A Spanish radio journalist asked if he could interview me. I was happy to agree. Later, I gave him the DVD and a copy of Roy’s booklet and our ARCWP brochure

Other folks snapped photos and I talked with them about our movement for Gospel equality for women in our Church. They were on board. A Spanish radio reporter asked if he could interview me . I said, “yes.” Right there he happily asked me questions about our movement. After, I gave him a copy of the “Pink Smoke” dvd  which was in Spanish, too, Roy’s booklet and our ARCWP brochure as well as my card. Weeks later I saw that his interview had played on Spanish radio.


Then the Roman policeman returned with his plainclothes policeman who knew more English than he did. I was to produce my passport.

Did I have one?


“Of course, I do. The sisters insisted that I keep it at the convent.”


“Where are you staying?” the policeman asked. I reached into by bag and gave him the address of our S. Emilia de Vialar convent guesthouse.


Now, I must stay that as an activist in the peace movement as well as for women priests, I thought quickly of my options. What is best here? Should I do a sit-in as I’ve done before? Maybe I could go limp and refuse to go into the police squad.

All of these questions presented themselves to me. However, I thought, let them take me and reveal the shallowness of their faith, behavior and trust in the Spirit. So, I got into the squad car not knowing where they would take me.


As it turned out, they drove to the convent, S. Emilia Vialar. In front of the steps, I told the older Italian officer, “I want you to stay here. I’ll go inside and get my passport. I don’t want you upsetting the sisters. This is where I’m staying. I’ll go inside and bring back my passport. I don’t want to be walking through the streets of Rome looking for another place to stay.”


He acquiesced and I went inside.


Of course, there were guests at the convent-guesthouse who were peaking outside at the ruckus. Inside my room, I grabbed my passport,

carefully moved down the steps and gave the document to the Italian police officer. Then he demanded, “Prove you’re a priest!”

I looked into his eyes which had softness at their base but were following orders.


“Here’s my card,” I answered, as I handed him the simple white and black card with the angel and her trumpet announcing my long-awaited priesthood. Then I gave him our ARCWP brochure. He skimmed over it quickly and reported back to his source on the phone.


“Are you going to be here for a month?” he asked. “How many other women priests will be joining you?” 


I answered him. “I’m the only woman priest here and I’ll be staying a week.” It appeared a great relief to his soul as he communicated my message to the Captain by phone.


When I produced my passport, he was on the phone again with a Captain, going over my passport, etc.


I saw that his helper, who was dressed in plain clothes and who could speak English, was smoking a cigarette. We shot the breeze and he told me he had no objections to women priests. It was just two people of God trying to communicate and find common ground. I liked him. Finally, when the older officer got the “okay” from his superior, I thanked him for being kind to me, shook his hand, and gently kissed him on the cheek. He dropped all pretenses and was his natural and God-given kind and gentle self. We shook hands. I thanked the younger officer who spoke English and they drove away.


I returned to the convent and was not thrown out even though there were plenty of windows open while the squad car was outside. I spent my time organizing the contents of my luggage, calling Bridget Mary and quietly, reflectively praying.


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