Early this morning on tv I watched Pope Benedict XVI deliver his Angelus address to the huge crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on the Feast of the Epiphany, or the Three Kings, as it is popularly known in many parts of the world.
The Holy Father took the opportunity to announce to the crowd, and to the world, the 22 Bishops from around the world who would receive the Cardinal’s hat in Rome on February 18th.
I must admit that the sight of Rome on the Feast of the Epiphany made me look back rather than forward. I recalled my first Epiphany in Rome in 1952, when I was surprised and entertained to see the Roman motorists bringing gifts to the police who direct traffic every day at the furiously busy piazzas and intersections of the ancient city.
On any day of the week it is fascinating to watch the policeman direct traffic in Rome. He stands on a podium in the center of four, five, or six intersecting streets, dressed in his smart dark blue uniform, with leather leggings, white pith helmet, large white gauntlet gloves, and, of course, a whistle between his teeth. He is master of the situation. With expansive flamboyant gestures of hands and arms he guides the unruly Roman traffic like the conductor of an orchestra. Regular short blasts on his whistle warn the motorists to prepare to stop, or start, when he is about to change his signal.
Some people say that every Roman motorist is a Formula One driver at heart, so it was impressive to see how respectfully they responded to the traffic conductor. On the feast of the Epiphany they responded in another way. Motorist after motorist drove slowly to the podium to deposit a colorful gift package, so that every half-hour or so an assistant had to come to remove the packages to leave room for further gifts to come. I think it was the motorists’ way of thanking the police for the help they gave in getting them to work, and safely home again every day.
Why should the Feast of the Epiphany be the day to say thanks to the traffic police? I think the Epiphany was chosen because it is the day of the star that guided Three Wise Men with their gifts to Bethlehem, and sent them safely home by another way.