( November 4, 1994) Italian book presentations typically involve some distinguished person lauding the work to the skies, and then the bashful author answering nonthreatening questions about it.
Pope John Paul II, however, missed the launching of his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, because it was Wednesday, audience day in the Vatican. (Six million copies were simultaneously released worldwide. The U.S. publisher is Knopf, 244 pages, $20).
The unveiling took place in Milan, not in the historic center of the city but far out in the suburbs in the Mt. Thabor conference center, part of the San Raffaele Hospital complex.
This was the very hospital, founded by the brilliant priest-physician Don Luigi Verse, where the pope was operated on in July 1992 for the removal of a growth "the size of an orange." It is curious that this hospital should have been chosen for the presentation of the papal book.
All the glitterati of Milan were there -- some of the "clean hands" judges, top industrialists and bankers not in jail, civic dignitaries, society hostesses, film stars and so on. San Raffaele nurses in gray completed the list of 650 specially invited guests. It was like an opening night at La Scala, the famous Milan opera house.
But where was Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the local archbishop?
He was very definitely "uninvited." One reason for this slight was that Irena Pivetti, 32, speaker of the Italian Parliament, was on the podium. Indeed, apart from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who gave a predictable lecture, she was the star of the show. Pivetti has been at odds with Martini, whom she considers a dangerous man. He has criticized the Lega, the northern federalist party to which she belongs.
She responded to Martini by saying she wanted to found a truly "papal party." Meanwhile, she has to make do with the Lega. It forms one pillar of the Silvio Berlusconi coalition. (The other pillar is the fascists). To call her excessively right wing would be a charitable understatement.