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1683/ It is always September 11th

September 11, 1683: The Christian armies free Vienna from siege by the Turks and avert the danger that Europe would lose its Christian face. September 11, 2001: The threat of violence and destruction is still present. To fight it is “a job for each / Every man to his work". In 1683, in 2001, and today.  

jan_sobieskiR375.jpg (Foto)

He could not fall asleep that night of September 11th. In a few days it would be the seventh anniversary of his election as Supreme Pontiff. And on that night in 1683, the eleventh Pope who bore the name of Innocent was not comfortable. He worried about the slow pace of reforming the Roman Curia and the veiled hostility of many prelates who would still give him due support. He was concerned over the development of missions in distant lands, upon which he kept constantly informed and with which he found many obstacles. He was anxious to make the Church the true mother to all the poor and the safe teacher of the true faith, while her clergy often preferred pomp and her intellectuals sowed doubts.

But what worried him most deeply was the Turkish threat. Since July 14, the troops of Sultan Mehmet IV, under the command of the implacable Kara Mustafa, had besieged Vienna. Everyone knew that if the Ottomans had taken the capital of the Habsburg Empire, the Turkish wave would not stop and might come--God forbid--to overwhelm even Rome. The danger was enormous: the danger of Christianity being wiped from the face of Europe.

He, Innocent XI, had tried everything to convince the quarrelsome Catholic kings and lords to work together to stop the Turks. But the jealousies, the political calculations, and the hope of some small national gain hindered his efforts. And then there was the French King, Louis XIV, who, despite boasting the title of "Most Christian King”, as if siding with the Turks to harm the Habsburgs, seemed willing to give in to the infidels. What shortsightedness!

True, there was also some hope. The Polish king, Jan Sobieski, had moved to offer a hand to the besieged Vienna. And then that Capuchin monk, Marco d'Aviano, was a real force: he had toured half of Europe (only in Paris did the treacherous Paris Louis XIV not let him enter), preaching the need to defend themselves from the Turks, had converted many people and the people considered him a saint; he was now in Vienna and he knew he was an able organizer, even in military affairs. It seemed that the hand of the Lord was with him. But Innocent still could not sleep.

Finally, on the morning of September 12, the Christian troops attacked the besiegers. Despite their numerical superiority, the Turks were soundly defeated. The danger that Europe would lose its Christian face was averted. To thank the Virgin, Innocent extended to the universal Church the feast, which until then was celebrated only in some dioceses, of the Name of Mary.

Water under the bridge, you might say. Not really. Some verses of the Chorus from “The Rock” by Eliot, and the sad spectacle that we have seen in recent weeks, help us to understand why. After the exile to Babylon, the prophet Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. But, says Eliot, "There were enemies out to destroy him/ And spies and self-seekers within, / When he and his men laid their hands to rebuilding the wall. / So we must build 'with sword in one hand and the trowel in the other.'" In fact, "We are encompassed with snakes and dogs: therefore some must labour, and others must hold  the spears." The Church is always threatened and undermined from the outside and the inside. This is no scandal, but we need a clear awareness: "There is  work together/ A Church for all / And a job for each / Every man to his work." At the time of Blessed Innocent XI and Marco d'Aviano in 1683. And today.

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