On 11 February 1929, Benito Mussolini, the Italian Duce, signs the Lateran Pacts with the Vatican Secretary of State, acknowledging the Holy See’s full and exclusive ownership and sovereign jurisdiction over the Vatican City. The agreement puts an end to a dispute that had been pending between the Catholic Church and the Italian State since 1870, when Rome and the Pontifical State were annexed by the young Kingdom of Italy.
With its 0.44 square kilometres of territory, the Vatican City becomes the world’s smallest independent state, located on the right bank of the Tiber, in the heart of the Eternal City. Governed by an absolute monarch, under the authority of the Pope, the Vatican is first and foremost a symbol of excellence for the Catholicism, and for Christianity in general.
St. Peter’s, an expression of the church on earth sought by Jesus and a monument of inestimable artistic worth, serves as the setting for the main Catholic celebrations, including the solemn rites of Christmas and Easter, as well as the proclamation of new Popes, the funerals of deceased Pontiffs and the opening and closing of Jubilee years.
After the death of the much loved Pope John Paul II in April of 2005, the conclave elected the German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who took the name of Benedict XVI. Announced with the traditional phrase Habemus Papam, the pontificate of the new Pope was quickly brought face to face with the difficulties generated by the inexorable process of secularisation.
The dual secular and spiritual power – meaning a power that is ordinary, supreme, full, immediate and universal – exercised by the figure of the Pope lies at the centre of a thorny debate regarding the unquestionable moment of crisis experienced by the entire Church: a crisis of vocation, witness and credibility. Or, in a word, spirituality.