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Catherine wrote many letters to the Pope, pleading the case of Florence. It was always as if she were writing to an old friend, very personally, very lovingly, or as to a father, calling him "Babbo Mio," (my daddy), never intimidated yet respectful of his position. And he, on his part, answered in kind, to a daughter. He liked Catherine.
Catherine wrote, as someone sent by the Lord, with authority, fully confident she was to bring His Will to His Vicar on earth. Does this sound a bit lofty on her part? Well, she was not the first woman to be a Prophet to the Pope. St. Bridget of Sweden, also a Mystic, had the courage of her convictions to speak out strongly on the need for reform, attacking boldly the corruption and politics in the Church. Whereas Pope Gregory XI called her a Prophet, he did not have the warm affection for her, that he had for Catherine with her gentleness. Whereas St. Bridget spoke of doom, Catherine called the Church a garden with beautiful flowers having been allowed to grow wild, with weeds in its midst choking it. She saw the Church, at large, as foolish, stubborn children in need of Daddy, Babbo, but too strong-willed and prideful to come home and say they were sorry.
She felt the answer to the solution was for her to go the Pope in Avignon. So, at the invitation of the Pope, and with the hopes of Florence, Catherine set out for Avignon as a peacemaker. Catherine and the Pope met, at last, face to face in the year 1376. She was twenty-nine years old!
Catherine remained in Avignon for four months, at the express wish of the Pope, not only advising him how to deal with the crisis in Florence but that of the whole Church. As they tirelessly worked toward an equitable settlement, the government in Florence, that had sent Catherine to the Pope, for peace and reconciliation, was overthrown. The new government turned on Catherine and the Pope and the proposal for peace. They demanded nothing short of revenge. They wanted blood!
It would seem these four months in her all too short life had been spent in vain, but again God writes straight with crooked lines. The love and friendship that developed between the Pope and Catherine was to change the Church as it was then. In their correspondence, they had been in agreement on the policies crucial to bring about the necessary changes; but it took this time together, in Avignon, to work out the implementation of these goals.
Catherine always spoke Peace. Christ's Will for His Church could not be accomplished with opposing factions warring among themselves; they were not French or Italian or English, but Catholic against Catholic. She and Pope Gregory had three main actions: first the urgency of reforming the clergy, second the priority of relocating the Papacy to its rightful place in Rome, and third, finally and equally important, to launch a crusade to reclaim the Shrines of the Holy Land for Christ and His Church.
The third was paramount not only to the Pope, but to Catherine who, in a Vision, had seen Christians in one with Muslims entering the Wound in Christ's Side, having been washed of their sins by His Precious Blood. What the Pope and Catherine desired, was not only to save the Holy Places from further desecration at the hands of the "infidels," but conversion of the Muslims, so that they be saved through the Grace of Jesus Christ. This hope gave Catherine the will and the extraordinary physical stamina she so sorely needed to continue her work, sick and weak as she was.
Catherine was a woman who got a thought and forged ahead, barreling through all opposition. The Pope, on the other hand, vacillated between the different cliques in his court; one day he was going to Rome, encouraged by those who agreed with Catherine; the next day he was remaining in France, swayed by those who insisted he and the Papacy belonged in Avignon.
Very troubled, he asked Catherine to pray for a sign from Heaven showing him what was best to do. She did as he asked and, after Communion, Catherine's body became taut. She was lost in prayer for about an hour. As she came out of her ecstasy, they heard her say, "Praised be God, now and forever."
A few days later, when talking together, the subject of the Will of the Lord, whether to remain in Avignon or to go to Rome, came up again. Catherine replied, "Who knows what ought to be done better than your Holiness, who has long since made a vow to God to return to Rome?" Pope Gregory knew it had to be the Lord who told Catherine to say this, because no one knew of this vow outside of himself and the Lord. There was the sign! He would act!
The Pope travelled secretly by boat to Genoa. Until the very last moment, the forces of hell were trying to dissuade him; even his aged father threw himself across the threshold, begging him not to leave. Upon arriving there, what was waiting for him, but news his life was in danger and he best return to Avignon. Catherine, who had travelled by land, was in Genoa waiting for him. He didn't want her to come to his hiding place, afraid she would be followed. At the same time, he was afraid to go to her. Finally, summoning all his courage, the Pope, dressed as a humble Priest, went to Catherine. Praying together with his Holiness, she said this prayer,
"O Eternal God, permit not that thy Vicar should yield to the counsels of the flesh, nor judge according to the senses and self-love, nor that he suffer himself to be terrified by any opposition. O Immortal Love! If Thou art offended by his hesitations and delays, punish them on my body which I offer to Thee to be tormented and destroyed according to Thy Will and Pleasure."
This was the last meeting between Catherine and her Pope, but the love and friendship between them, never died. Their correspondence continued until he drew his last breath.
The Pope went to Rome.
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors and television hosts on EWTN, Global Catholic television. They are prolific writers about the Catholic faith, especially the Saints for which they have been dubbed "experts on the Saints." For more information about Saints like Catherine of Siena go to http://www.bobandpennylord.com/St_Catherine_of_Siena.htm