A kind reader sent this book into the hermitage, I suppose with the idea that the experience of solitary confinement of General Dozier, a one time hostage of the Red Brigades, is somehow analogous to my experience as a hermit!
This book reminded me of my own experiences of the “years of lead” over in Rome, along with brushes with the Red Brigades. A priest was gunned down very near to where I lived in Rome, and only some days later a fellow yelling obscenities tried to run me down in his little Fiat Cinque Cento. He went against traffic and along the cobblestones at the entrance of Saint Clement’s Basilica nearly hitting me before speeding on his way again, shaking his fist against all priests. There were a few months that were very tense, and some of the seminarians back in the day did not want to leave their rooms! I never hestitated, but that’s just me.
I had had plans to return home on 27 December 1985, but decided at the last minute to change my ticket for Christmas Eve. Had I not done that, I would have been at the TWA gate at the time when some 17 people were gunned down by the Red Brigades.
Late one evening, after dark, while walking on the terrace-roof of the college where I was living in Rome, I was suddenly under the spotlight, that is, about a dozen spotlights turned upon me from the hospital across the street. Looking over to the hospital, I noted that the entire facade, on all floors, had military snipers all pointing their rifles at yours truly. I found out later that the head of the Red Brigades (at the time) had been injured and captured, and was being treated in the hospital in a room facing mine. Yikes!
I don’t know if this had anything to do with the Red Brigades and their connections to the PLO of the time, but, just to say, another year, returning to JFK from Rome, while the flight was halfway across the pond, over Iceland, all the stewards and stewardesses surrounded my seat and were nervously asking whether or not I (with my roman collar on) had had any training in negotiating with terrorists threatening to blow up the plane. “Hmmmm….” thought I to myself. What could this be?”
In hindsight, I should have made light of it, to settle them down a bit. I should have said that I’ve had plenty of experience negotiating with liberal “liturgists”, with whom no one can negotiate, so that negotiating with terrorists threatening to blow up the plane should be a piece of cake!
“No,” I said, I hadn’t been trained up yet. It must have been that the pilot had had the FBI profile the passengers to see who would be best at negotiating. Perhaps they had seen some of my travels to rather dangerous places in the world. For some minutes, they wouldn’t take no for an answer, and wanted me to talk with them anyway, should the occasion arise. “O.K.” said I, “I’ll do my best.” My mind was racing, but this is not the kind of thing one can prepare for. It has to be an on-the-spot understanding of the very immediate circumstances. Some stayed near me, others went to plot elsewhere. Yikes!
As it turns out, the terrorist crowd didn’t push it. It seems to have been more of a test run to check the preparedness of the airlines. They didn’t have a bomb. However, when we arrived to JFK, we taxied to the most remote section of runway possible, almost in the water next to a marsh, miles, it seemed, from the airport itself. We were immediately surrounded by fire engines, ambulances, armored amphibious troop carriers, and untold numbers of police cruisers and other vehicles.
After some twenty mintues of tense waiting, a heavily armed anti-terrorist unit stormed the passenger compartment of the 747. There must have been two or three dozen… I lost count. Hard to count when you have your head down! They hauled out I don’t know how many _____*-looking people. [*I don't want this censured!] Yikes!
I very much miss TWA, the Catholic airlines. They always had picnics in Rome over at the North American College (the American Seminary of the USCCB) and did their best to help the priests. In this incident, they stopped my connecting flight from taking off without me, and personally helped me carry my book-laden suitcases all the way across the airport. What a great crowd!
I was forever their favorite passenger after that. After a TWA flight exploded just out of JFK, a stewardess was showing me the scrap book they had made of the disaster before I boarded another TWA flight, much to the consternation of some not very conspicuous FBI agents. Such talk in an airport is totally illegal, even at that pre-911 time, and I think we would have been arrested had she not been so exuberantly talking of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary for today’s flight, and had I not been wearing my roman collar!
Back to the book burning… As I said, I’m doing some book burning at the hermitage, including this volume on the Red Brigades. I hope that that’s a chapter of my life I’m closing with this post. This post is, I suppose, another entry in the autobiographical “just me” category. I’m trying to clean up the hermitage a bit, getting things in order. It’s imperative not to hang on to everything. Great book though! Thank you.