By REY FLORES
In Matt. 16:18 Jesus said: “You are Peter and upon this rock I shall build my Church.”
It’s unlikely that at that time Jesus was thinking of any franchising opportunities for His Church by including a fast food restaurant. When He gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom, He didn’t give him keys to a McDonald’s.
Well folks, if you have not heard about this yet, McDonald’s has just opened one of its newest franchise locations just steps away from where the center of all Catholicism sits. Just before 2016 came to a close, McDonald’s started serving up its world-famous Big Macs, Happy Meals, and Quarter Pounder with cheese hamburgers on Vatican City property.
In return for this privilege, the Vatican will collect approximately $31,000 per month rent from the franchisee. Has Pope Francis turned Jesus over to Ronald McDonald for 31,000 monthly pieces of silver?
As Elio Cardinal Sgreccia, president emeritus of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said about the advent of McDonald’s, this is a “controversial, perverse decision to say the least.”
From a financial standpoint, the Vatican and Church aren’t in dire straits. It’s not like Pope Francis has to take his vehicle down the street to the nearest car title loan store. The Vatican doesn’t need this money: So why rent a piece of the Vatican to the hamburger-peddling moneychangers?
It appears that the faithful pilgrims and many tourists who visit the Holy City every year have enough choices of restaurants to eat at during their visit to the Eternal City — much better culinary choices, I’m sure.
The problem doesn’t stop at McDonald’s because the plans are already in motion to open the Hard Rock Vatican City within the next couple of years. That’s right, the world-famous Hard Rock Café will now have electric guitars hanging on its walls right along all sorts of rock and roll memorabilia that the Hard Rock is known for, only minutes away from the Sistine Chapel.
I can almost imagine Pope Francis stopping by one of the rock concerts the Hard Rock often hosts for its customers, dancing along in his papal robes.
This is truly a disturbing development, in my opinion. I have never had the fortune of visiting Rome or the Vatican, but it’s in my plans to somehow make it there with my family one day. I shudder to think what the place might look like by the time I finally make it there.
What is next after that? Will the Piazza San Pietro soon start to look like the Las Vegas strip, all lit up in neon once the sun goes down? I may be exaggerating a little, but these types of commercial developments in international cultural institutions raise a red flag for me.
One might initially think that a McDonald’s may be a harmless thing. After all, there are several cultural institutions which already have a McDonald’s on campus, such as the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and even the Louvre in Paris. What’s the harm in a McDonald’s at the Vatican?
So far the Louvre in Paris has not become a hotbed of fast-food franchises, though at first McDonald’s did face some resistance from art purists who imagined that Mona Lisa might change her expression at the constant aromatic presence of McDonald’s yummy French fries.
Should we flip tables over at the Vatican McDonald’s and Hard Rock Café?
In 2012, Catholic Exchange writer Gayle Somers wrote an article titled “Jesus and the Money Changers” where she invites us to “know something about the physical arrangement of the Temple at this time, as well as some of the customs and business conducted there.”
Somers explains how it wasn’t necessarily the “moneychangers” being there that was the problem, given that there had been an approved-of area where livestock could be sold and bought as well as the business of exchanging foreign currencies and as well as paying taxes.
“Here, the judgment against God’s people is not simply doing business where they shouldn’t have. . . . The fact that the Court of the Gentiles, which was supposed to be a place of prayer and evangelization, had become a ‘marketplace’ was emblematic of Israel’s terrible spiritual desolation.
“In His cleansing of the Temple, Jesus prophetically demonstrates that the Temple was no longer a place of true encounter with God, for Jews or Gentiles. It was destined to be eclipsed and replaced.”
So, after having read Somers’ assessment of Jesus’ outburst, how would the McDonald’s and Hard Rock Café situation play out today? Will having these two businesses in and around the Vatican help water it down as simply a “marketplace” emblematic of today’s spiritual desolation?
The Romans eventually destroyed the Temple, and it was never to be rebuilt. I hope that this isn’t the case with the Vatican! Perhaps it will be McDonald’s and the Hard Rock Café that will eventually be torn down, but why build them in the first place?
I have one last cringe-worthy thought I have to share with you, and perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, but here is the question which popped in my head as I wrapped up this column: What will the surprise “toy” be inside the Happy Meals at the Vatican McDonald’s?
It could be anything from holy cards, a Miraculous Medal, a rosary, or a Pope Francis action figure. Cringe-worthy indeed.
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(Rey Flores is a Catholic writer and speaker. Contact Rey at firstname.lastname@example.org.)