Rome on alert after ISIS threats; Italians poke fun at radicals

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
A beautiful gold, baroque dome in a side chapel in the Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The church was begun in 1605 and was designed by by the early Baroque architect Carlo Maderno. The church is home to Bernini s famous sculpture of Saint Teresa of Avila. | By Joni B. Hannigan/Houston

ROME (Christian Examiner) – After spared any real threat by terrorists since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, "the nation signed with the blood of the cross" is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State.

Italian officials are taking a threat seriously that was issued in the video of 21 Coptic Christians beheaded earlier this month, according to a USA TODAY article.

The Papal Basilica of St. Paul is outside of the Vatican walls, but one of Rome's four ancient major basilicas. It was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I and expended under Valentinian I in the 370s. The façade is decorated by mosaics which were done between 1854 and 1874 (based on the designs of Agricola and Consoni). They depict: in the lower section, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and in the central section, the mystical Lamb surrounded by four rivers which symbolize the four Gospels, and by twelve lambs representing the twelve Apostles. In the upper section, Christ is situated between Peter and Paul. | Photo by Joni B. Hannigan/Houston

That video warned ISIS forces were "south of Rome" in Libya, where the Coptic Christians were shown beheaded on a beach. Libya is 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.

Vatican City is a walled enclave within the city of Rome, recognized as an independent state. St. Peter's Basicilia, the Sistine Chapel, and other cultural and religious sites are housed there as well as many of the world's most famous paintings and sculptures.

The Vatican, according to the article, has made no official comment about any extremist groups, although Sunday Mass at St. Peter's Basilica was tight. At that service, according to the Associated Press, Pope Francis said he was going on a retreat and would not make his usual, traditional weekly public appearance Feb. 24.

"The risks are real," said Sabrina Magris, president of the International University School of Rome and Florence, the only European institution that prepares negotiators for hostage and terror threats. "The goal may be an actual attack of some kind or simply using threats to create an atmosphere of fear. But the risks shouldn't be underestimated."

The threats come after a report late last year Pope Francis – the head of state of Vatican City, and the head of the worldwide Catholic Church -- will visit the U.S. in September to attend an international meeting in Philadelphia to talk about the family – despite ongoing concerns about his security.

The Pope's 2015 visit to Philadelphia has been confirmed through a Vatican spokesman, according to the NYT, and that trip may include a stop in New York.

St. Peter's Square at the Vatican where Pope Francis holds public masses on most Sundays and Wednesdays.

In a show of solidary against the escalating physical, emotional and psychological ISIS threats -- to include those on social media sites including Twitter and Facebook -- a number of tweeters from around the world have responded with the hashtag "We_Are_Coming_O-Rome with everything from advice on where to eat and what to wear.

Italians have even offered advice about the traffic. Mauro Giulivi, a web developer @Guulvello tweeted a photo of long lines of traffic with, "are you sure?"

Alex Londinium, Feb. 22 @Alex_Londinium tweeted, "ISIS #We_Are_Coming_O_Rome Don't put cheese on seafood pasta, don't wear socks with sandals and please leave a nice review on #TripAdvisor."