Perhaps the first surprising thing about Don’t Worry Be Happy Day, which coincides this year with Martin Luther King Day, is that it comes out of Wales. Well, that’s not quite accurate. DWBH Day is an invention of the Catholic Enquiry Office, a branch of an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. See for yourself, at the bishops’ Web site, here (“Mondays in late January are very often reported to be the worst days in the year; the days most likely to provoke depression. The reasons for this are many, not least because the party season is over and many of us are feeling bloated, strapped for cash and suffering from broken relationships”). The bishops are running a contest, the prize being a one-on-one with a priest or a nun. Not just any old priest or nun, but a priest and a nun who appear on the BBC. But be forewarned: it is an evangelical Web site, and if you turn out to be truly depressed, guess who’s ready to help.
Padre Pio is the unofficial patron saint of Don’t Worry Be Happy Day. He is featured on the site of a spinoff called life4seekers, a popular blend of New Age spirituality and old-fashioned Catholicism, here (“Don’t miss our next Seekers’ event at the Franciscan Friary in North Wales”). The seekers, too, are running a contest, and because I knew the answer to their contest question (Where was Padre Pio born? Pietrelcina), I was tempted to enter to win a CD of music to meditate by. But to tell the truth I find that kind of music depressing. When I am cleaning house on the most depressing day of the year, I’d rather put on tango music, or the new CD by Baby Dee, or even “Rigoletto,” which is lots of fun if you don’t know what they’re singing about.
The Vatican has not officially recognized the feast or Padre Pio's role in it, but in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, on the eve of Don't Worry Be Happy Day, a huge crowd gathered to make the Pope feel better about having had to cancel his speaking engagement at La Sapienza University. The size of the crowd at St. Peter’s, estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 (which shows you something about the science of crowd estimation), compared overwhelmingly with the mere “dozens of professors and students” who protested the Pope’s appearance. The Pope had to have taken comfort from those numbers. La Sapienza, incidentally, was founded by a Pope—Boniface VIII—in 1303, well before anyone knew how dangerous a little knowledge was going to get. (The university is now public.) The protest was spearheaded by one Marcello Cini, a professor emeritus of physics, who said, according to the Times, that “to have the pope preside over the start of a new academic year would be an ‘incredible violation’ of the school’s autonomy.”
I think the Pope should have gone anyway. He could have taken the opportunity to clear up that misunderstanding with the physicists about Galileo.