Here's a moving account of Orianna Fallaci's last hours. The Italian journalist Fallaci was the subject of a session at the annual meeting of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation.
"One of the most popular sessions was devoted to Fallaci, and it featured the man whom she asked to be at her side as she died: Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University in Rome, and an intimate of Pope Benedict XVI."
"Their improbable friendship illustrates an important current percolating in contemporary Western culture, a budding détente between institutional Christianity and some of its sharpest Enlightenment-inspired critics, motivated by a deep sense of shared peril."
How Pope Benedict first came to know of Fallaci:
"A degree of affinity between Fallaci and the cultural positions of the Catholic church actually predates today's frisson over Islam. In the 1970s, during a bitter referendum campaign in Italy which eventually legalized abortion, Fallaci wrote her famous work Lettera a un bambino non mai nato (Letter to a Child Never Born). She had found herself pregnant, decided to keep the child, and then lost it. The book is regarded by some as one of the most eloquent reflections on maternity and the gift of life ever written, and it brought Fallaci to the attention of a new German bishop and fellow intellectual, Joseph Ratzinger."
Bishop Fiscichella writes of his friendship with Fallaci:
"On Tuesday, Fisichella recounted the story of his friendship with Fallaci, which began in the final years of her life after she wrote a letter praising an interview he had given on Islam and religious freedom to the Italian paper Corriere della Sera. Towards the end, Fisichella said, the two would talk on the phone sometimes three or four times a day. (Fallaci was in New York, where she had lived for decades, undergoing treatment at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.)"
"Fisichella said that despite Fallaci's atheism and anti-clericalism, he saw signs of vestigial Christianity."
"Fallaci returned to Italy in her final days because, she said, she didn't want to die in exile. She asked Fisichella to help arrange a room for her in Florence where she could look out at the famous dome of Brunelleschi atop the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. She also requested a CD with the sound of church bells to play softly in the background."
"It was Fallaci's desire, Fisichella said, that on the day of her funeral, the bells of the cathedral would ring out. It wasn't easy to arrange, Fisichella said. Though he didn't elaborate, it's well known that some Catholics objected to bestowing such an honor upon a professed atheist, while others argued that it would be seen as an endorsement of her stridently anti-Islamic views. Nonetheless, Fisichella said, he managed to pull it off."
" 'With a great deal of difficulty, due to various polemics, it happened that when her coffin left the clinic to go to the cemetery, the bells of the Cathedral of Florence pealed for Oriana Fallaci,' he said, to thunderous applause from the crowd in Rimini."
Please read the whole thing. Fisichella poignantly describes holding Fallaci's emaciated hands as she died. His final statement:
"I held Oriana Fallaci's hand as a priest, as a bishop, asking the Lord to look upon her with great mercy, if for no other reason than that she suffered so greatly, because she was so alone, and because in her last years, radically and with deep conviction, she defended the idea that this country belongs to the West. She defended like few others the profoundly Christian roots of the civilization to which we all belong, including the faith that, let's not forget, God forever offers to us as a great gift. We have to remember this woman for what she did, for what she said and wrote. She was a great woman, a great Italian, who deserves to be viewed with respect, and who now belongs to the history books."