“Marco é piu antico!”
The location:The great aula of the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome
The time: First semester, fall, 1977
The actors: Padre Pedro Ortiz, S.J., professor
Students from all over the world, including your’s truly
The task: Exegesis of the Synoptic Gospels, starting with Mark
I will risk being a bit irreverent to the holy Evangelist on this, his feast day. Each time I open the Gospel of Mark, or hear of it spoken, I go back to those few months in Rome. Poor Fr. Ortiz. A Spaniard Jesuit, hurriedly summoned to “the Greg” to teach this course. He had to learn Italian subito. So learn he did and speak he did, although in simple sentences.
“Marco é piu antico!” he would often say. “Mark is older!” referencing the purported age of the three synoptics Mark, Matthew, and Luke. “Marco é piu antico!” If we heard that once, we heard it literally 500 times in the course.
I must admit, I took a bit of advantage of Fr. Ortiz when it came to final exams. You see, at the Greg all examinations were oral. And there was only one upon which your entire grade depended. It was just you and the professor, for approximately 10-15 minutes, across a desk from one another. The first thing you did when you walked in was to greet him in Italian, “Buon giorno, Padre!” The second thing most of us did was ask, “Posso parlare L’inglese, Padre?” (May I speak English, Father?) If you were fortunate, he would permit it. The poor soul! He had to understand English, Spanish, Italian, Latin, German, French and Portugese. I sometimes wondered if in fact each professor indeed understood them all. Anyway, Father Ortiz gave me permission. I don’t recall what his question to me was, but I do remember speaking English as rapidly as I could, hoping if I made a mistake he wouldn’t catch it. And yes, I said at least twice, “Marco é piu antico!”
I received a grade of 8.5 (1-10 scale). Not bad. Not bad at all.
Dear Father Ortiz: I have never forgotten you or your love for St. Mark! Thank you, and God bless you!.