There were no Synod meetings today (as the programme says, Vacat Congregatio). We had a pretty solid day yesterday of five minute speeches all the morning and afternoon sessions. My cup was full, you might say.
However that does leave space in the blog to catch up on some of the other places I have been able to visit while in Rome and around the Synod meetings. Each one has been very special. If there is a theme it’s that an essential part of a bishop’s role is connexion: to be a sinew in the body of Christ, helping to connect the different parts. That applies to the Church in different parts of the world and different denominations. It also means preserving and deepening our connection to the Christians who went before us. Let me tell you briefly about some my visits.
It was a huge privilege on Friday to accompany Archbishop Rowan and his party on a journey beneath St. Peter’s Basilica, through the excavated Roman cemetery with graves from the 3rd and 2nd centuries, to the point directly below the dome and the altar where a grave was found in the early 20th Century which dates from the 1st Century AD and which is believed to be the tomb of St. Peter. A very special place to pray.
The same day, it was good to visit the English College in Rome and have tea with the assembled seminarians who are mainly from the UK. They were a lively group of around 50 students and staff and the College is clearly a great place of formation for the priesthood and scholarship. It was good to be introduced to no less than five graduates of the University of Sheffield and to meet up again with a former Anglican priest from the Diocese of Sheffield.
This morning I visited All Saints Anglican Church for worship – a lively community right in the centre of Rome. It felt uncannily like (in a good way) being in any parish church in England, especially the notices and celebrating the 99th birthday of a member of the choir.
I travelled on for lunch with the monastic community at San Gregorio Al Celio. The travel directions included the phrase “turn right at the Colisseum and keep on past the Arch of Constantine” which in my world is quite similar to “the third star on the left and straight on until morning”. San Gregorio is the church where Pope Gregory prayed with Augustine in 597 as he sent him and a small group of monks to evangelise Great Britain. Another significant place of prayer. In more recent times it has been the place in Rome where the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the successors of Gregory and Augustine have prayed together.
The Church is the care of the Camaldi Benedictine Community. The prior, Peter Hughes, is very keen to see the Church become a place of pilgrimage and retreat in Rome for Anglicans and other Christian groups from England. The hospitality was wonderful and I do commend it. The community were very interested indeed in the fresh expressions movement. At one point I found myself explaining Messy Church to this group of monks, priests and professors, with the Prior translating both ways. They completely understood.
This evening was given over to a visit to the Sant’Egidio community in the Church of St. Bartholemew on the island in the Tiber in the centre of Rome. Sant’Egedio is a community founded in 1968 and is one of the new ecclesial movements often spoken of at the Synod of Bishops. It is a community dedicated to prayer and the service of the poor. It has seen many come to faith including my two hosts this evening. The community has also inspired some of the new monastic communities in Britain and deservedly so.
St. Bartholemew’s is the community’s own church and is now dedicated to the Christian martyrs of the 20th Century. There are side chapels around the Church dedicated to the martyrs from different parts of the world (those who suffered under the Nazis, the martyrs of the Pacific including the Melanesian martyrs etc). A very striking contemporary icon depicting the martyrs of the 20th Century is at the very front of the Church, forming and shaping the identity of the community. I hope to be able to hang a copy in my chapel when I return to England.
There is much I think that the newer missionary and monastic movements in the UK such as Church Army and The St. Thomas’ Order of Mission may be able to learn from Sant’Egidio and the Camaldi Benedictines and I hope it will be possible to build a stronger connection between the different groups.
So lot’s for me to take in and reflect on, I guess for months to come. And, in between, I’m trying to decide what to say in my own four minute intervention on Tuesday afternoon!