Yesterday, being Sunday, was free from Synod commitments. But that didn’t mean free from praying and eating – both of which are done in considerable quantities during the Synod, free day or not. I had two invitations for Mass – one to the Domus Australia where Cardinal Pell was celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Aussie house in Rome, the other the Canonisation Mass in St Peter’s Square. I decided the Square was closer, so over I went with Bishop Hurley to join the mob of of bishops who gathered around the Pope as he declared four blesseds – among them the parents of Therese of Lisieux – to be saints.
These papal occasions have about them a grand formality, at least out in the Square. But things are a little less formal, in fact a bit messy, in the Basilica where the bishops vest. It’s very pleasant to have, as it were, the run of St Peter’s without the vast crowds that throng through it from day to day.
We were vesting in the chapel of St Gregory Nazianzen who, by the way, hated episcopal synods and councils and thought that no good ever came of them. He retired from his see early to produce some of the most memorable theology ever written. Nearby was the chapel of Pope St John XXIII and he, of course, loved synods and councils. All the bishops stopped before his tomb to seek his intercession as the start of the final week of this Synod. I certainly did, in part because I think this Synod is more directly linked to Vatican II than any other Synod through the last 50 years.
Out in the Square, the sun came out, the crowd was vast, the bishops were well behaved (though they seemed not to have enough chairs for the cardinals, which left some of them looking a bit miffed). As the above photo shows, about the only thing I could really see were mitres, with bishops to the left and right, in front and behind. I was sandwiched between the Archbishops of Edmonton and Cape Town, so we had a little anglophone cabal.
After the Mass, a few of us antipodeans headed over to the General House of the Passionists on the Caelian Hill. It’s probably the most spectacular of all the General Houses in Rome, standing on a vast property which ends up overlooking the Colosseum; and it’s in one of the oldest and most interesting parts of the city – a bit off the beaten track and all the better for that. The Superior General, Fr Joachim Rego, was the Australian Provincial – although born in Burma of parents from Goa. Also on the General Council is Fr Denis Travers, who was also Australian Provincial, and the current Provincial, Fr Tom McDonough, was also there for a worldwide meeting of Passionists which they just happen to call a synod.
A splendid lunch (excellent pasta) was followed by a tour of the house and garden, and then we went into the grand old basilica of Sts John and Paul which is right next door to the Passionist house. It’s often been the titular church of the Archbishop of New York, and someone said the crystal chandeliers came from the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. They do look a bit Manhattan.
Back to Maria Bambina we went to rest before the next sortie. This time it was dinner with the Maronites at a restaurant called Eau Vive. It’s been there for years, and the most unusual thing about it is that you sing the Lourdes Hymn during the meal – loud Aves after the main course. Getting there was the problem. It was raining heavily; and when it rains in Rome you can never get a taxi. We decided to try the bus. That meant getting tickets (not too hard) and then waiting interminably for a bus to come.
Eventually we made it to the restaurant, only to find a more glittering company than I expected. Not only was there the Maronite Bishop in Australia, Antoine Tarabay, but also three Maronite lay men from Down Under. Cardinal Pell was there (eventually, because he’d been out cavorting with the Germans), as was the Australian Ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, and his wife Christine. Completing the party were Bishop Hurley, Dr Maria Harries (Australian auditor at the Synod) and Sister Maureen Kelleher (US auditor). It was all very jolly, but none of us felt like eating much after the day’s earlier extravagance. There was some interesting chat about the Synod, but I think most of us felt like a rest from that too.
Today we head back into the small groups as the final week begins. We’ll try to make headway with Part III of the working document where some of the hot-button issues are treated. I’ll also be part of the press conference after the morning session which is something I haven’t done before. Should be interesting.
I have a sense that we’re caught at the moment between Abraham and Moses. All of the bishops have a bit of both in them, but some are more Mosaic than Abrahamic, others more Abrahamic than Mosaic. Let’s hope the two patriarchs can embrace by week’s end. There’s quite some anxiety in the air: some are anxious because the Synod might go too far, others are anxious that it won’t go far enough, others again are anxious that the Synod will produce nothing. Anxiety has its place and can even be creative. But it’s hardly enough if we’re following the Lord who says now as He always has: “Courage! It is I. Do not be afraid”.