With the sun shining brightly on the free day, I decided to head to the Beda College for lunch. I have a student for the priesthood there, Brendan Gormley, and wanted to touch base with him. I also wanted to meet the new Rector, Fr Philip Gillespie, a priest of Liverpool whose last gig was Dean of the Isle of Man (beat that!). His predecessor Monsignor Rod Strange is a great old friend of mine, and I’ve had a lot to do with the Beda over the years, even teaching there for a time. So I wanted to meet the new man from Man and continue my happy connection with the College.
The Beda is right across the road from St Paul’s outside the Walls, so I decided to combine my visit to the College with a pilgrimage to the tomb to St Paul, imploring him to give us a hand with this Synod. St Paul’s stirs me a little more than the other three patriarchal basilicas (St Peter’s, St John Lateran, St Mary Major), and I’m a huge fan of the Apostle whose tombstone the great church is. Paul was a master, perhaps the originator of what I’ve called pastoral creativity and apostolic imagination. And he stands as a model of the kind of leadership to which the bishops are called at this Synod – faithful to the past, able to read a messy present, unafraid of the future, unperturbed by controversy, passionately focused on Jesus crucified and risen who stands beyond all ideology and politics.
After my mini-pilgrimage to Paul’s tomb, I met the new Rector of the Beda whom I expected to be a much older-looking man. I thought he was one of the students. But I discovered that, despite his fresh face, he has the glorious title of Canon. We need some of them in Australia, I thought, and I reminded the Rector that there was once an Anglican clergyman Down Under named Canon Ball. So perhaps we’d better stick to Monsignor. After drinks in the garden and a very pleasant lunch, during which there was not a word about the Synod, I returned to Maria Bambina for a reposeful afternoon.
In the early evening, I decided to stroll across the river to the English College where I’d arranged to meet Fr Andrew Chase, a priest of Rockhampton studying theology at the Gregorian University. Off we went to a bar I like on the Piazza Farnese, one of the best of all Rome’s piazzas with the very grand Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) looming over it. I thought I had escaped the ecclesiastical village for a bit, but no: there arrived two Kiwis, Cardinal Dew and Sharron Cole, who’s an auditor at the Synod. But they soon moved on and we went for a pizza at a bustling place just around the corner. They were of course going somewhere much flasher.
Back to Maria Bambina I trudged to have an early night before we resume the fray this morning. All today we’re in the small groups, trying to come to grips with Part II of the much maligned working document. If our work on the briefer and more preliminary Part I is any guide, this will be even more like Jacob wrestling with the angel. Like him, we’ll probably come away limping. But it’s time for the fray as we enter the mysteries – and even the muddle – of the vocation of the family in the world of today. St Paul, pray for us!