From our different temporary lodgings, Bishop Hurley and I arrived at Maria Bambina this morning at about 9am, and an hour later we set off to the Synod Hall to lodge what’s called the “petitio loquendi”, which means our request to speak (for three minutes!) at the Synod.
We’re only a stone’s throw away from the Synod Hall but it was quite an effort to get there. A huge crowd was waiting to get into the Audience Hall (just beneath the Synod Hall) to meet with Pope Francis at 11.30am. So we had to go via the cape: nothing is simple or straightforward in Rome. We headed up to the Gate of the Bells where we were vigorously saluted by the Swiss Guard and eventually made our way towards the Synod Hall – but not before we saw coming towards us Bishop Charles Drennan of NZ with whom we’d dined yesterday evening. No sooner had we greeted him than there came towards us Cardinal John Dew of Wellington. We were swamped by Kiwis. This is one of the things I mean when I say that (ecclesiastical) Rome is a village: you’re always bumping into someone you know.
Having lodged our requests to speak, we walked out into St Peter’s Square where I bumped into Archbishop Bruno Forte who is the Special Secretary of the Synod and a visitor to Australia on a couple of occasions; then it was Fr Agostino Corbanese, an Italian Salesian with whom I worked in the Secretariat of State; and finally there was Archbishop Romulo Valles of the Philippines with whom I’d worked on the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. Bishop Hurley stopped at one point and began blessing babies while I bustled on. Having made it eventually across the Square and into the famous Borgo Pio I bumped into Richard Rouse, an Englishman who’s been in Rome for years working with the Pontifical Council for Culture and who was with his son, Filippo, a small boy with a large violin on his back. You see what I mean by village culture.
After coffee, Bishop Hurley and I made our way back into St Peter’s which was as crowded as I’ve ever seen it. Bodies everywhere – all of them, it seemed, with an iPhone camera, many with long selfie-sticks. We stopped to say a prayer at the tomb of Pope John XXIII and then sought repose in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. We’ll be back in St Peter’s tomorrow morning for the opening Mass of the Synod at 10am, but I was glad to beat a retreat this morning.
It should be no less crowded but a little fresher this evening at the Prayer Vigil in the Square with Pope Francis. I can hear them practising out there as I write this; the music sounds quite stirring. The idea is that the whole Church gathers symbolically around the Successor of Peter on the eve of the Synod to call the Holy Spirit down on the gathering. I’m more and more conscious that the prayer of the Church is like the sea upon which the Synod sails. Without it, we’d be high and dry.
After we’d lodged our request to speak this morning, we popped our heads into the Synod Hall itself which Bishop Hurley had never seen. It was empty, which gave a sense of calm before the storm. Not that I’m expecting any huge storms that lead to shipwreck. But the journey of the next three weeks will have its moments, and the action is sure to be lively once the Hall fills up. Not politically or ideologically, but pastorally and spiritually. I hope so.