WHEN IN ROME

Robert Fayers recounts a useful time spent at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilii

'To go to Rome is much trouble and little profit', so runs the opening lines of a verse in the Celtic tradition. They are words with which I heartily disagree!

This spring/summer I had the good fortune to be able to take a sabbatical. Essentially, I wanted it to include a diverse experience of Catholic Christianity. It began very memorably with a visit to a Romanian parish, linked with my own, for the Orthodox Easter. Then I made my first pilgrimage to Lourdes, and this was followed by attendance at a Celtic spirituality workshop, before 3 weeks in or near Rome, and concluded with 3 weeks in Zimbabwe, as a guest of the Diocese of Harare.

Rome was undoubtedly one of the highlights. Although I had been there before, albeit not since 1984, and despite S. Peter's, the Pantheon, and most of the other great buildings being under scaffolding [locals presently call it 'scaffold city'!], in preparation for the Jubilee, I still found it a most awe-inspiring place. I was in no doubt that I was visiting the centre of the Universal Church.

My first week in the Eternal City was spent acclimatising myself to the lay-out of Rome and re-visiting some of the great churches and historic sites. This period was followed by one of retreat spent in the Alban Hills at lovely Palazzola, a villa owned by the Venerable English College. From there I returned to Rome for 'Romess', the summer school organised by the Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

The Anglican Centre was set-up in 1966, following the historic visit of Archbishop Michael Ramsey to Pope Paul vi. A place of education and learning, with the largest Anglican library in mainland Europe, in the words of Archbishop Carey, 'the Centre's task is to articulate Anglicanism to Roman Catholics, and to interpret Roman Catholicism to Anglicans around the world.' Both Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul vi realised that official statements were not enough, and that the 'special relationship', between RCs and Anglicans could not flourish unless people really knew each other and could talk face-to-face about what they had in common and what separated them.

The Director of the Centre is Canon Bruce Ruddock, and its Administrator is his wife, Vivien. Between them they produced a full and very imaginative course, entitled 'Continuity and change in the Eternal City'. The ten-day Course focussed on Anglican-Roman Catholic relations since Vatican ii and explored our common Christian heritage, particularly as found in the early Christian sites. Very informative talks by specialists in their own field, enabled examination of the role of the Pope, as well as important theological issues for the Church today. The complement of the talks and the visits to some of the great basilicas, such as S. Peter's, S. John Lateran and S. Clemente, as well as the S. Callistos catacombs, helped us to consider the Church of today within its historic context. The 'continuity' and the 'change' were made visibly apparent and very much alive.

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If the Vatican officials we met were cautious by contrast to others who gave us talks, there was no doubting the courtesy and friendliness we encountered throughout our time on Romess. Ecumenically, Anglicans will inevitably feel that our own relationship with Rome has cooled since 1992, and it seems the Roman Catholic Church is confused about what we really believe for, to give an example, we appear to have conveyed one understanding of episcopacy to them and, in Porvoo, another to the Lutheran churches. We were fortunate in having Canon Roger Greenacre, Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral, as guest lecturer for the Course. His own study and insights into the earlier days of Anglican/R.C. dialogue and ARCIC, itself, left me, for one, more positive about is progress and future possibilities. As has been said, ARCIC has deeply and irrevocably planted underwater posts across the river of unity, and later they will be the foundations upon which the bridge of rapprochement will be built.

A number of our lecturers talked on issues relating to the Papacy, and particularly the present Pontificate, and within an ecumenical context. Views were expressed that the present Papacy is too centrist and authoritarian, permitting too little autonomy to local churches. Yet the need for a strong Pope in an increasingly secularised western society was also recognised, as was the great potential for an 'ecumenical' pope. It was also felt that Anglicanism needs to have a more focussed authority, able to articulate the opinions and decisions of the whole Communion -that would useful, not least ecumenically. It seemed to me that this was a case of 'The Church of Rome has too much of what the Church of England has too little'!

Whatever criticisms there are of the present Pope, there is no doubt that he is greatly loved and revered by 'ordinary' people, as the numbers and warmth of the crowds testify. I had the privilege of attending the Papal Mass for Corpus Christi at S. John Lateran, before Romess, and again, in S. Peter's, for the Solemnity of SS Peter & Paul. The latter was in a congregation of some 13,000 people and the Romess group were extremely fortunate in being given seats only a few yards away from the Holy Father. On those occasions, despite his great frailty of voice and body, his conviction, strength of character and holiness shone through.

S. Peter's Basilica Inevitably dominates any visit to Rome, not only for the size and magnificence of the building-, but for its history and strong Papal connections. No visit to S. Peter's is complete without going on the Scavi tour [the excavation of the necropolis under the Basilica], and hearing the remarkable account of the discovery of the bones believed to be those of S. Peter. I found it very moving. Those who enjoy detective stories, especially of a historical kind, will probably also be fascinated, in that regard, too, by what they are told.

As if being in Rome was not enough, we were given the additional 'treat' of visiting Subiaco, 'the birthplace of the Order of S. Benedict'. Having been given a talk on the 'Benedictine Tradition and Christian Unity' the evening before by Father Greenacre, like others I found it an inspiring place, full of atmosphere and with many beautiful frescoes. The Abbot kindly invited us to

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have lunch with the Community -and a good lunch it was, too!

Members of the Summer School came from the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, as well as Great Britain, and most were either ordained or wives of clergy. It was a particular pleasure to have two members of the Society of the Holy Cross among the party. We stayed in religious guest houses within walking distance of S. Peter's. Although 'bus routes in Rome can change with only short notice, generally getting around the City presented little difficulty. This was fortunate for the June/July weather was exceptionally hot, even for Rome.

The Anglican Centre is moving premises but only from one side of the main courtyard of Palazzo Doria Pamphilji to the other. Although the distance is short it is a big step in terms of the facilities that will be available and in opening-up fresh possibilities for the work of the Centre. The new Centre will have a more accessible and welcoming entrance, and generally will be far less cramped than at present, with a library [to be dedicated to the memory of Bishop Michael Ramsey] large enough for bookcases to be sited on two levels, a much-needed reading room/lecture room, small chapel and proper administrative facilities, as well as more acceptable living-accommodation for the Director and for entertaining guests. It is hoped the new premises might be ready in December this year. Although around œ200,000 has been raised for the project over the past 18 months, a further œ20,000 is needed for essential furnishings. It is a cause well worth supporting.

In Bruce Ruddock, and his wife, Vivien, Anglicans have very worthy and committed' ambassadors'. They organised the Romess Summer School superbly, giving careful attention to detail and almost every eventuality, and they made it a broad and yet incisive experience. I feel much better informed about the roots of Christianity and yearning the more strongly for that unity for which Christ prayed. Such ministry as the Ruddocks have in Rome must require a number of gifts and skills, not least that of diplomacy and ability to get-on with a variety of people, and these they display.

1 understand that the--'ordination' of women to priesthood is accepted in Rome as a 'fact' of Anglicanism, even though acknowledging internal division. The even-handedness of the Director enabled all those attending Romess to feel comfortable. I am sure that no-one from the original integrity considering attendance at a future Summer School need have any anxiety about our position being respected. I would enthusiastically recommend the experience.

Romess, like the Anglican Centre, itself, has a very real part to play in terms of ecumenism. Not least does it help Anglicans put themselves in the perspective of the Universal Church, but to be more fully aware of the continuous stream of faith that is ours, going back to the first century, and of our own historic roots in Rome and its Bishop. Perhaps if more Anglicans attended Romess there would be fewer unwise and irresponsible decisions in Synods?! It is my belief that all Anglicans priests to be ordained bishop should be sent on a Romess before or, failing that, just after consecration!

Robert Fayers is Vicar of S. Michael with S. Augustine, Beckenham, in the Diocese of Rochester and under the Episcopal Care of the Bishop of Fulham

 

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