Saturday, 28 July 2012

Visiting Trevi nel Lazio (part 2)

In my previous post, I described the first day of the two-day trip Father Stephen Otvos and I made to Trevi nel Lazio, the site of my titular diocese. The adventure continued the next day, albeit not in Trevi but in the surrounding region.

Father Stephen and I had a quick breakfast in the morning and then headed out around 10am. Our destination was the Shrine of the Holy Trinity in Vallepietra. This is quite an amazing little shrine, founded well over 1000 years ago as a monastery of Byzantine monks who were probably refugees from some persecution in the Eastern Roman Empire (some say as much as 1500 years ago). They basically set themselves up in a cave high up on the cliffs. One of the remaining frescos from the era of these monks is this one of the Holy Trinity:

Western depictions of the Trinity from this era usually represented the Father as an older man, and the Son as a younger man (the Holy Spirit was usually another image, like a dove). Easterners, on the other hand, tended to depict the Trinity as 3 similar beings, which is one reason why it is believed this is a Byzantine-inspired icon.

Now when I say those monks set themselves up in the cliffs, I wasn’t kidding. Here is the cliff, with a view of the valley below:

We were supposed to meet Father Alberto (the parish priest of Trevi and rector of this shrine) but we underestimated the time it would take to get there. End result: instead of celebrating mass with him at 11am, I got the job for the noon mass! Here is the altar where it took place:

All these photos don’t really do the site justice, mind you, so here is a small video I did to put it all in perspective:

After a delicious lunch with the priests ministering at the shrine, we headed on our way. Next stop: Subiaco, resting place of Saint Benedict, founder of one of the most important monastic traditions and arguably one of the key figures of Western civilization.

The is the monastery built over the grotto where Saint Benedict lived for a time:

This is the grotto itself:

After visiting the first monastery, we headed down to the monastery of Saint Scholastica (named after Saint Benedict’s sister), which is actually the older of the two.

We took a guided tour of the monastery, although it was interrupted when the Abbot showed up. He had heard there was a visiting bishop, so he took some time to visit with us.

And that was it! We were all pretty beat by that point, so the car ride home was fairly quiet. Still, there was one surprise left for us. When we got back to Rome, Father Stephen and I wanted to offer Marco some money for the gas and accommodation expenses that would have been incurred (and gas, I might add, is pretty expensive in Italy). But he refused, explaining that a collection had actually up among some of the townsfolk of Trevi, to split the costs between them. We were their guests, all the way.

As Marco drove off, Father Stephen and I were left exhausted but awestruck. What an incredible weekend, marked first and foremost by a sense of hospitality that people rarely if ever get a chance to experience. There was no doubt about it — we had been blessed, pure and simple.

Visiting Trevi nel Lazio (part 1)

Last year, as I was preparing for my ordination to the episcopate, I wrote a blog post entitled Introducing my diocese. In that post I explained what it means for an auxiliary bishop to have a titular diocese, and how lucky I was to have one with some people still in it! I mentioned that I hoped to visit the place the next time I was in Italy.

Well, I’m in Italy now, on my last full day before I return to Canada. And yes, during this time I had a chance to visit Trevi… and what a trip it was!

The story begins when I was contacted in April 5, 2012, by Marco Iacobucci, a young photographer living in Rome who grew up in Trevi nel Lazio. He had recently started a blog for his home town, and had gone on the Internet to try and find articles he could link to. Imagine his surprise to discover that there was now a bishop with Trevi as the titular see! So he wrote to me, wanting to interview me for the blog. I responded that I would be in Italy in the month of July, so instead of an email interview why not meet in person? This set the wheels in motion.

I got to Italy on June 26, but was initially occupied with the events surrounding the pallium ceremony for Archbishop Christian Lépine. Still, Marco and I did arrange for a meeting in Rome the next week for lunch. As it turns out, he didn’t come alone!

From left to right: Francesco, myself, Marco, and Daniele.

This small delegation, to my surprise, brought presents from Trevi: some books on the town, and some agricultural products (wine, olives, honey… that sort of thing). I was very touched. Over lunch we made plans for me to visit Trevi over a weekend, settling on July 14-15 as the dates, as my good friend Father Stephen Otvos would also be present and I hoped to share this kind of unique experience with someone else as well.

On July 14, Marco came to pick Father Stephen and I up in the morning. There was very little traffic heading out of Rome (the advantage of an early Saturday morning, I suppose), so we made it to the Simbruini mountains in good time. It felt like a summer drive through the Laurentians, and it turns out that Pope John Paul II spend some vacation time here at one point, climbing the mountain peaks in his younger days. The town itself was very picturesque:

After dropping our bags off at the B&B where we would be staying, we headed on to the town proper. Like a lot of old European towns, Trevi was build with a castle at the top of a hill, and was surrounded by a town wall. Over time the town outgrew the limits of the walls, meaning that the “town gates” are actually within the town itself, separating the medieval central portion from the later portion. Our first stop was to these gates. However, as we got closer Marco hinted that a surprise would be waiting for us:

Yes, my friends, they were ringing the town bells for us. We were met at the gates by the mayor, as well as some other representatives of the town, and into the medieval portion. A small crowd was gathered there as well, as it had been announced in the local newspaper that we’d be coming:

The parish church, as it turned out, was not far from the gates, so we headed there first. Once again, there was some fanfare as we arrived:

Father Stephen and I were then given a tour of the interior, and had a chance to head up to the organ loft as well.

The organ itself is a magnificent instrument, having been recently restored. It is now used for concerts, as part of the promotion of the cultural life of the region.

Now while the parish is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, the patron saint of Trevi is actually Saint Peter the Hermit, a holy preacher who died around 1050 A.D. at the age of 25. The basement of the church is a shrine dedicated to him, and contains his relics. The first photo is of an altar reliquary containing his bones, the second photo is of a portable reliquary containing his vestments, and the third photo is a reliquary bust containing his skull, which is carried in procession on his feast day (August 30).

It turns out that Saint Peter is also buried in Trevi, so after visiting the parish church, we headed to his shrine. Father Stephen and I went downstairs to pray at the place where he died:

There is very little about Saint Peter on the Internet, as far as I can tell (hmmm… I think a Wikipedia article will someday be in order). Still, despite the fact that he lived almost 1000 years ago, the people here are clearly very proud of “their” saint. One person explained it to me this way: “Saint Peter preached and did a lot of miracles. He died very young, but the people were convinced of his holiness, so the town canonized him and started to celebrate his feast. Eventually the Pope recognized he was a saint.” Not quite the way we do things today, but what a great description!

After all this visiting it was time for lunch. We headed over to a small restaurant that serves local cuisine, and tried a bit of everything.

As it turned out, we were going to need our strength, because the next stop (after a walk though the medieval section) was the castle at the centre of town.

We were given a guided tour of the interior of the castle, which includes an exhibit dedicated to the archeology of the area. The earliest records we have of Trevi are from the Roman era, as the Romans had an aqueduct that started in Trevi and flowed all the way to Rome. However, excavations in nearby caves have shown that human have lived in the Trevi region all that way to the early iron age, at least.

The conclusion of our tour was, of course, a trip to the top of the tower, to take in the view.

The valley as it heads up into the mountains:

The valley as it heads down to the plains and the coast:

By this point the afternoon was wearing on, so we headed to one more site before the parish mass that evening. A common practice in former days was to establish roadside shrines so that travellers would have a place to stop and rest. We visited one such shrine, and took in the frescos decorating it:

As much as I liked this visit, I must admit I was anxious to get back to the parish church for mass. I wish I could say it was because I’m particularly pious, but in all honesty it was because I was particularly nervous. You see, I was to be the presider. And yes, the mass was to be in Italian — a first for me! So we got to the sacristy early, giving me a chance to go over the mass texts so as to get the pronunciation right:

The pastor, which is also rector of a major shrine nearby (and vicar general of the diocese to boot!) showed up shortly before the mass was to start, and we had a chance to exchange a few words:

And then, it was mass!

It turns out our coming for the liturgy had also been announced in town bulletins, so the parish was quite full that evening:

While we headed to the sacristy afterwards, as is the local custom, many people came in to greet us. We had to change quickly, mind you, because we had also been invited to visit with the local confraternity (a kind of local charity often found in parishes throughout Italy).

The confraternity members described their work and gave us some of their literature. It was a real treat to visit with them.

Can you believe this was all in just one day? And yes, we were beat by the end of it. This fatigue wasn’t just physical, but mental, as no one we met from the town (apart from Marco himself) spoke any English. It was a great chance for me to practice, but by the end of the day my brain couldn’t process it anymore! Marco very graciously drove us back to the B&B where we were staying, and after a final meeting with a parishioner and a couple of sisters Father Stephen and I started to share on the amazing experience we had just lived. We hit the hay early, because this was just day 1 of our two-day adventure…

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The pallium trip, summarized

It has been a while since I wrote a true blog post. Blame it on confirmation season: I was busy enough with my usual work, and when the post-Easter schedule of confirmation celebrations took off, that was it (although Twitter and Facebook updates did continue). Please don’t misunderstand, I absolutely loved doing confirmations, but it did eat into the personal time required for this sort of writing.

In order to get back into the swing of things, I thought I might write a summary of the visit of the College of Consultors to Rome for the pallium ceremony on June 29. Of course, you may be wonder what the heck a pallium might be. This Wikipedia article does a pretty good job of covering the subject. In short, it is a special badge of office for a newly-appointed metropolitan archbishop, who goes to Rome to receive it during the mass of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). Quebec had three bishops receiving the pallium this year, including my own archbishop, Christian Lépine. Each diocese used the occasion to invite others to come as part of a delegation, and I was part of the Montreal delegation.

We left on June 25 in the evening. As I have been doing a lot of travelling lately I went ahead and got a new credit card that gives access to certain travel benefits, such as priority check-in and free access to the airport lounge. They might not sound like much, but they do take some of the blah out of travelling. In particular, I managed to get a lot of work-related reading done in the lounge prior to boarding the plane, meaning I had less to do once I got the eternal city. Yes, I said work-related reading: this wasn’t yet vacation!

We got to Rome early on the 26th, and grabbed a cab to the Domus Carmelitana, the pilgrim residence where some members of the delegation (including those from the College of Consultors) were staying. The Domus is very comfortable, with a lovely terrassee, a decent breakfast, and (very important) air conditioning! The best part, though, was the service: both friendly and competent, an excellent combination. However, there were a few downsides: no lunch, no supper, and no chapel! We therefore set up a time for us to celebrate mass at the nearby Canadian College, and scoped out a few places for meals. In the end we wound up eating in the Borgo Pio almost every night, followed by a tasty gelato…

June 27 was a day of exploration, the calm before the storm you might say. As it turns out another member of our delegation was going in roughly the same direction as I was, so we turned it into a several-hour exploration of the old quarter of Rome. He had studied in Rome many years ago, so while he was acting as my tour guide it was also a bit of a trip down memory lane as well (we even visited the very same classroom he once studied in at the Gregorian University). On the way back we passed by the Trevi fountain, which I wanted to see in particular because my titular diocese is Trevi nel Lazio, i.e. it shares the same name.

June 28 was the day I completed my set of purple episcopal garb. Yes, my friends, I got a biretta. Pricey little things, they are, and a bit of a pain to fold up once they have been opened… That evening there was a special reception put on by the Délégation du Québec in honour of the three archbishops. It was very nice, and I had a chance to run into some Canadians living in Rome whom I had not seen in a long time.

June 29 was the big day, of course. I had to be at Saint Peter’s by 8:30 am, which means I left the Domus around 8, fully dressed in purple cassock, rochet, mozetta, and skullcap. Oh, and the biretta was also along for the ride. Did I mention that it was EXTREMELY hot in Rome that day? Even at 8 in the morning I was roasting. It didn’t help that I had absolutely NO CLUE where I was going. Yes, I knew where Saint Peter’s was (kinda hard to miss in Rome) but it is a big complex. Happily, I spotted two young priests in cassock and surplice walking with purpose of the right direction, so I figured I’d just follow them. When we got to the piazza in front of the basilica I asked them if they could point me to the door I was supposed to use (different groups of people were using different entrances), and thanks to them I was able to march past a few saluting Swiss Guards to find my way about three or four rows from the front. I wound up sitting next to (and having a great chat with) Bishop Peter Elliot of Australia, who literally wrote the book on being a master of ceremonies for the modern roman rite. He had his biretta too, and clearly wasn’t afraid to use it :-) I kept my eyes on him to know when I was supposed to put it on, and when to take it off…

As for the mass itself, the best word to describe it is “majestic”. The Pope seemed in good form, albeit a bit tired (this ceremony comes at the end of the pastoral year in Rome, so that makes sense). The homily was in Italian, but a translation in English can be found on the Vatican web site.
After the ceremony I changed into my black-and-red cassock for an official reception hosted by the Canadian College, which was thoroughly enjoyable. The evening was another official reception, this time at the residence of the Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See. At both events I had a chance to connect with Canadians living and working in Rome, all of whom have been unfailingly welcoming and gracious to our little band of pilgrims.

The morning of June 30 the various pallium delegations had a private audience with Pope Benedict. Don’t be fooled by the word “private”, mind you — there were several hundred people in the Paul VI hall. Placed (relatively) up front, I had a chance to chat with many brother bishops from around the world: Lagos, Davao, Brisbane, Philadelphia, Denver, and so on. I did not get a chance to meet the Pope personally, but that should come in September when I return for the course for recently ordained bishops.

And then, suddenly, it was July! Sunday mass was celebrated at Trinita dei Monti, the French church run by the Fraternité monastique de Jérusalem (who also have a house in Montreal). We had a tour first, and it is quite an amazing place — it was a major centre of scientific discovery in its day, demonstrating that faith and science really can go together, especially in the Catholic tradition. The rest of the day we spend walking around (I had a chance to visit the Pantheon, as well as pray before the tombs of Saint Catherine of Siena and Blessed Fra’ Angelico). After catching up with a friend now living in Rome, the rest of the evening was quiet, as the nation mourned its terrible loss to Spain.

July 2 was the last event for the Montreal delegation. We got up early and set our for Saint Peter’s, where Archbishop Lépine presided mass at the tomb of Saint Peter himself. It was very moving to know the faith we were celebrating together was in perfect continuity with the faith for which Peter, the Rock, was martyred.

Part of the Montreal delegation began to leave in the days that followed. Those who remained each set their own pace. As for me, July 2 was also the day I started Italian lessons at the Leonardo Da Vinci school. Now people sometimes wonder why I would enroll in classes when I am supposed to be on vacation, but I have often done that. I find that there is no better way to immerse oneself in an environment than to learn the language. With the other students you also get the chance to discover people from all over, and we slowly form a community together. The staff of the school often also offer all kinds of mundane assistance, which helps make the experience (and culture shock) that much easier.

I used part of my time in Rome during this week to get to know some of the various curial offices. In particular, I had a meeting with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. He was once my professor, and given his new role (as well as my own) I wanted to see what advice he might have for me. I appreciated his warm welcome, and the sharing of his perspective on the role of the bishop in our post-modern world. I also had a very nice meeting with Cardinal Koch of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, as well as members of his staff. I had visited this Council back when I was Chairman of the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism, so I was glad to be back and to visit a friend I made back then who still works at the Council.

July 5 was a very special day for me, because I met up with a small delegation from my titular see, Trevi nel Lazio. There is a fellow named Marco who lives in Rome but who is originally from Trevi, who had contacted me some weeks back to interview me for the town website. When I mentioned I was coming to Rome we made sure to set a date for lunch, and he showed up with two others in tow! It turns out that, while the diocese of Treba (the original name) was suppressed back in the 11th century, the people of the village never forgot that they had once had their own bishop. After Vatican II they petitioned to have it restored as a titular see, and there have been 3 bishops since then (yours truly included). My immediate predecessor was a Polish bishop, and the town had contacted him as well and established an exchange with his diocese in Poland (people visiting him there, Poles coming to visit Trevi). This little delegation expressed great pride in their history, and invited me to come and visit for a weekend. So, I’m going! We have it set up for July 13-15.

July 6 was the day when the rest of the diocesan delegation left for Canada. We ate breakfast together and said our goodbyes, and then they jumped in a cab for the airport. As for me, I packed my bags and walked over to the Casa Paulo VI on Via della Scrofa, between the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, which is where I am staying for the rest of my stay in Rome. I already have some new adventures planned, and will be joined soon by a brother priest for a couple of weeks of vacation. Language classes will continue as well, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the people who live at the Casa. Stay tuned for more!