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!