July 11 Monday, Anglican Centre, St. Clements, Lay Center, St. Eggidio

We started our day at the Anglican Centre in Rome.  Cannon David Richardson is the personal representative of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury to the Vatican.  He maintains a library for ecumenical research on Anglicanism, a chapel, and a presence for maintaining discussions between the Anglican Communions and the Roman Catholic Church.  Their offices are in a really cool Palatzo near the Pantheon.

They also conduct some summer courses, like “Love, Truth and Beauty in the Eternal City,” asking the question where is God in all of this.  Since that that is the very question we are asking Daivd turned into an important resource for us.

They maintain a chapel that has the permanent smell of incense, and they offer communion twice a week.

“Much Christian Spirituality in Rome is based upon martyrdom.  How is God speaking through these sacred sites?  Rome is naked human power versus human spirituality.  The Vatican is the assertion of power over the visitor.  It is intended to impress.  But how do such spaces speak of the sacred?  Many people visit St. Peters and come out saying, ‘now I know why there was a reformation!’”

David went on to point out that the Roman Catholic Church has two story lines – cannon law, based upon ancient Roman Law, where everything has to be defined and categorized and power relationships made plain, and inspiration, charism.

Right now in terms of ecumenism Rome is looking to its discussions with the orthodox rather than with the Anglicans or the Protestants.  Rome is looking East rather than West.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith welcomed some renegade Anglicans back to Mother Church, but the Council for Ecumenism has whispered that the action of the Holy Office is not their understanding of Ecumenism.  In 2009 the Pope created an ordinariate so some Anglicans could return to the Roman Church but retain some of the Anglican Patrimony – ie. Wives.  This has been an embarrassment for Anglicans, but even more so for the Vatican.  Cardinal Caspar just before he was sent into retirement announced that he had not been consulted on the decision.  As it turns out one of these renegade Anglicans who was representing himself as the head of the conservative Anglican movement had been a Catholic priest, who became an Anglican, married, had two children, was divorced and then remarried again, and was received back as a Catholic priest as part of this “deal” for the return of the these conservative Anglicans.  It turned out that fewer “conservative Anglicans” returned than what this character had represented.

There have been “informal talks” every year between the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics since Vatican II.  At the end of 2008 Rome announced that it was too soon to reignite discussions.  The very next year after the ordinariate scandal, Rome announced that it was time to restart discussions.  The goal of ecumenism as the Anglicans understand it is full organic union some day with Rome.  The model of unity is scriptural.  But as David said, “Rome is hot and humid, ecumenical talks are cold.”

David referred to a metaphor in a book Man Meets Dog.  Dogs will bark at each other through a fence.  If suddenly they come to the end of the fence and meet one another nose to nose, they will go back to where there is fence between them so they can bark at each other again.  This may be some clue to ecumenical dialogue.

When asked about common experiences of the divine Cannon Richardson said:  “I suspect there are common experiences of the divine.  There are also culturally and theologically distinct was of experiencing the divine.  For instance, sacred spaces are often cross cultural.  At Ronchamp at the border of France and Germany the Allies and the Germans met in a bloody battle, and a chapel there was destroyed.  The chapel was rebuilt in 1950 and it retains the sacredness of the space.  Another example is the Anglican Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia.  For 100,000 years the aboriginal peoples of Australia had treated this area of Adelaide as a neutral zone of peace, where they could meet to work out their relationships and problems.  The Cathedral retains something of that sense of sacred space imparted to it by the aborigines.

After the meeting at the Anglican Center we had some free time and then met our guide Mikilah at the Basilica of Clement.  This church has three levels and is an illustration of cross cultural sacred space.  At its very lowest level 50 feet below the present streets of Rome is an ancient Spring, probably a source, a sacred place of pagan worship.  Just above the Spring there is an ancient place of sacrifice to the God Mithras, the religion that was the chief competitor with Christianity before Constantine embraced Christianity.  After the triumph of Constantine the worship of Mithras melted away.  Mithras was represented by a bull, who was sacrificed and the initiate into the cult of Mithras was showered in the blood of the bull.  There was then a sacred banquet at which the initiate was welcomed into the fellowship of Mithras – parallels to Christian worship.

Also on the lowest level of the excavation, was the foundation of a Roman mint, and an apartment house that archaeologists believe may have been the home of Clement I the third Bishop of Rome.  On the second level of the excavation is a fourth century church built in honor of Clement I.  There are unusual frescoes on the walls depicting Clement and his death – according to legend he went to the Black Sea area as a missionary, and they died an anchor around his neck and through him in the Sea.  Then supposedly 100 years later, the sea parted and they found his body and brought it back to Rome.  We aren’t required to believe everything.  On the top level is a church that was rebuilt in the 19th century after the 4th century church became unstable and had to be abandoned.  One worship site on top of another on top of another.  Maybe David Richardson is right?

When we finished the tour of St. Clements we walked several blocks to the lay center in Rome.  This Center is located in a beautiful garden of several acres right in the heart of Rome overlooking the Coliseum.  On the grounds of this Lay Center are the remains of an Aqua Duct that Nero built to bring water to the Coliseum for the naval battles.  The garden and buildings belong to the Vatican, and the Center is to encourage lay people to come to Rome to Study.  The emphasis of study is ecumenism.  There we met Jim and Sandra Keating, a couple who teach at Providence College in Providence Rhode Island.  Jim teaches Paul and comparative religion, Sandra’s specialty is Islamic Studies – very, very bright lady, well worth following.  We also met Rome, and AJ Boyd who is working on a doctorate in Rome.

The lay center is all about ecumenisic and interfaith dialogue.  They have a number of Islamic students who live there and Jewish students as well as Protestants and Roman Catholics.  When people live together and eat together they are encouraged to work together.  Almost one third of the students at the Gregorian College now are lay people.  This is an astounding development in the live of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Lay Center was founded to help lay students who were coming to Rome to study.  They also sponsor international programs that bring Catholic leaders in higher education to come to Rome.  The mission is about hospitality and prayer.  They also have some local programs.

Donna Orsuto offered us the insight that we should not despair over what is happening at the official level of ecumenical and interfaith dialogue.  There is another reality happening at the grass roots level.  Cardinal Caspar recently gave a lecture at the lay center:  “why I am still a man of hope.”  Donna also pointed to a new document signed on to by a number of Islamic scholars called “the Common Word Document.”  This was the first time that Islamic Scholars have sought common ground from which to dialogue with Christians and Jews.

One of the current problems from the Catholic side of discussions is there is now a tendency to concentrate on identity.  There is a fear that a distinct Catholic identity can be lost, and so Catholics needs to define themselves over against Protestants and others.  There is a similar trend among some Protestants.  Another issue the Lay Center is processing is the clericalization of the laity.  Lay ecclesial ministry needs to be a serious formation for lay ministry.

How do we help people be open to the divine?  How do people experience the divine?

1. Listen to the Word until the word comes alive within you.  The word is God’s love letter to God’s people.  If you received a letter from someone important, you would open and read it.  So we should do with the scriptures.

2. Sacramental life – we have to break bread with the community of faith.

3. Listen to the community – we all need good spiritual friends involved in our spiritual formation.

Is faith the same experience, or a different experienced of God for different people and different peoples?  From the Christian perspective faith is the experience of God as self-sacrificing love.  Now when we use the term love we have to understand that a distinction.  My love for my children is different from my love for my pets.  If there is a fire, I save my pets first.  God’s love for us is on the level of the parent who saves his or her children.

Jonathan Miller offered the observation that in Judaism God loves us and suffers with us rather than for us  — God is with us and among us.

Sandra Keating offered that the strength of Islam is to keep God before them all the time, and the absolute obligation of everyone to care for all the members of the community – prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Sandra says she also stands in awe of the Islamic discipline of fasting during Ramadan.  She then had an interesting observation about one of the problems in Islam.  Islam talks about mercy, rather than forgiveness and reconciliation.  The distance between the divine and the human in Islam is so great, that the faithful can only throw themselves upon Allah’s mercy.  When this gets translated into relationships between human beings, rather than a divine human encounter, Islam is limited.  People can show mercy to one another, but there isn’t a good model forgiveness and reconciliation.  Thus, when there is conflict, there must be winners and losers before there is mercy, where with a well developed sense of forgiveness and reconciliation it is possible to find peace, where both sides win – win-win rather than win-lose.  I would like to ask Joseph Lumbard, the Islamic scholar we met with in Boston about that observation.

Our group noted the confusion we felt in India, and our scholar group commented.  Hindus and Buddhists believe the diversity of creation is an indication of the brokenness of creation.  The multiplicity of the manifestation of the divine is like the multiple emanations of the divine in Gnosticism and speaks of the basic brokenness of the created order, rather than experiencing the goodness of God through the diversity of creation.

In a conversation with Donna Orzuto at the close of the meeting I received another important insight.  I mentioned that I had been a student of George Lindbeck, and she became very excited.  Dr. Lindbeck is a real hero at the Lay Center as a leader in ecumenistic studies.  He lectured at the Gregorian University two years ago.  And I contrast the reaction of the lay center with the reaction of the Congregation for Ecumenical Relations where Bishop Ferrel wasn’t sure if he had heard of Dr. Lindbeck.  This convinces me that the curia is oblivious, while the laity are clued in.

I must also admit that the discussions at the lay center were so interesting I forgot to take pictures of our hosts.

The folks at the lay center wished us on our way to San Eggidio, and gave us a great recommendation for a restaurant to have dinner that is run by the Community of San Eggidio as a fund raising project.  The Community of San Eggidio out grew the Church of San Eggidio, so now the community holds its prayers in a different church.  The prayer service is a bit like Taize with chants and prayers, and music.  A wonderful organist was playing when we showed up about half an hour early.  The organ was a grand European pipe organ, and when I can up load some video later, I will include some of that prelude music. The church was ornate, but then most churches in Rome are decorated in a baroque fashion.

I was a bit surprised when three clergy arrived at the service, and two of them spoke.  To me for a movement that is entirely lay led, the clerical presence seemed out of keeping.  But I supposed the hierarchy wants to maintain some relations with this energetic lay movement in their midst.  Also several of the lay leaders of the community were on vacation.  For instance, Claudio, who we were told to ask for, when we visited San Eggidio was out of town.  So maybe they asked the bishop and priests to come to “fill-in” while the lay leadership was away.

After the service that was hard to follow, because it was all in Italian, although they did have headsets and a translator for the homily, we made contact with two members of the community who talked with us.  There was Dee, who is a member of the San Eggidio community in Jersey City, who gave us some insight into the community in the United States, and Paula, who was an early member of the community and joined the community at the age of 14.  They started out as a bunch teen agers in the 1960’s in Rome, who wanted to live their faith in the world.  They focused on Friendship, Prayer and Service.  They went out on the streets to serve the poor, and got to know people where they were serving.  They operate a soup kitchen open to all.  And rather than doing service to the poor, they focused on serving in friendship with the poor – an important distinction.  They have become involved as honest brokers in peace negotiations in several conflicts around the world.  At a very informal level they are able to bring different sides to Rome, and begin to broker dialogue that later leads to more formal agreements to end conflict.  They really seek to live out the Christian faith.  They connect well with young people.  Most of the people in the church were young adults, although I didn’t see many teens, and did not have an opportunity to ask how well they are connecting with the Millennial generation.  I should have remembered to ask that.  There are certainly lots of teenagers roaming the streets of Rome in the evening.  From the service we went to dinner at the restaurant sponsored by the Community of San Eggedio.  They use the restaurant to hire some handicapped workers as well as raise money for their ministries.  The prices were reasonable, and we had a good time.  Didn’t get back to the hotel, however, until 11:30 p.m.

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