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The Camaldoli at 1000… più o meno.

The Lay Centre enjoyed the opportunity to host some of Rome’s most well-respected ecumenical leaders for lunch today, offering an oasis in time and space to what is already a busy and historic week for all involved.

Some will have heard already that the Archbishop of Canterbury is coming to the neighborhood next weekend to celebrate the Camaldolese community at San Gregorio Magno al Celio on the occasion of their millennial anniversary. It was Gregory the Great that sent Augustine to Canterbury to convert the Angles, famously quipping how they better resembled angles, after all, and the connection between the local churches of Rome and England has a long history. That history is tied to this very spot, and the relationship with the Camaldolese at the site of Gregory’s family estate has its own long history – with a recent twist noted below.

The bishop of Rome has decided to join him for vespers next Saturday at San Gregorio marking the occasion. As it is a small church, I have been assured the only way I will get a ticket is if I poison some monsignor and take his – and since all things baroque seem to be in vogue just now, it might be socially acceptable if I did just that!

Alas, I am too much stuck in the ways of my youth, and will just pray for intervention from Sts. Gregory, George, and Jude, instead.

Nevertheless, the Archbishop will be presiding and preaching at St. Paul’s Within the Walls, the Episcopalian (read: American Anglican) Church of Rome on Sunday morning, and offering a conference on monasticism and ecumenism with the prior of the Camaldolese monastery in California at San Gregorio in the afternoon. No tickets (and thus no poisons) are necessary.

All of this is to celebrate the 1000 year anniversary of the Camaldoli community, a Benedictine offshoot that uniquely comprises both monastics and hermits in lives of contemplation. But, in fact, it seems that historians have dated the actual establishment about 12 years later… the event being predated for political reasons at an early stage. Nevertheless we know the community was founded by St. Romuald, a monk in the abbey of St. Apollinaris in Classe at Ravenna, who “reproposed the original call of believers to a radical faithfulness to the gospel and interior freedom, guaranteed not by human power or strict disciplinary norms, but by faithfulness to the Spirit of God.”

The community’s website can be found here: http://www.camaldoli.it/en_index.htm

Ecumenical witness in the life of Camaldoli

This is not all that has been going on, and not all we were celebrating, however, for this Benedictine offshoot congregation on the Caelian hill. Several weeks ago, they elected a new prior: Dom Peter John Hughes. Dom Peter has been an Anglican priest for a number of years, and a Camaldolese monk for fifteen. How fitting, that on the eve of their millennial anniversary, the community living in the house that was that of the pope who sent the Apostle of England would choose as their Roman prior a priest of the Communion born from the Church of England?

After fifteen years of ecumenical witness as an Anglican priest active in a Catholic order, the election presented a crossroads. Clearly, the prior must be in full communion with the Catholic Church – and there is no personal Ordinariate established in Italy. Therefore, Dom Peter was brought into full communion and welcomed into the Catholic presbyterate at a quiet liturgy presided by Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, “Italy’s most famous theologian”. Forte has been rumored as a possible successor to Cardinal Levada in the CDF, and was one of the first appointees to the Council on the New Evangelization.

Below is a selection of his homily:

My dear Peter! In order to become a monk in the community at Camaldoli, you were required first to become a member of the Catholic Church. While you understood and accepted this, you felt it paradoxical that, in order to embrace monasticism as a sign of an ecclesial mystery larger than that of each single tradition and of the unity which lies beyond all divisions, a decision was required which seemed to point in the opposite direction. Despite the consequences of disunion, we can nevertheless recognise and celebrate gifts of grace and continuity. Where there was discontinuity because of the non-recognition of your Anglican Orders, the continuity was maintained in your decision to live the monastic life, in the light of the understanding of Camaldoli, as an ecumenical witness, with its goal of full visible unity in faith and sacraments. When you were recently appointed to lead the Camaldoli monastic community in Rome, you were also invited to consider receiving Holy Orders in the Catholic Church.

After much thought and prayer, you have come to see this as a response to a call, an invitation to exercise to the full the service of leadership now asked of you, and an opportunity to offer a fuller witness within the Catholic Church. By giving such a response, you do not deny your origins or identity or the value of your long and fruitful ministry in the Anglican communion, and you do not intend to break this communion. On the contrary, your ordination to-day opens the way for you to continue your service to the unity for which Jesus prayed, liberating it for a fuller realisation within the Catholic Church that has received you as a member and has called you to exercise this ministry. Our sincere wish is that this act today might also be celebrated as expression of this deeper Christian fellowship we already share in Christ, and linked as it is with the monastic witness, may be welcomed as a positive and constructive contribution to the ecumenical journey.

By all accounts of those present, every effort was made to recognize the value of Peter’s entire ministry and his dedication to the community, and there was not a drop of Roman triumphalism, much to the credit of Archbishop Forte and the curial offices involved. One can be received into Catholic orders in a way that does not invalidate the ongoing participation in the priesthood of Christ, that someone such as Dom Peter so clearly exemplifies. We must continue to pray for the day when such steps are no longer necessary.

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