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Witness through Celebrating Life; Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Day #1

From the official material prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the World Council of Churches:


Genesis 1:26-31, God saw all that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Psalm 104:1-24, O Lord, how manifold are your works.
Corinthians 15:12-20, If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
Luke 24:1-5, Why do you look for the living among the dead?


Our journey of Christian unity is firmly rooted in our common belief that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, – we celebrate not only the life God has given us but the offer of new life through Jesus’ conquering death once and for all. As we meet together during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, we witness to our shared faith by our concern for the life of all.

The reading from the book of Genesis reminds us of the creative power and energy of God. It is this power and energy that St. Paul encounters in experiencing Jesus’ resurrection. He challenges the people of Corinth to put their total trust in the Risen Lord and his offer of new life. The psalm continues this theme as it proclaims the glory of God’s creation.

Our gospel passage challenges us to look for new life in the face of a culture of death that our world frequently presents to us. It encourages us to trust in Jesus’ power, and so to experience life and healing.

Today, we thank God for all that shows God’s love for us: for all of creation; for brothers and sisters in all parts of the world; for communion in love, for forgiveness and healing and for life eternal.


God our creator, we praise you for all who give witness to their faith by their words and actions. In living life to the full we encounter your loving presence in the many experiences you offer us. May our common witness of celebrating life unite us in blessing you, the author of all life. Amen.

Reflection Questions

To what extent do your own witness and the witness of your church celebrate life? Will others know from your witness that Christ has been raised from the dead? What do you see as the areas of growth in your life? Are there things of the past that the churches cling to which ought to be laid to rest because of a new ecumenical consciousness?


It’s a Small (Catholic) World After All

I think John Allen, Jr. said that if you stand in the same place in Rome long enough, you will meet every Catholic you have ever known, or at least someone who knows them.

Nancy left for home on Thursday after three weeks here in Italy, and I spent the next day sleeping to recover from vicarious jetlag! As Sunday approached I had not yet decided where I would be worshipping in my quest to pray in as many of Rome’s different churches as possible (without becoming just a liturgical tourist). So when Donna asked me to deliver some propaganda for Lay Centre events to the “Caravita”, the oratory of St. Francis that Nancy and I had been to a couple weeks ago, I agreed, still thinking I should be going somewhere new.

The Spirit works in little ways too.

When I arrived at del Caravita, I looked around for someone to ask about the material – where to put it, if we could announce the events, etc. As I watched two people seemed to be the “go-to” folk, one was a woman clearly preparing to serve as lector, and the other a tall, thin, bald guy who seemed to know everyone. So, i approached him with, “you seem to know whats going on around here, who would I talk to about this?” He offers to introduce me to the lector, “Cindy”, who would know. Here’s a transcript:

Me: Hi, my name is AJ Boyd, and I’m from…

Cindy: Oh my God! You’re AJ! I’m Cindy… Me: [Shocked expression] Cindy: …Woodin!

Me: Oh that Cindy!

Cindy: So you’re at the Angelicum right? Are you in Don’s class [indicating tall, thin, bald guy]?

Me: No, I just met him.

Cindy: He’s teaching a course on Methodism, and he’s just been named bishop of Saskatoon

Me: That’s Don Bolen?! I didn’t recognize him! I am taking his class… it starts tomorrow.

Ok, so it was more comical in real life. Cindy is a college friend of one of my parishioners from St. Brendan, and when I decided to come to Rome, she decided to put the two of us in touch. Cindy and I had been exchanging sporadic emails since July, and just had not yet met in person. She has lived in Rome for 20 years as part of the Catholic News Service Vatican Bureau.

Monsignor Don Bolen recieving the Cross of St. Augustin from Archbishop Rowan Williams

Monsignor Don Bolen is the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, and former staff of the Anglican/Methodist desk at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Over Christmas break his election as bishop was announced, which I followed and even posted on Facebook. He’s teaching the second half of our course, Methodism and its Dialogue with the Catholic Church. He was the presider and homilist for the Sunday Eucharist, and was clearly loved by the people who had known him there from his time in Rome.

First impressions – after one mass and one class – is that the people of Saskatoon are blessed among Canadians. Home of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism, it seems like a great fit, and any diocese would welcome a bishop who is so genuine, humble, intelligent and obviously a gifted ecumenist. A good preacher and teacher too!

Sunny Assisi

Cathedral of San Rufino (left) and Basilica of Santa Chiara (right) in Assisi

The last time I was in Europe, I had only made a day trip to Assisi. This time, we spent three full days in this quiet Umbrian hill town made famous for its twin medieval saints, San Francesco (Francis) and Santa Chiara (Clare). It was probably my favorite part of our holiday, and I cannot thank Nancy enough for arranging for us to stay there as long as we did – and in such comfort as we did.

Through her timeshare, we landed a last-minute deal at some vacation condos 5km from the old city. (I wanted to stay in a cave to get the full Franciscan experience, but she convinced be that the on-site sauna would serve just as well: both are dark and damp, and not very spacious. Not sure Francis would be sold on the idea though…)

St. Francis statue at Cathedral of San Rufino

The first day was a beautiful, cold, crisp, clear day, sunny and freezing. I cannot tell you how nice it is to have the lucury in this town not to feel as though one has to see everything in a day. You can – it is not very big – but you get so much more out of the experience with a leisurely pace. We decided to roughly follow the Rick Steves’ Assisi stroll, and started at the higher end of town with the old Roman Amphitheatre, now converted for use as a restaurant with a garden.

Because of the fame of Francis and Clare, I always think o Assisi as the quintessential medieval town that it became by the 13th century, but forget that long before that it was also a Roman town, built in 295 BC. Before the Romans, it was Etruscan. Before that, there were Umbrians in the area, perhaps as early as 1000 years before Christ.

By the end of the third century AD, the town and environs had been largely converted to Christianity by Bishop Rufino, a martyr and the patron saint of Assisi, for whom the cathedral is named. We arrived there just in time to join the Sunday Eucharist, which happened to have an American Franciscan presiding (in Italian). The small baptismal font is near a plaque noting some of the notables who had been baptized there, including Sts. Francis and Clare, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (the young Passionist saint whose sanctuary we visited in novemeber) and Frederick II.

Chapel of the San Damiano Crucifix at Santa Chiara "Francis, my house is in ruins. Fix it!"

After mass we took a tour of the Cathedral crypt, one of Francis’ frequent places of prayer, mostly dating from the 9th century and later, but including the third century ossuary thought to have held the remains of Bishop St. Rufino, the martyr Apostle of Assisi.

Down the hill from the Cathedral is the Basilica Santa Chiara and a beautiful view of the valley below, including the “new” part of Assisi, also known for its major church, Santa Maria dei Angeli. In addition to the resting place of the little rich girl who “fell in love” with the older Francis and his order, a side chapel holds the cucifix that was in the Church of San Damiano, where Francis had his conversion experience.

Just off the piazza Santa Chiara was the site of the best meal we had all week, a small trattoria 50 meters off the main street boasting traditional Umbrian cuisine. Plenty of time in the shops nearby, and we did not make it much further than the central Piazza Communale, on which you can find an original Roman temple rededicated as a Christian church.

Nativity of the Lord: Christmas Mass at Midnight

Preparing for Jill's Feast: AJ, Greg, Karina, Jill, Natalie

Nancy and I, and a small group from the Lay Centre started Christmas Eve with a traditional Italian dinner hosted by Jill, another Domer I discovered at the Angelicum. It was incredible! Antipasti and prosecco to start the night off, followed by soup, pasta, fish… and each prepared and served in proper order, it was almost a pity we had to leave for the mass! Seriously, aside from theology, ministry, and guiding tours of Rome she could open her own trattoria. Not only was it all delicious, it was presented so beautifully, it really made a special evening even more delightful.

Standing on the confessionals at St. Peter's, Midnight Mass 1944

It is from Jill that I learned that Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s is actually a relatively new phenomenon. Until 1944, the last time the bishop of Rome had celebrated Christmas midnight mass at St. Peter’s is believed to be for the coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800 AD. Otherwise, the traditional location in Rome had been Santa Maria Maggiore – which makes a lot more sense given the indispensible role Mary played in the Nativity, and the location there of the relics of the Nativity including what was believed to be the manger in which the Christ child was laid. Since Pius XII’s celebration just after the liberation of Italy during WWII, the popes have celebrated midnight mass at St. Peter’s; but the Romans still go to Mary Major while the Americans and other pilgrims go pray with the pope – though we were not standing on the confessionals this time.

The line begins outside the Basilica of St. Peter

Jill’s place being mere minutes from Piazza San Pietro, we took some liberty with our arrival time. For the first time, what has traditionally been a Midnight Mass was moved up to 10:00pm so we were advised to arrive three hours early – we got there at 7:30 and got into a line that already wrapped around the entire Piazza and had started doubling up on itself. Waiting just ahead of us in line was an American, a theatre professor from Miami, who was hoping against hope to find a ticket to get into the papal mass. (His name is James Brown. No, really – you can look him up.) As it happens, I had had a friend arrange to get four tickets for us before we knew we would be getting enough through the Lay Centre, so Natalie had borrowed three for friends, and there was just one left over – the Spirit works in small ways too! Unfortunately, we lost Jim in the mass crush when our part of the line finally got inside the Basilica, but in a couple hours of waiting in line at least got to make a new friend.

View from our seats, taken after the liturgy

Once inside, we found the massive line had filled the seats in the nave and it looked as if we might have to stand – until they opened the transepts. We got the leftover seats from the “reserved” section in the south transept, directly to the side of the altar. We couldn’t see the pope as he sat in the presiders chair, but had a great view of the liturgy of the Eucharist.

We were placed directly between two of the massive pillars supporting Michelangelo’s Dome, looked over by Sts. John of God and Mary Euphrasia Pellettier on one side and Sts. Juliana Falconieri and Angela Merici on the other. Because of this we could not see very far down the nave toward the main doors. About the time we thought the music was changing from prelude to procession, we heard something like screams, a pause long enough to ask each other what that was about, then cheering. “Ah, they were cheering for the pope like a rock star!” We did not realize that Benedict had been knocked down until after the liturgy and we met up with some students who had been in that part of the Basilica. We did see Cardinal Etchegaray being wheeled out on a gurney behind us, and thought perhaps he had fallen or something. His Holiness did not mention it, and did not even seem fazed by the time we saw him.

Presepe at Piazza San Pietro

The liturgy was beautiful. Last time I was in Rome, for the close of the Jubilee, midnight mass had been held outside, in the Piazza. This was my second papal Eucharist inside St. Peter’s this year, and both times there has really been a sense of reverence and participation in the liturgy, even despite the size of the church and the numbers of people celebrating. The mass parts were in Latin, the readings in Spanish and English, the gospel sung in Latin and the pope’s homily delivered in Italian, the prayers of the faithful in Russian, French, Tagalog, Portugese, and German. The music is increadible, of course: the only places outside Rome I have seen compare for quality liturgy and liturgical music is the Basilica of Sacred Heart at Notre Dame and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. (The National Shrine in D.C. sometimes makes the cut, too…) Nancy was tempted to record the entire liturgy, but we settled for trying to get some of the music.

Afterwards we stood in front of the presepe (crèche, Nativity scene) at the foot of the obelisk in the middle of Bernini’s piazza, listening to a group of sisters singing carols. After an hour of trying to hail a taxi, we got a couple to take us back to the Lay Centre without trying to rip us off (Thank you, Karina!!)

On returning to the Lay Centre, Donna had prepared for us an “American breakfast” – pancakes with Canadian maple syrup, eggs, bacon, and orange juice – the most proper way to celebrate the birth of Jesus at 2:00am! And, to be honest, I do not think I have ever appreciated American fare so much!

Quote of the Day

In politics and religion in the Unites States, journalists are always trying to divide the world into two camps: liberals and conservatives. Conservatives believe that people are basically immoral – that is why we need police, prisons, and a big military so that conservatives can scare everyone into acting like conservatives. Liberals, on the one hand, believe that people are basically stupid- that is why we need better schools, more education, and dialogue, so that liberals can persuade everyone to think like liberals. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has always taught that people are both immoral and stupid – we call that original sin, the only doctrine for which we have empirical evidence.

Thomas J.Reese, “Organizational Factors Inhibiting Receptive Catholic Learning” in Receptive Ecumenism and the Call to Catholic Learning: Exploring a Way for Contemporary Ecumenism ed. Paul D Murray (Oxford University Press, 2008), 346.

Basilica Santa Maria in Domnica

Besides the Lay Centre’s own chapel, the closest church is actually the Basilica of Saints John and Paul of the Cross, attached to the Passionist Monastery that is our landlord. However, given the geography and the means of getting around the property, it is actually closer to go to the local parish church, the Basilica of Santa Maria in Domnica, also known as Santa Maria della Navicella.

Basilica Santa Maria della Navicella

First, a little perspective is in order. Growing up in rural North Bend, WA about 30 miles east of Seattle, the nearest parish was a 15 minute drive away, in neighboring Snoqualmie.

Within a 15 minute walk from the Lay Centre, there are about a dozen churches, including the Cathedral Archbasilica of San Giovanni Laterano, the ancient San Clemente, one of Rome’s three circular churches, San Stefano Rotondo, and a chapel for the Missionaries of Charity. I am still making my rounds!

The parish church derives its dual names from different features of and around the basilica. In front of the church is a marble statue of a small ship (navicella), turned into a fountain by Leo X in the early 16th century as a replica of the original, which had been there ‘since time immemorial’. The official name of Domnica is variously attributed, either in reference to the church as a “house of the Lord” or to the name of a wealthy patroness who lived in the area whose name translated also meant “of the Lord”.

Mosaic at St. Maria in Domnica

Originally built somewhere between the 4th and  7th century on the ruins of a military barracks, it was renovated by Pope Pascal I in the early 9th century, and it was again refurbished by Pope Leo X in the 16th century. Pope Pascal was also connected to the Basilica Santa Prassede, which I mentioned a few weeks ago, also known for its beautiful mosaics, including that of Pascal’s mother, Episcopa Theodora. In Santa Maria Domnica, the mosaic represents an icon of the Theotokos and Christ child, correctly situated in the center rather than at his mother’s side, flanked by saints and angels. Pope Pascal is seen at Mary’s feet, with the square halo indicating he was still alive when the mosaic was completed.

The cardinal-titular of the church is William Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former Archbishop of Portland and of San Francisco (and before than an auxiliary under Cardinal Mahony in LA). The basilica also serves as a parish center for the lay movement, Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation).

Communion and Liberation is one of the many lay ecclesial movements that have been popular in the Italian church and elsewhere in the last 40-50 years. While lay ecclesial ministry developed along the same timeline in northern Europe and North America, these lay ecclesial movements took precedence in Italy and in many of the Latin countries. CL traces its origins to the thought and ministry of an Italian priest Luigi Giussani dating back to the mid-50s, but the movement itself has its identifiable beginning with to a small group of Giussani’s students in 1969. The model is less of definite membership than in attendance in weekly catechetical meetings known as the “School of Community”. Estimates are of about 100,000 attending regularly in Italy, and there is a presence in almost 80 other countries, though nowhere as strong as here in Italy.

For both the feast of the Immaculate Conception, today, and the celebration of the Second Sunday of Advent I joined a group of my housemates from the Lay Centre in participating in the liturgy here. I just did not feel like braving the rain and the Roman crowds (and pickpockets) to make it to the Piazza Spagna for the Papal event there. Maybe next year!

Saint Andrew the Protoclete

Andrew was the first Apostle of Our Lord, first having been a disciple of John the Baptizer. Sometimes, for some reason, my fellow western Christians forget this and refer to Peter as the first. Peter would have died an anonymous Galilean fisherman if not for his brother, Andrew, who brought him to the Christ.

One of the early successors to Peter and Paul decided to settle the question of when the church year should begin by determining that the first Sunday of Advent, and therefore the first Sunday of the ecclesiastical year, should be that Sunday nearest the feast of the first Apostle. Before that, advent was celebrated in local churches as anywhere from three days to six weeks.

My patron and namesake is also patron of Greece, Russia, Scotland, and Romania, as well as the apostolic founder and patron of the Holy See of Constantinople and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Icon of the Holy Brother Apostles, Peter and Andrew

One of my favorite icons is of the brothers Andrew and Peter embracing. This Icon of the Holy Brother Apostles was written for the 1964 meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras I and Pope Paul VI, a gift from the Successor of Andrew to the Successor of Peter, as a sign of the fraternal relationship of the two churches (also called “sister churches”). A copy of this icon was given to me for my service on the National Planning Committee of the NWCU by then-chairman Allen Johnson.

While much of the western ecumenical world was caught up in the announcement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about the Anglican-Catholic personal Ordinariates in October, Cardinal Kasper joined Metropolitan Zizioulas and other representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches on Cyprus for the 11th plenary round of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue. The topic of this round of conversation is “The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium”.

His All Holiness Bartholomew I greets His Eminence Walter Kasper

In honor of the feast of Andrew, the Holy Father sends a personal message and a high-ranking delegation to the Patriarch of Constantinople; a return delegation is sent to the See of Rome to honor the patronal feast of Sts. Peter and Paul every June 29. This year’s address indicated signs of hope for the ongoing dialogue and the central questions to our restored unity – the role and relationship of the universal primacy of Rome and the other major Patriarchates, and the local churches.

The Holy Father’s message to Patriarch Bartholomew for the feast of St. Andrew today highlighted this work as a sign of the growing unity of the churches, and acknowledged the many areas for cooperation even as we are still on the journey to full unity.

Patriarch Bartholomew’s message of welcome to the Roman delegation likewise highlighted the work of the Commission, now tackling some of the most fundamental ecclesiological issues which remain to divide us, namely, primacy in general and that of Rome in particular.

“We are, therefore, convinced that the study of Church history during the first millennium, at least with regard to this matter, will also provide the touchstone for the further evaluation of later developments during the second millennium, which unfortunately led our Churches to greater estrangement and intensified our division.”

He also called attention to the slow progress being made toward the calling of a Great Council of the entire Orthodox world, an event which has not happened in centuries, and which would be akin to an Orthodox Vatican II.

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