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I have mentioned it before, but the Caravita Community is a quasi-parish that meets at the Oratory of Saint Francis Xavier “del Caravita”. It is comprised of an international assortment of Anglophones, with members from about 20 different countries, and is staffed by priests from four different religious orders. Most of its membership travel frequently, and it is a particularly welcoming place for English-speaking pilgrims to Rome. Several people I have meet are in Rome regularly as general officers for their religious community, students or faculty at the pontifical universities, on diplomatic assignment, or staff in the Roman curia. While i try to worship at a variety of churches on Sunday to get a truly catholic experience of the Church, the Caravita Community is always and already familiar.
This weekend they celebrated their 10th anniversary, though even this recent endeavour reflects the longer tradition of the place. Prior to October 2000, however, it had not been used as a place of regular worship since 1925.
Named after the Jesuit Pietro Gravita who was responsible for its construction, the oratory was built between 1618 and 1633 on the site of an existing church, San Nicola de Forbitoribus, and then completely rebuilt between 1670 and 1677 (Baroque, anyone?) The Oratory was constructed to house the nine different lay “congregations” (which would later become to Sodality movement) linked with the work of the Jesuits and served as a centre for lay formation and social outreach in the 17th and 18th centuries. The first women’s lay “congregation” was housed here.
The importance of lay ministry and formation, the dedication to the social mission of the church, and active ecumenical participation remain a part of the community’s identity. Similarly, a rich artistic heritage rests in the place, from 17th century frescoes to the 18th century performance of the teenage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his debut in the Roman court. In honor of a new organ installed into the oratory, part of the weekend’s events included a concert dedicated “Mostly Mozart”.
A symposium entitled “How Firma Foundation: The Role of the laity and the Church’s Mission in the Third Millennium” included presentations from John Padberg, SJ on the history of Lay Confraternities, a report from Kerry Robinson of the National Leadership Roundtable, and an analysis of last year’s African Synod by Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
(The symposium and concert occurred while I was at the day of Reflection at Tre Fontane, and no one seems to have recorded the talks. I am trying to track down the speakers’ papers or notes, if they are available…)
The conclusion of the weekend was Ecumenical Evensong, with participation from the membership of Churches Together in Rome, the ecumenical organization for English-language churches in the City. Canon David Richardson, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, presiding and Donald LaSalle, SMM of the Caravita Community staff preaching.
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 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!
So much for a day of rest! After a couple of those, it was time to spend Sunday on passagata – walking around the major piazzas and sites at the heart of Rome. We started with the celebration of the Eucharist at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier, on the Via del Caravita. The road is fairly short, but if you asked most Romans about the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier, they would have no idea what you were talking about. Tell them it’s the church “del Caravita” and then, everyone knows where it is.
[An oratory, by the way, is the name for a church which is semi-private in nature, similar to a chapel. It is the place of worship of a specific community, like a religious order, but can be opened for public worship at the discretion of the order.]
The oratory is staffed by priests from four different religious orders (Jesuits, Montfort Missionaries, Crosiers, Viatorians) and offered as “An International Catholic Community in Rome”. It is not a parish church, but serves as a community especially targeting sojourners, many o its members have spent their lives travelling internationally, and the typical Sunday Eucharist includes people from as many as 20 countries. The liturgy is in English, with a Spanish mass offered monthly.
I was introduced to del Caravita during the vespers service with Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Rowan Williams in late November. (In fact, if you go to the Caravita website http://caravita.org/ and look at the pictures, you can see Stian and I sitting behind Archbishop Williams while he is preaching). After mass, we met the academic director of Notre Dame’s Rome program for the Architecture school, Steven Semes.
Then time for the touring! The Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and Piazza Navona are not far, and it was a pleasure to introduce Nancy to these sites at the heart of Rome. There’s often a street performer of some kind at the Pantheon busking for tips, but this was the first time i had seen a whole flock of art students with their pads out sketching the place.
The Christmas bazaar at the Piazza Navona gives the place a different feel – its packed! We stopped in a the famous Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona for cappuccino and their Tartufo gelato – at €5, a treat I had been saving for a special occasion! After picnicking at the foot of Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, we decided to head back to the Lay Centre briefly, then were off again to All Saints for Lessons and Carols. From there we walked through the Spanish Steps and to Piazza del Popolo looking for the display of Nativity scenes, but to no avail (I found out later they were located above the Piazza, not in it).
A long day, and there’s still so much to see!
The Oratory of Saint Francis Xavier “del Caravita” is one of those churches in Rome you would never find unless you knew where to look, even though it is just off one of the main thoroughfares in the City. It is described as “an international catholic community in Rome”, Jesuit in origin but staffed by priests from four different orders. Aside from the national churches for the U.S., England, Ireland, and the Philippines it is the only Catholic church offering weekly Sunday liturgy in English.
On Friday, we celebrated evening prayer presided by Cardinal Kasper, with Archbishop Rowan Williams as the homilist, sponsored by the Anglican Centre in Rome. A simple and beautiful liturgy with what I thought was an especially powerful version of the renewal of baptismal vows, it was a nice counterbalance to the Colloquium the day before: a day of academic lecture complemented by an evening of prayer.
The pack of news photographers that had followed Dr. Williams throughout the lectures yesterday was back tonight, and it amazes me he was able to focus on preaching with the constant picture taking. Of course, trying to find one of these photos online to share is not easy, this is the best I could do: http://www.catholicpressphoto.com/servizi/2009-11-20%20Vespri/default.htm
After the prayer, we were able to meet the Cardinal, the Archbishop, and even U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz and his wife, Marian, who were in attendance. Unfortunately, we only got a couple shots with Archbishop Williams, though I did invite Cardinal Kasper to dine at the Lay Centre sometime. (We’re on the Ambassador’s list already. Somewhere down there…)