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How often is St. Peter’s Square turned into a parking lot? The cabbie that dropped us off said he has lived in Rome for half his life, and never seen it. But that was the sight that greeted us as we were dropped off at the Paul VI Auditorium for what promised to be an enjoyable afternoon out with the Holy Father (and a few other folk).
These two days have been celebrated as “Russian Culture Days at the Vatican”, one of the key public events of which was today’s concert by the Russian National Orchestra, a gift of the Russian Patriarch Kirill I to Latin Patriarch Benedict XVI.
Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the President of the Department for External Affairs of the Patriarch of Moscow (read: top ecumenist), personally presented the gift of the concert to His Holiness, which included a Symphony in Five Parts composed by the metropolitan himself. The concert included pieces by Rachmaninov, Rimski-Korsakov, and Musorgskij by the Russian National Orchestra; a variety of pieces by the Russian National Horn Choir, and another selection from Musorgskij and Rachmaninov with the Synod Choir of Moscow before all three combined for the final Symphony piece by Metropolitan Hilarion.
On the way into the building, I kept getting saluted by the Swiss Guard. At first I kept looking to see if they were saluting everyone, or if some bishop was walking behind me. Eventually we figured that in my black suit with a small red Jerusalem cross in my lapel (a souvenir from my recent pilgrimage) they may have mistaken me for a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher! Not sure there are any this young, though!
As most know, I have an affinity for things Russian, including the music, so this was a special treat for me – to combine my love of Russia, ecumenism, the Church and the Vatican all into one event. We also got seats just behind and to the right of the Holy Father and the cardinals, which made it that much more exciting. This was my first time inside the Paul VI auditorium, which can seat about 6000 people, and which is entirely powered by solar panels on the roof.
There is no question that, with the election of Benedict XVI and even more so with the election of Kirill I, relations between Rome and Moscow have thawed considerably. We continue to pray for the unity of the world’s largest Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, and look forward to fruits of dialogue even more beautiful than an afternoon’s concert!