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Capo d’anno – Looking back, looking ahead

Every year I find that I had many more ideas for my blog than I actually had time to post. The irony, of course, is that the busier and more interesting life gets, the less time to chronicle it.

Perhaps the biggest ‘distraction’ was a push to finish my License in Sacred Theology. I submitted my thesis in mid-September, at twice its intended length, and passed my oral comprehensive exams in early October, being awarded an S.T.L. in Ecumenism and Dialogue magna cum laude. I am now dedicated to finishing the doctorate – with the dubiously honorific postnominal initials of S.T.D. – in the next 18 months or so. (“Or so” indicating about a half year of flexibility for editing, revising, and Roman beaurocracy).

On paper, the S.T.L. seems to require only 20 lecture courses, 4 seminars, a thesis and oral comprehensive exams, and could be completed normally in two years. In fact, owing to extra requirements of my particular discipline, I completed 31 courses for credit and audited three others (including one with Cardinal Walter Kasper). … and that was with credit for seven courses walking in the door, owing to previous academic and pastoral work.

Translating American and Pontifical degrees is tricky, because each system inherently thinks itself superior to the other.  Roughly, the STL is equivalent to being ABD in the U.S. PhD system, though certain elements simply do not translate: There are no teaching assistants or lecture opportunities for anyone without a doctorate in hand, in the Roman system, for example. It is still a good indicator of where I am in my studies.

 

Certainly the biggest encounter, and one of the nicest surprises of the year, was a little one on one time with His Grace, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, now retired Archbishop of Canterbury. On the day of his address to the Synod of Bishops in October, he came to the Caelian hill for a short tour, and I was invited to be his local guide and ecumenical host for the encounter. As we walked through the basilica of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo, the ruins of the Temple of Claudius, and onto the grounds the Lay Centre shares with the Passionists, we were able to talk briefly about the state of the church and the churches, and his upcoming remarks. Seeing his ‘entourage’ it was like a reunion of friends and respected colleagues, people I admire for their dedicated service to the Church and ecumenism from both communions.

The year began on an ecumenical note, as I traveled in January to Norway to celebrate the ordination of a friend and former housemate of mine as a pastor in the (Lutheran) Church of Norway, which took place in Nidaros Cathedral, in Trondheim, just a couple degrees south of the arctic circle.

January of course also sees the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, always a busy time in Rome. This year included, in January and February, a course at the Angelicum taught by Cardinal Walter Kasper on ecclesiological ecumenical themes.

During the spring semester, President Mary McAleese of Ireland, recently retired, moved to Rome to finish a License in Canon Law, and spent the spring semester in residence at the Lay Centre. She brought a wealth of knowledge of the church, experience in politics, and stories told with the kind of skill and humor that made the Irish famous as bards. She has been a great gift to the community.

March witnessed the first of two visits this year by Archbishop Rowan Williams, including a joint vespers service with Pope Benedict, on the occasion of the Camaldoli celebrating their millennial anniversary, at the Church of St. Gregory the Great, our next door neighbors on the Caelian hill, and the installation of an Anglican priest as the Catholic prior of the order’s chapter in Rome. (He was received into Catholic orders after his election as prior.)

In April, I was able to head up to Assisi for a conference sponsored by the Ecclesiological Investigations Network, and included several U.S. graduate students and theologians. Cardinal Koch gave a significant lecture on fifty years of Jewish-Catholic dialogue as this year’s annual John Paul II Lecture on Interreligious Understanding, sponsored by the office I work for, the John Paul Center for Interreligious Dialogue.

 In June, I was invited by the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to be a plenary speaker from the Catholic side at a Jewish-Catholic dialogue in New York, with a focus on emerging leadership in this oldest and closest interreligious dialogue.  

I spent the summer in Rome, practicing Italian and learning first-hand why anyone who can, leaves. It is impossible to think in that kind of heat and humidity, the universities and libraries close, and there is virtually nowhere in the city with air conditioning. I did get a trip to Germany and the Netherlands at the end of the summer to cool down a little. September included a working visit to Budapest.

October was a busy month, with the synod for bishops, the 50th anniversary of Vatican II opening, visits by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of Constantinople, an international conference at the Lay Centre, the orientation of a new cohort of Russell Berrie Fellows, and of course the comprehensive exams for my license.

November took an eastern focus, with conferences on Eastern Catholicism, and Middle Eastern Christianity. December was about wrapping up the year and getting ready to head home for my first Christmas holiday in the States since 2008. 

A president, an archbishop, and an ambassador sit down for dinner…

After a summer attempting to survive the Roman heat on my own, with the generosity of friends and colleagues allowing me to housesit in lieu of rent, I moved back into the Lay Centre in early September. Our first guest dinner was a typical Lay Centre affair, in that guests included the following:

  • Mary McAleese, Former President of Ireland, and former Lay Centre resident
  • Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, recently retired Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt, and one of the Church’s leading experts on Islam and Interreligious Dialogue
  • Lithuanian Ambassador to the Holy See Irina Vaišvilaitė, another former resident of the Lay Centre.

Archbishop Fitzgerald updated us on the process for the election of the Coptic pope, which was still ongoing. Involving laity, clergy, and religious, the original field of nominations was 17, bishops and monks, which was whittled down to 5, and then three whose names were submitted to be selected by a blindfolded altar boy. A great deal of consultation and lay involvement went into the decision making fo who those names would be, yet room was left in the process for divine guidance, in the form of the blind innocence of a child.

Ambassador Vaišvilaitė shared her experience of presenting her credentials to the Holy Father at Castel Gandolfo, in an unusual individual meeting and conversation at the summer retreat.

President McAleese is returning to Rome to finish her doctorate in canon law, and now at the Irish College, which is practically bereft of new Irish seminarians after the much contested Dolan Report earlier this year.

In other words, just another evening at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas!

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