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Much is being made of today’s centenary birthday of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, known in life as Mother Teresa, and rightly so. As the first, and so far only, pastoral associate of the first parish dedicated to her after her beatification, I had already developed something of a devotion to this latest holy Teresa. Living within a stone’s throw of the Missionaries of Charity Roman HQ helps too!
The Lay Centre is of course in a section of the Passionist Retreat of John and Paul, their international general house, where today is already tomorrow and one of their own is honored on the calendar. Blessed Dominic Barberi is likely best known for his missionary work on the British Isles and for being the priest who received Bl. John Henry Newman into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Our director, Dr. Donna Orsuto, is on an around-the-globe lecture tour this summer, and discovered a timely quote from one of Newman’s letters that describes my home in Rome and the case of canonization for the Passionists’ founder, St. Paul of the Cross:
On November 15, 1846 to his friend Dalgairns, Newman writes:
“What do you think of Mr. Spencer having joined the Passionists? I am very glad for Father Dominic’s sake. We went to their House here [Rome] with Cardinal Acton. It is very clean and beautifully situated. We saw the various remains (dress etc) of Venerable Paul—They expect he will be canonized by the end of three years. Suppose we all become Passionists.”
From The Letters and Diary of John Henry Newman, volume XI, p. 274.
The world just keeps getting smaller!
The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas is no longer at Foyer Unitas in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj on Piazza Navonna. I have mentioned before that the lay Centre moved just this summer to the Passionist Monastery of Sts. John and Paul on Monte Celio, just south of the coliseum, on the site of what once served as the Temple of Claudius, Nero’s Nymphaeum, and childhood playground for Pope Gregory I the Great.
We met tonight with the men who made such a move possible, Father General Ottaviano D’Egidio and his general council – four Passionist priests who advise the Father General and represent different quarters of the world’s 2200 passionisiti: Fathers Denis Travers (Australia), Clemente Barrón (Texas), Luis Alberto Cano (Spain) and Luigi Vaninetti (Italy). It all started a little over two years ago with an email from Passionist Father and renowned Scripture scholar Donald Senior to members of the General Council suggesting such a move. From there, Fr. Denis met with Donna and conversation commenced. Two years later, we were able to welcome the Passionist general council to dinner as a small sign of thanks to our landlords, and to get to know the community a little better.
Passionists take the traditional three solemn vows of any monastic community – Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience – then add a fourth: to spend his energies in promoting remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus, to keep deep in our hearts the memory of the cross and to do what is in our power to remind others of it. This vow defines the purpose of the Passionist community, and the ubiquitous “Sign” of the order, designed by founder Paul of the Cross, reminds them at every moment of this vow. Likewise, the black habit, which is worn in mourning for the passion and death of Christ on the cross.
Though not the original house of the order, the monastery that the Lay Centre now calls home is the ‘mother house’, and several other groups are present: the Father General and his general curia, the students of the order studying at the Pontifical universities in Rome, the staff of the retreat house and of the Basilica of John and Paul, and sisters who serve as the cooks for the monks – about 80 people in all.
The Father General’s opening remarks noted that at first, some of the order were unsure about admitting a lay community into the monastic grounds – and a coeducational, ecumenical, and interreligious community at that! But after a few weeks, he began to wonder if we had indeed moved in – barely seen or heard, we were like ghosts! I think that’s a compliment coming from someone whose day begins in the early hours before God Himself is stirring from slumber!
For our part, I think we were just grateful for the opportunity to express gratitude at living in the most beautiful compound in the City, second only to the Vatican Gardens themselves.