I keep telling myself November is almost over and I haven’t written anything on my blog. So before too much time goes by, I’ll write something about my second trip to Rome! Yes, that’s right. While I was in Rome at the end of September, I spent a wonderful afternoon with the friars at the Basilica of Cosmas and Damian, and while I was talking with Fr. Fernando, he gave me an invitation to the opening of St. Elizabeth’s centenary year, with a Mass in the basilica on her feast day, November 17, to be presided over by the Cardinal Achbishop of Esztergom and Budapest, Hungary, Peter Erdo, with a reception and dinner afterwards. I spent a little time wondering whether I had time or would be able to afford this trip, but in the end I made my reservation, flew back to Italy on November 15, and spent five days in Rome. I’m not sorry I did!
The Mass was beautiful. It was concelebrated by about 30 priests, including the Ministers General of the branches of the Franciscan Order. Three of the other Secular Franciscan Commissioners were there: Francesco and Antonella Mattioco (who live in Rome), and Tibor Kauser, who is from Hungary. I also met for the first time the Minister General of the SFO, Encarnacion del Pozo, who I had only corresponded with by e-mail. Francesco, who is a deacon, assisted at the altar. The Cardinal gave a beautiful homily in Italian. Several hundred people attended.
The music, chanting by a male choir, was gorgeous. At the end, some relics of St. Elizabeth set out on their grand “pilgrimage” for the coming year among the various regions of the Secular Franciscans in Italy, starting with the region around Rome, Lazio.
This picture of St. Elizabeth giving alms to the poor, which is the pride of the motherhouse of the TOR friars, and is housed at Cosmas and Damian, is from the nineteenth century, and was put on prominent display for the Mass.
I met the Cardinal at the reception for about 50 special guests, and Father Higgins, the Franciscan TOR Vicar General, who introduced us, told him I had written “the best work in the world on St. Elizabeth”! The cardinal doesn’t speak a lot of English, but I know a little Italian, so we could understand each other.
We had a regular Roman banquet afterwards in the friars’ refectory, which had to have about a dozen extra tables added for all the guests. There was an incredible amount of food, including veal, roast beef and lamb for entrees. I also had the deligthful experience of sitting next to a very charming Irishman, Msgr. Liam Bergin, the rector of the Irish College in Rome, who is an old friend of Fr. Higgins, so he gets invited to all their dinners. Msgr. Bergin amused me no end by saying apropos of the large, jovial superior of the Franciscan community, Fr. Milan: “He looks exactly like Friar Tuck!” (He does, too). He pronounced it, of course, in that inimitable Irish way, “Friar Took.”
The next day the Commission members and Fr. Higgins had another big Italian dinner at Francesco and Antonella’s house with two of their sons. The third is studying in the seminary. It started with drinks and antepasto, went through pasta, a couple of meat courses, salad, fruit, cheese, pastry dessert, wine. . . what wonderful hospitality!
I stayed in the guest house, which is where we will be staying in February, which is really beautiful. There are actually two floors with a marble staircase; none of the rooms are that big, but the are beautifully decorated, with all the pots, pans, dishes and other kitchen equipment you could want — and a TV with satellite reception. So the rest of my time there I spent visiting the Forum and Colisseum and at the apartment working on my translations for work at night.
At the Colisseum, I took a tour. Our guide, a cute blond girl named Paola, spoke quite good English, but with what I can only describe as an emphatic pronunciation. She described for us the bloody spectacles of gladiatorial combats and condemned criminals thrown to the wild beasts; she was fond of tossing in from time to time. “They were ter-r-r-r-rible, those Romans.” and “those cr-r-r-razy Romans.” Nothing beats a rolled Italian “r” for drama. In the end, while it was fun, I decided that she didn’t provide much information I didn’t have already. The main advantage of the tour (which costs ten extra euros) was that you can skip the long lines to pay at the entrance, as tours have their own entrance.
I’m planning to study up and give my family my own tour with commentary when I go back. In fact, what I’ve learned so far indicates that much of what tour guides (printed or live) say is often exaggerated for effect. Paola did admit that the primary image that most Christians have of the Colisseum – the martyrs thrown to the lions — was a bit of an exaggeration. In fact there are very few if any credible accounts from ancient times that indicate that many martyrs met their deaths that way. All the same, since the seventeenth century, the Colisseum has been honored as a site of martyrdom, and a cross has been set up there.
This would be a really fascinating subject to go into another time.
I’ve been back more than a week and am missing Rome already. But my third trip is coming up soon!