Sorry for the long delay since my last post. We've had several very busy days.
We left Jerusalem by van in the wee hours of July 7. Tel Aviv is only 34 mi from Jerusalem and there was no traffic on the road, so it didn't take long. After a short flight we landed in Athens and spent a busy day seeing the Parthenon and agora (ancient market where Socrates taught Plato and other students).
I thought Athens was a beautiful city. There are hills on one side and water on the other. It was clean and had a wonderful, convenient, easy to understand, and reasonably fast subway that took us from the airport to the historical sites and back again. I'd love to go back.
After another short flight in the evening, we landed in Rome. We are staying at the Domus Carmelitana, a guest house for pilgrims run by the Carmelites, a religious order for men and women. It is only a few short blocks from St. Peter's Square. "A guest house for pilgrims" may sounds a little grim. Actually, this is a very nice hotel. The rooms, beds, bathrooms, and especially the showers are on the small side but it's extremely clean and they have a nice breakfast in the morning.
On our first day here we met with Dr. Yann Redalie, the dean of the Waldensian seminary in room. The Waldensians are a small Protestant group that broke away from Rome before the 16th c. Reformation. They spread from Switzerland to America, Britain, eastern Europe, South America, and Italy, but today they are mainly in Italy, and there are only about 30,000 of them left. They have joined with the Methodistl churches of Italy.
The most interesting part of Dr. Redalie's talk was about how they are dealing with the great influx of Protestants from Africa. As I noted, there are only about 30,000 Waldensians in Italy, but Italy is receiving about 30,000 immigrants annually from Africa, and many of these are Methodists or from similar Protestant churches. He said that in some Waldensian churches there will be 9 African children and only one Italian child. Although, as he said, the Waldensians are committed to being "church together" with African Christians, merging the 2 cultures is difficult. Of course, this is exactly the situation that we Anglicans are now dealing with, too.
We went from the Waldensian seminary to the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity and Jewish Relations where we met with Archbishop Brian Farrell, an Irish bishop who is the council's undersecretary. Abp Farrell told us about the council's beginnings in Vatican II and described the upcoming meeting of the world's religions in Assissi on the 25th anniversary of the first such meeting convened by Pope John Paul II. For me the most interesting part of the archbishop's talk was about Anglicans. He cautiously spoke about the frustrations of dealing with my church which has made the decision to ordain women to the offices of priest and bishop and has begun to open all its offices to gay and lesbian Christians, too. After meeting with Abp Farrell I walked down the hall and identified 2 former archbishops of Canterbury photographed in meetings with Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II.
In the afternoon, a Polish art historian gave us a wonderful tour of ancient Rome. We saw the Colosseum, Forum, and Circus Maximus (an ancient horsetrack that was used in the film "Ben Hur").
Yesterday was Assissi day. We were taken to Assissi in a van and given a great tour by a friend of Archbishop Joseph Marino (who was our host in Bangladesh last summer). I had forgotten how beautiful Assissi is. It is on a high hill overlooking the Umbrian countryside. In the distance you can see another Italian city, Perugia, that was the great enemy of Assissi in the Middle Ages. It was after a war with Perugia that Francesco Bernardone, heard the voice of God speak to him from a crucifix in the church of San Damiano, saying, "Rebuild my church." In response, he abandoned his wealth and founded the group we know as the Franciscans.
There are 2 great churches in Assissi, and the first one we saw was the basilica of St. Clare, a woman who joined Francis and is thought to be as great a saint as he is. We ended the day with a visit to the other great church of Assissi - the basilica of St. Francis. It is unusual in being two churches, one on top of the other. The lower church in particular is remarkable for the great series of frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis painted by Giotto and Cimabue. The frescoes are the greatest early examples of the use of perspective in painting.