Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 travel posting - July 13

Sunday morning in Rome begins with a riot of bells from the hundreds of churches in this ancient capital. All of my colleagues except me (including Rabbi Miller) set out for St. Peter's, but I went to St. Paul's Within the Walls, an American Episcopal church built for Americans traveling abroad by J.P. Morgan. It's a beautiful church. In the apse is a mosaic showing Christ in glory seated upon his throne from which flows water. Separating the upper panel from the lower panel is an inscription in Greek and Hebrew of the first sentence of Genesis ("In the beginning, God created..."). In the lower panel are St. Paul surrounded by the saints of the Old Testament on his right and the saints of the New Testament on his left.

The service was not well-attended but afterward I was told that everyone who can leaves Rome in July and August. However, there was a visiting choir from Church of the Redeemer, Bryn Mawr, PA (a Philadelphia suburb) that was wonderful. They sang Bruckner's "Ave Maria" before the service, a Brahms' piece at the offertory, and Elgar's "The Spirit of the Lord" during communion. The choir was large and there were almost as many in the choir as in the congregation.

Late in the afternoon we toured the Jewish quarter, including the stunningly beautiful Great Synagogue. The history of Jews in Europe is a history of suffering. Jews came to Rome about 160 BCE and lived there freely until a pope set up the Jewish ghetto about a thousand years ago. After the establishment of the ghetto, Jewish worship was restricted to a single synagogue which included sections for the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German Jews. Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing that identified them as Jews. In 1870 Victor Emanuel II, the first king of a united Italy, abolished the ghetto, but the Nazis re-established it in 1943. Then in October, 1943, more than 2000 Roman Jews were sent to Auschwitz and only 16 survived. The chief rabbi of Rome appealed to Pope Pius XII to speak out, but even though Pius was from an old Roman family that knew the Jews of Rome, he said and did nothing publicly. The Jews were taken in trucks past the gates of the Vatican, but still the pope was silent. I know that Pius XII's role in the Holocaust is still debated, but he should have done more for the Jews of Rome. He was quite vocal about the church's property during the era of fascism; surely he could have done more for the Jews.

Monday was one of our best days. We started out with a visit to the Very Rev. Canon David Richardson, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal representative to the Holy See. I met David a few weeks ago in Birmingham and thought we would enjoy visiting him, and we did. He was quite frank about the way Anglican\Roman Catholic relations have cooled under the papacy of Benedict XVI. He was particularly critical of the Vatican's efforts to woo disaffected Anglicans with the promise that they can continue to use a version of the Book of Common Prayer (an initiative that was undertaken without any consultation or advance warning given to Anglican leaders).

On Mon afternoon we toured the basilica of St. Clement, a late 1rst century bishop of Rome. Excavations beneath the church have uncovered a first century Roman street that included a temple of Mithras and a Christian church.

After that we visited the Lay Center, a place for Roman Catholic laymen and women, as well as those of other faiths, who are studying at the several pontifical universities in Rome. We had a wonderful time with the director, Dr. Donna Orsuto, an American and the first lay women (not a nun) to receive a degree from a pontifical university. She and the others we met there give me great hope for the Roman Catholic church.

The day ended with evening prayer at the Church of Santa Maria Trastavere where the Community of St. Egidio gathers daily. They are a Roman Catholic lay community somewhat similar to the Taize community in France.

Tue began with a stunning tour of the Vatican museum led by our friend Magdalena (who also led our tour of ancient Rome). I've been through the Vatican museum on two previous occasions but this was by far the best. The art of the museum simply came alive because of her detailed introductions and descriptions.

Other than the Sistine Chapel, my favorite works in the museum are Raphael's two frescoes for the papal apartments - "The school of Athens" and "The dispute of the holy sacrament." To me, they represent earthly and heavenly wisdom. But for sheer drama the Last Judgment that Michelangelo painted for the east wall of the Sistine Chapel cannot be surpassed.

Tuesday evening we met with Richard Donahoo, a former Episcopalian who is now a Roman Catholic priest. Fr Donahoo is studying the problem that Canon Richardson discussed with us, namely, the reception of disaffected Anglicans by the RC Church. I pressed him hard and questioned him assertively and frankly. At dinner, he said, "I imagine that Anglicans are unhappy with this" and gave me a sidelong glance. I said, "You are correct. We are very unhappy." But he took my questions and comments in a gracious and intelligent way. However, I have to say that I regard the setting up of a special effort to bring Anglicans to the Roman Catholic Church as a form of religous imperialism.

Tomorrow is our last day in Rome and this will be my last post until I get home and wrap everything up. It's been wonderful but I'm ready to head for home.