Monday, April 23, 2012

Our last site visit for the course brought us to the Colosseum.  The picture above is taken inside the Colosseum, and you can see the Arch of Constantine as well as part of the Roman Forum behind the students.

This class was a powerful one for me.  Standing in the Colosseum, where clearly much blood was spilled, we spoke yet again of the martyrs who, according to tradition, died in this arena and in others like it across the Empire.  We talked a bit about what was going on in those games, which celebrated the Roman gods and the Roman emperors' violent power over the bodies paraded into that arena.  What must it have meant for martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch (by tradition, martyred in that very space) or Perpetua and Felicitas (martyred in a space like that), to show no fear of the death that awaited them, to show only trust, not that they would be saved from certain death, but that the love of the true God is stronger than death?

Such witnesses proclaim such a deep faith in God's providence, faith that all will come out according to God's will in the end, that I find it very inspiring.  Standing in this space and recalling such witnesses together with these great students was a great way to close our course together.  (Well, the final exam will follow, but that's a different sort of thing!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Connecting with our Future Priests

Easter greetings from the Eternal City! It was a wonderful Holy Week and Triduum here in Rome.

Several of the students and I kicked off our Holy Week by joining the Providence men of the Pontifical North American College (NAC) for vespers and dinner. The NAC is home to about 250 men from dioceses all over the US (and a few from Canada and Australia!) who are studying for the priesthood. The Diocese of Providence has four men living at the NAC right now.

Deacon Ryan Connors (who will be ordained a priest on June 23rd in Providence) greeted us and gave us a bit of a tour of the place, and talked a bit about its history and its founding. The tour included the rooftop, with its view of St. Peter's (pictured above). As we prepared to go in to join the community for vespers, he told the students a bit about this prayer, which is the prayer of the whole Church. Deacon Connors talked a bit about what it means to him, so far from home, to know that each day he prays the same prayers as his Bishop, as his fellow priests and religious throughout the world, as the Pope does. The students were really intrigued by the universality of these prayers.

Vespers was beautiful. It is, of course, a simple service. But, for me at least, it was a very powerful thing to be in the chapel with so many young men, so palpably fervent in their faith, and to pray together with them at the beginning of Holy Week. I think we all felt that.

After vespers, we went to dinner, and were joined not only by Deacon Connors, but also by Fr. George Nixon and by Nick Fleming. Fr. George, ordained in Providence last summer, is in his fifth and final year of study here in Rome. Nick, who is actually a recent graduation of Providence College, is in his first year of study here in Rome. (Josh Barrow, also in his first year of study here for the Diocese of Providence, was unable to join us.) It was a wonderful thing for me to watch the students and the seminarians connect with one another. You never know quite what will happen when you bring two different groups of people together, but connecting was not a problem. Conversation ranged from the struggles of being an American living in Rome to discussion of the HHS mandate to questions about how one knows that one is called to priesthood or whether God exists.

The students and I said goodbye to the seminarians and headed to the Metro stop. As we walked, they were all clearly aglow with the joy of the dinner. One said how amazing it was to be exposed to such a different view of the world than her own. A couple were amazed at just how human and down to earth these guys were. But all were really glad that they had had the opportunity to connect with these men in this way.

The Diocese of Providence and the Church as a whole is blessed to have men such as these discerning a call to the priesthood and serving as priests. They are, without exception, strikingly smart and articulate, personable and generous, and unmistakably on fire with love for God, the Gospel, and the Church.