Thinking Anglicans

Roman diary, part 2

Bishop John Flack, Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome, and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s representative to the Holy See wrote earlier about his time in Rome during the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II. Now he writes again, this time about the election and inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI, the comings and goings of Anglican dignitaries, and shaking hands with the new pope.

Read on…


Tuesday 19th April

The second day of the Conclave and most of Rome waits with bated breath. We’ve been told to expect smoke at St Peters at 12 noon, so at 11.35am I rush out to catch a number 64 bus up to the Vatican, hanging on to my wallet for dear life (number 64 is known as the “Pickpockets Express”).

Everyone seems to be going the same way –- walking, running, driving –—there are thousands of “motorinos” — the ubiquitous Roman scooter. So the number 64 is slow, and I arrive at St Peters just in time to see black smoke curl into the sky. No surprises there –- no-one expects a result in under 24 hours.

The next smoke, we’re told, will be at 7.00pm. Later in the afternoon – soon after 5.30pm – Jonathan Boardman (Rome’s Anglican Chaplain) phones me to say “there’s white smoke on TV” so I put down everything and rush. A number 916 orange bus comes and 120 people get on it, all heading in the same direction. We have to get off the bus at the Ponte Sisto and walk across the Tiber to St Peters, part of a teeming mass of humanity, just like Old Trafford on match day. There is the white smoke on the giant TV screens (it really is like Old Trafford) and the Piazza San Pietro is filling up. A large banner says “John XXIV for Pope” –- from We wait the regulation 40 minutes after the white smoke for the announcement. There is a slight movement of velvet curtains on the central balcony above the doors of St Peters and then comes the cry “Habemus Papam” – we have a new Pope and his name is Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, who will be known as Benedict XVI. Applause ripples through the crowd of 100,00 people and the new Pope comes out to bless us, speaking clearly and precisely in Italian, French, English and German. One thing is clear – the new Pope is a linguist.

Wednesday 20th April

I spend the morning dealing with reactions to Cardinal Ratzinger’s appointment, on the net and on the telephone. There are extreme reactions, both of approval and disapproval. Approval centres round his reputation as a scholar and a linguist, disapproval because he is not from the developing world. The choice of the name “Benedict” gives out strong European signals.

I decide to be cautious in my public statements. Just as well, because soon I am being pressed to comment by “The Times”, Radio Belfast and the Hertfordshire Mercury, to name but three. By the afternoon the telephone lines to Lambeth are buzzing with arrangements for the Inauguration of Benedict XVI, which we learn will take place this Sunday, just four days away. The Roman Church certainly doesn’t hang about! I spend some time “gently bartering” over the size of the Anglican delegation to the Inauguration, which this time will include Bishops and other representatives from the wider Anglican Communion as well as home. Later I walk out into the Largo Argentina (the large square where it is said that the assassination of Julius Caesar took place) to buy today’s English newspapers – they usually hit the streets here around 4.00pm. I eat my supper with the “Times” the “Telegraph” and the “Guardian”. I’m shocked that two of these quality newspapers cannot spell “Papam” properly. Where are today’s Latinists among the sub-editors? O tempora, O mores!

Thursday 21st April

Thursday begins with a very pleasant breakfast in a hotel facing Santa Maria Maggiore. Over a cappuchino and a cornetti crema I marvel on Ferdinando Fuga’s wonderful facade, designed for another Pope Benedict (XIV) in 1750. My host is a well-known Italian journalist, whose work I admire. He wants to meet our Archbishop, of course, at the Inauguration. On these occasions my cricket technique is useful – “play a straight bat and don’t get caught out”. Walking back past the Angelicum (University of St Thomas Aquinas) I marvel at a perfect early Summer’s day in Rome – warm sunshine, a delicate breeze, sumptuous architecture, pre-Christian archaeology, friendly greetings from the carabinieri. Back in the Anglican Centre my whimsical musings are shattered by 41 e-mail messages, 11 answerphone queries, plumbers installing a new shower and decorators in the Chapel. And I’ve got 6 guests staying over the weekend, and 21 to lunch on Sunday.

Friday 22nd April

By 8.00am there’s a journalist in the Anglican Centre from Canadian TV, soon followed by a German television crew. I remember that the new Pope is German and so I do a respectful piece, conscious that I am being watched live by schoolchildren and students in places like Frankfurt and Hamburg. Bishop David Beetge arrives from the Church of the Province of South Africa — the first of our guests. He’s an important Anglican member of the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM). And he’s bigger than me, which I find very re-assuring. The Centre is being cleaned from top to bottom, with cleaners trailing plumbers in something resembling a domestic Gay Gordons. The rest of the day is a flurry of telephonic activity, last minute arrangements with the Vatican and Lambeth, discussions about flight times and the colour of Bishops’ chimeres. The English papers today are full of the British General Election Campaign, which reminds me that my agendas are not everybody’s. I wonder who will be coming to represent the Government on Sunday?

Saturday 23rd April

The alarm rings at 5.30am and an hour later I’m on the Leonardo Express to Fiumicino — Rome’s International Airport. Any resemblance between the Leonardo Express and the Heathrow Express disappears when I tell you that the Leonardo takes 35 minutes to cover 11 miles. So I am late to greet Bishop Chris Epting, who has just arrived from New York, where he works in “815 Second Avenue” — ECUSA’s headquarters. He’s one of two Bishops representing ECUSA at the Inauguration. A taxi covers the 11 miles back into Rome in just 15 minutes, which includes stops at 4 sets of traffic lights. Julia arrives from England and the kitchen is a hive of activity. By mid-afternoon I am back at Fiumicino hoping to meet Bishops Geoffrey Rowell, David Hamid and Michael Nazir-Ali, but only one of them has been put on the VIP list and so we get split into two groups. All is well when we are re-united in the Vatican’s chosen rendezvous, the Domus Mariae on the Via Aurelia. From there it is back to Fiumicino and this time all is well, I am soon greeting Archbishop Rowan and Mrs Jane Williams and heading back into Rome, this time at 85 mph behind 6 police outriders. We are soon in the Venerable English College with a welcome drink to hand.

Sunday 24th April

The day of the Inauguration arrives. By 6.00am I am looking up anxiously at a doubtful Roman sky. At 7.00am the “Anglican Centre” gang are in taxis trying to reach the rendezvous point at the Domus Mariae. At junction after junction we come face-to-face with road blocs. But Bishop Martyn Jarrett and I are wearing purple cassocks and these impress the traffic police, who salute us and move the barriers for us. By 8.30am we are in our seats in the Piazza San Pietro, with a warm breeze blowing in our faces and a clear sky. We watch the “Heads of State” delegations arriving. The British one consists of the Duke of Edinburgh (a cheery wave), Lord Falconer and Dame Shirley Williams. At 10.00am the Litany of the Saints begins (Tu illum adiuva) and 115 cardinals enter in matching gold chasubles. The Mass is in normal order, with the Giving of the Pallium and the Ring following the Gospel. It is very solemn, and there is a hush from the 400,000 congregation. Then Benedict XVI preaches, quoting his predecessor, John Paul II — “non abbiate paura” — “do not fear, for Christ leads his church from darkness to light. Follow Me.” He explores the Gospel reading, John 21 and explains the meaning of the Pallium and the Ring. Later in the Mass I share the Peace with Roman Catholic Bishops I know through the Focolare movement, with Salvation Army representatives, with a leader from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organisation and with Armenian and Syrian Orthodox Bishops. Thus the long arm of Rome stretches round the globe, ignoring the chasms of history. At the end of Mass Benedict XVI steps unaided into the popemobile and is driven off through the crowds, who chant in football-fashion “Benedetto, Benedetto!”

At 6.00pm Archbishop Rowan goes to All Saints English Church in the Via del Babuino and presides at Anglican Sung Eucharist. There is “standing room only” and it is humbling to see a good number of our Roman Catholic friends there, drawn by the ecumenical nature of this very special day. The Archbishops draws our attention to today’s Gospel reading “I am the way, the truth and the life” and reminds us what a profound statement this is, as part of the re-calling of the whole Church to its common root. After the Eucharist there is a frantic search for taxis and a dash through back alleyways reminiscent of “The Italian Job” until we reach the glittering church of Santa Maria in Trastevere with the fabulous coffered ceiling of Domenichino. Here Archbishop Rowan preaches to a congregation of 500+, many of them young people, at Vespers for the Community of Sant’Egidio. By 9.30pm it is spotting with rain as I walk back from Trastevere past Monte Savello. The Tiber sends back a glassy stare in the darkness. It has seen many such days in the past.

Monday 25th April

Laying in bed till 8.00am has become an unaccustomed luxury, as are the bacon and eggs which appear at 8.30am. By 9.00am we are back on the way to the Domus Mariae, our rendezvous point for the trip to the Audience for Ecumenical Guests. Coaches take us into the Vatican State with much saluting by the Swiss Guards. Soon we find ourselves in the Sala Clementina waiting for His Holiness to arrive. There is endless fascination to be gained by interpreting the frescos in this Sala, built at the behest of Pope Clement VIII in 1595. Suddenly we are asked to stand and in walks Benedict XVI at a brisk pace in smart white cassock and stunning bright red shoes. He sits on a throne-like chair and reads a welcoming speech in Italian, French and English. Then he gets up from the chair and makes his way round the room greeting every single person individually. It is all very informal, with a normal handshake. We are invited to introduce ourselves, and we can choose to converse with the Pope in English, Italian, French or German. We note that the papal tiara is not in evidence and has been removed from the coat of arms. This is clearly to be a different style of papacy with much of the old formality gone. He greets Anglicans, Methodists, Reformed leaders, Orthodox Bishops and leaders of the inter-faith communities -– Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and others. Benedict XVI is clearly going to speak to the world at large, and not only to the Roman Catholic Church. With a wave of the hands and a final Italian greeting he is gone. Later at a Press Conference in the Venerable English College, the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster jointly weave their way through a minefield of questions and emerge together as the close friends they have become. A reminder that friendship -– the beatings of the heart -– is as much the lifeblood of ecumenism as the musings of the mind. As Cardinal J H Newman put it “cor ad cor loquitur” — heart speaks to heart. May the inauguration of Benedict XVI encourage Anglicans and Roman Catholics to do just that.

The Right Reverend John Flack
Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome
Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See

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