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Friday, 13 May 2011

In the right place at the right time after all

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Yesterday I suppose I wasn't holding out too much hope of getting any inside story on Universae Ecclesiae. I was too pessimistic: I should know by now that you can never entirely predict the last 24 hours in Rome.

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In fact, in a small way, I became part of the story because yesterday I had lunch with David Kerr (above), a good Catholic journalist and friend, who now works for CNA. Some people in Rome are very nervous about blogs but, of course, journalists change the game completely, so once we were halfway through a half bottle of the vino della casa and fortified by a delicious plate of penne all' arrabiata, David brought out his little recording machine and asked me for my views on the impending document. I managed to mention both the Tablet and my take on the "message to the Bishops". Hush my mouth :-) (See: In Rome, anticipation for a new document on Latin Mass, due out tomorrow.)

First thing today I met Yvonne Windsor and Marygold Turner of the Latin Mass Society who are in Rome for the Summorum Pontificum Conference this weekend. We gathered at the altar of the Transfiguration to attend Mass celebrated by Fr Mark Withoos, who is at the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Fr Withoos normally celebrates Mass each day at this altar: I'll put up a separate post with more details. We had planned to meet for breakfast and so Father kindly took us through parts of the Vatican that you don't normally get to see before we exited through the Porta Sant' Anna and settled at a friendly "Bar" for some coffee and a cornetto. Priests who work in Rome usually have a favourite place for coffee where they are on friendly terms with the staff.

When a new document is issued by the Vatican, it is always a major event. An incredible amount of work goes into these documents and they are pulled apart by all sorts of people. The final text is the end of a long process, and those who are involved at every level in the relevant dicastery see the final release as a cause of rejoicing. Add to that the intense global interest and anticipation among Catholic bloggers and you can imagine that Fr Withoos was beaming today. Congratulations to him and to all at the PCED!

He encouraged me to go over to the Sala Stampa despite my maudlin sense of inferiority as a mere blogger (though bloggers do seem to be the flavour of the month in Rome.) So I rolled up with my passport (you have to have ID to do anything in Rome) and was given an Ospite (guest) press pass and a copy of Universae Ecclesiae with about 25 minutes of the embargo left. Settling down at a nearby bar with a coffee I was able to read it and then return for the informal briefing given by Mgr Lombardi.

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In Italy, the press takes the Church seriously and the reporting is of a far higher standard than we are used to. I may well have had the back of my head featured on TV since there were four TV stations covering the briefing. Mgr Lombardi comes in for a fair amount of criticism which, I expect, he expects. I am bound to say in his defence that his summary of the document was genial, good-humoured, and meticulously accurate. He was asked one or two questions that might have pushed him to speculate on the force of particular norms but sensibly did not get drawn: this is, after all, the responsibility of Ecclesia Dei, not the Sala Stampa.

So as it turned out, I was in the right place at the right time. A pleasant light lunch with a good friend, of my favourite Italian sandwich "tonno e pomodoro" (tuna and tomato) followed by a cigarette on a balcony overlooking a busy street but with a splendid view of the dome of St Peter's concluded a most enjoyable trip to the Eternal City before getting off in good time to take the 5.15pm flight back to London from Fiumicino.
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