The Catholic University of America


Monsignor Kevin Irwin, the Monsignor Walter J. Schmitz, S. S. Professor of Liturgical Studies, was in Rome for the spring 2013 semester, teaching in the CUAbroad program. He shared his reflections on the city and the Vatican at a historic time in the papacy with the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis.

A Roman Spring

Gathering in the Lord’s Name

Irwin-Wedeman ThumbIn talking to many Roman friends we agreed that October was our favorite weather month here. The heat of the summer is over, but the long evenings continue; suppers al fresco are de rigeur. But a Roman spring is nothing to sneeze at ...  When does that start? In Rome it all depends on the year, the amount of rainfall, etc. But on the calendar, spring began on March 20. The next day was spectacularly sunny, cooler earlier on, but then in the mid sixties! The Romans love it. One told me that yesterday was really the start of the prelude to spring. And that this year as a season it will be here sooner than usual.

> A Roman Spring continues


Ora et Labora

A Monk at Heart

Saint AnselmoThe buzz in Rome is (obviously!) about a Jesuit Pope who chose the name Francis. That makes the inhabitants of about half of the ecclesiastical real estate in Rome very happy. It is hard to miss that central Rome is well served by several Jesuit institutions, including the Gesu andSant'Ignazio churches. Among religious houses of men and women the Franciscans have to top the list. (I have often said that when I die I want to ask St. Peter, “How many groups of Franciscans were there?”). “Good on you,” as my Australian students taught me to say! A Jesuit named Francis, stay tuned. But I must admit that despite being a diocesan priest my inner leanings are Benedictine. 

> Ora et Labora continues


Mass Media Appeal

Communicating the Gospel

Pope on screenThe Holy Father's first public audience was for the media on March 16. Because I was credentialed for conclave coverage I was able to attend. It was held in the Paul VI Audience Hall just inside the Vatican (behind the building that houses the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.) I went with a former student, Father Dave Dwyer, C.S.P., and his colleague, Leno Rulli of the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS XM Radio. We arrived at 9:30 a.m. for the 11 o’clock audience.

> Mass Media Appeal continues



The Back Way Home

Christian Life Is All about Relationships

 Irwin friends thumbIt would drive my mother crazy. I would walk straight home from school, change into chinos, and do homework. My brother Bob would take the back way home and the walk was twice as long. Delayed arrival and thus delayed homework. But Bob knew every person en route and stopped to talk to them. Like my Dad would. Earlier this week, after the Mass for the opening of the conclave I decided I would not walk straight to the apartment but take the back way home. First stop, Maria's. She is a 70-something friend from 35 years ago. She runs a hole-in-the wall religious goods store located between the Jesuit Curia and St. Peter's Basilica. 

> The Back Way Home continues


Open Windows

Jesus Said, "Do Not Be Afraid"

St. PetersYes, I was there, standing on the terrace of Cardinal William Levada’s apartment facing St. Peter’s Square. I had been there for the last Angelus blessing of Benedict XVI and had been invited back by Monsignor Steve Lopes, the cardinal’s secretary. I was among about 15 guests, employees of the Curia, and staff of the apartment house. As many of you saw the scene was spectacular. Fellini, Zefferelli, and Puccini all in one! We watched from 5:30 to 6 then came inside because of the rain. I had to leave for a live CNN interview at 7 ...  All of a sudden, there it was — white smoke on the huge television monitors.

> Open Windows continues


Mass or Mass Media

Choosing Worship Over Air Time

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It was 7:45 p.m. Rome time. We had just sat down to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant. Dear friends from CUA were in town. The cell rang. I exited and walked outside to the street. We were right near the Pantheon, so I decided to walk the 50 feet to be in that piazza as I replied. It was a producer from CNN. I did not recognize her name. I had done six interviews that day and was just off set from the Catholic Channel. Would I be available tomorrow at 10:15 a.m. (Rome time) she asked? They were going live for all the papal events and wanted me to comment on the Mass and the conclave.

> Mass or Mass Media continues 


You Can't Unbreak an Egg

Dealing with Clergy Sex Abuse

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In the USA we say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Not in Italy. Why should it be? Lunch here is the eighth sacrament. There could be as many as six possible courses: antipasto, pasta, meat or fish with vegetables, salad, cheese, dessert, etc. While on normal days there are usually two or three courses, at lunch (pranzo), one has to be pasta. So why waste the calories on breakfast? While living in the apartment here, I have breakfast privileges at the hotel from which I am renting my pad. It is a splendid buffet. I watch the Italians “eat and run.”

> You Can't Unbreak an Egg continues 


The Bishop of Rome

Overseeing Titular Churches in the Eternal City

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The Holy Father has many titles, including Pope, servant of the servants of God, successor of St. Peter, Vicar of Christ, and bishop of Rome. The last title, bishop of Rome, was his first title in history and I would say theologically the most significant. It was also the title that Benedict XVI preferred to use for himself, and the ministry from which he was resigning. Why is this title so important? Rome was his primary responsibility, especially in a pre-frequent-flyer age, pre-rapid-fire communications, and pre-Internet world. It was also because through the 11th century the Pope was elected by the clergy of Rome. 

The Bishop of Rome continues 


Smoke Signals

You Know Not the Day or the Hour

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On Sunday, Jan. 6, the students and staff of the CUAbroad program attended the liturgy for the Solemnity of the Epiphany at the Basilica of St. Peter's. The Holy Father presided and, during the Mass, ordained four archbishops, two to work in the Vatican and two to serve as apostolic nuncios (the pontiff’s personal representatives) to foreign countries. The Mass was long, more than three hours and in several languages. But the students were stalwart and paid as much attention as they could despite lingering jet lag (they had arrived the previous Thursday). 

> Smoke Signals continues


Small Town, World Church

Running into Friends on the Streets of Rome

Irwin-GeorgeI have noted previously that I served on the faculty of the Pontifical North American College (NAC) here in Rome during the conclaves for Popes John Paul I and John Paul II. That meant that I often took meals with the five American cardinal electors who resided at the college before and after the conclaves took place. That also meant that I was able to talk frequently with Cardinal Terence Cooke, archbishop of New York and my archbishop since I am a priest of the archdiocese (as we like to say!). One day we were chatting ...  he said, "Father Kevin, never forget that Rome is a very small town."

> Small Town, World Church continues


The Windows Are Closed

Reflecting on the Pope's Departure

Lateran chair thumbThe technical term for this period of papal transition is sede vacante (the seat/chair is empty). But for the Romans and pilgrims the clearest visual is not an empty chair but rather the shutters and windows in the Apostolic Palace in St. Peter’s Square that are closed. Three stories of windows face the square; behind the top set is the Pope's private residence. The second window on the left is probably the most familiar; it is the window from which the Holy Father gives his Sunday blessings. The evening the Holy Father left Rome by helicopter I walked to St. Peter's. The windows were already closed.

> The Windows Are Closed continues


A Chance Encounter

Saying Hello and Good-bye to the Holy Father

Hotel signI first met then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2000 in a Roman restaurant. His residence while serving as Prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was an apartment at the end of a street called the Borgo Pio near the Vatican. For years I have stayed at a family-run three-star hotel just off the Borgo. At the corner of the hotel street and the Borgo is a restaurant frequented by many Vatican officials called Da Roberto (a photograph of Cardinal Donald Wuerl hangs in the restaurant!).

> A Chance Encounter continues



An Impossible Task?

Making Sense of the Modern Papacy

JPII ThumbIn one of the more down-to-earth sections of his Rule of Benedict, the saint deals with a particularly difficult issue for any group working together that would be all the more sensitive for those living in the same place for life. It is Chapter 68: On Assigning an Impossible Task to a Monk. My own sense is that the modern papacy may well be an impossible task, made more so, paradoxically, by the highly successful papacy of Pope John Paul II. He was, and was destined to be, a tough act to follow.

> An Impossible Task? continues



When Is the Conclave?

More Questions Than Answers

Irwin studentsWhen will the conclave be? asked the students. Why? Because most have plane reservations to be away from Rome for spring break (March 1 to 10). I reply I wish I knew and that we will all know when the College of Cardinals starts meeting on March 4. The prevailing criterion, it seems to me, is so that the Cardinal electors have done due diligence and sorted out whom they will vote for. n the meantime, classes go on for the students, punctuated now and then by weekend trips elsewhere. Many students take a flight on Fridays (with many low-budget carriers here) to Paris, Dublin, London, Zurich, etc. — for the weekend.

> When Is the Conclave? continues


Last Papal Audience

To Make an End Is to Make a Beginning

PopemobileUnder a cloudless, azure-blue Roman sky with a hint of a chill in the air, Pope Benedict XVI today presided over his last papal audience. I understood that no tickets would be printed and therefore required. Wrong! But I walked to the Piazza San Pietro with Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive secretary of the International Commission for the English Translation of the Liturgy (housed in D.C.), and his long-time friend, Archbishop Angelo Acerbi, retired Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand, Columbia, Hungary and the Netherlands. They had no tickets either. The reason? The archbishop said he wanted to be with the people toward the back of the square.

> Last Papal Audience continues 


Meet the Press

Trying to Explain the Church to Reporters

Irwin and AielloThe first thing Tony Aiello from CBS in New York did was show me his press privileges. He was officially approved to cover the Conclave. We met for about 20 minutes on a side street outside the covered passage that runs from the Vatican to the Castel Sant’Angelo. Popes used it to “escape” by foot from the Vatican. Now it is a tourist spot, if you make reservations. His questions were mostly straightforward and did not have an edge. That is not always the case. And at the end he graciously asked me whether I had anything to add. Gracious indeed. With all that is said about the media pro and con, I judge it important to respond to press inquiries.

> Meet the Press continues


A Roman Meal

Teaching the Eucharist Takes on Special Meaning

Vatican When I teach about the Eucharist one of the “models” I use is that it is a meal, of a sacred and sacrificial kind, but still a meal. But I am also very aware that in America the family meal is disappearing. We all have so many commitments and we are often on such different schedules that dining together at dinner is sometimes just impossible. In fact, in a major history of food and dining published last year the author dedicated the last chapter to “sink dining” — to dining alone standing at the kitchen sink. When I spoke to my class here in Rome two weeks ago about the Italian notion and experience of a meal many offered comments about what they are experiencing living with “host families.”

A Roman Meal continues


The Year of Two Popes

A 'Predictable' Journey to Rome Takes an 'Unpredictable' Turn

Irwin apartmentAn uneventful flight. That is all you can really hope for in international flying these days. Gratefully US Air 718 from Philadelphia to Rome on New Year’s night 2013 was “uneventful.” Having taken the flight several times I could predict it all. The boarding routine is predictable, the amenities in flight predictable, the movie and television diversions predictable, the food and drink predictable and the time for darkening the shutters in the cabin and allowing light in the next morning equally predictable. I mused during the flight that this was going to be a very different academic semester for me.

The Year of Two Popes continues