March 8, 2013
Small Town, World Church
Running into Friends on the Streets of Rome
University Trustee Cardinal Francis George and Monsignor Irwin.
I 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 the Roman veteran, me the Roman novice. In discussing surprise encounters with lots of folks on the streets of Rome, he said, "Father Kevin, never forget that Rome is a very small town." I admit that I was surprised at that advice. But, over the years I have thought how wise that comment was.
Take the experience I had one day this week.
I was showing a friend around parts of the Rome I am familiar with, and happened to meet the former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese in the (coffee) bar of the Pontifical Gregorian University. Mary is pursuing a doctorate in canon law at the Gregorian, otherwise known as "mother Greg." We had met 18 months ago at a dinner and two weeks ago again at one of the Jesuit houses here for lunch. Yesterday we chatted for about 15 minutes. Small town!
In the late afternoon, my guest and I walked (in the rain, not always sunshine here) to St. Peter's for the Holy Hour with the College of Cardinals. Before it began, I met a few seminarians from the NAC and we chatted.
I then literally ran into the former ambassador from Canada to the Holy See, Ann Leahy. I had met her a few times at evening dinners here in the fall 2011 when I was on sabbatical and again last May when I was here for meetings. Since she has not yet been replaced as ambassador, she has returned to represent the Canadian government during the papal transition. Fifteen minutes conversing with her was a delight and long lasting in terms of insights she shared. No wonder she had been ambassador to the Holy See. Prior to that posting, she served as ambassador to Russia. Small town.
|Monsignor Irwin with, from left, Monsignor Frank Blood, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and Father Steve Vallenga, Diocese of Cleveland.|
Then I met Father Andrew Small, O.M.I., a doctoral alum of CUA and the national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States (Propagation of the Faith, among others). He greeted me heartily, as he greets everyone. Then he immediately invited me and my guest to a dinner that evening with diocesan directors of the missions and guests who are here in Rome for a seminar and a tour. It turns out that two of my former students from the NAC, now priests, were on the tour as well. The reception and dinner were to be held in the Vatican Museum. Evening plans changed immediately. Home to spruce up and walk to the museum. Again, in the rain, but who noticed? Small town.
CUA Trustee Cardinal Francis George spoke briefly at the start of the dinner about the missions worldwide and the work of his community, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. It turns out that the two NAC alums were dinner companions and they both spoke about serving for five years each at missions in South America. Another priest at the table is presently an American missionary in South America. Seated next to him were his proud parents from Cleveland.
At the end of the meal, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, of Hong Kong, who serves as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, spoke about missions and thanked the attendees for their support in prayer, service, and treasure. Archbishop Tai- Fai spoke at Catholic University last November. Small world.
All evening the reality of the worldwide Catholic Church was before us in informative, personal, and poignant ways.
As we walked home, we were largely silent. I was reflecting on this thought-provoking and memorable evening. Among other things, Catholic means universal, worldwide. Soon the cardinals from this worldwide Church will elect a new Pope.
Just before putting the key in the door to the apartment, I thought about what a surprising and rich day it had been. Then I thought back to Cardinal Cooke and the glint in his eye when he said that Rome was a very small town. Yet an entry to a worldwide Church.
Small town indeed.