Thursday, March 06, 2008

Andrew in Rome

I showed up outside the Orientalum at 4:00 pm, an hour before the talk by the Ecumenical Patriarch was to start. My host, Fr. S, explained that it was being held in the Aula Magna, which is not actually quite that magna ... holding barely 100 people. An overflow room with a big screen had been set up in one of the class rooms. The Oriental Institute is not really set up for a visit by an alumnus of such a high profile.

By 5:00 pm, a large crowd had gathered outside the hall, and they eventually let a few in, since there were still a few seats after the A-list had been seated (this included Cardinals Kasper [Pontifical Council for Christian Unity] and Sandro [Congregation for the Eastern Churches], several bishops and monsignori, Orthodox prelates, and the Ambassadors of both Greece and Turkey.). I ended up sitting next to an American Jesuit who teaches at the Greg, and a friend of his visiting from the States.

The talk itself was preceded by a few speeches of welcome, by Cardinal Sandro and the Dean of the Institute, and some musical pieces from both Eastern and Western sacred traditions. His Holiness' talk was given in Italian, but a program containing the text in Italian and English was handed out. [Apparently, he was going to give it in English, but there was a last minute change of language, given that Italian would be better heard]. His Italian is flawless, and unlike native speakers, slow-paced, so very easy to follow! The talk was entitled (this is from memory): "Theology, Liturgy, and Silence: Lessons from the Tradition of the East." His main point was the intricate link between all three, and the importance of the last -- the apophatic tradition, asceticism and silence in the proper study of theology. One other point, which was tangential to the main talk, towards the very end, caught my attention: the importance of ecumenical witness in our care for the poor and for the planet, and, as we dialogue and move towards deeper communion, no one should make any unilateral and universal moves that might impair that movement. [This is purely recollection and nowhere near the words. This was in the text of the talk, so I'll verify it later.]

After the talk, a reception was held in the corridor outside. The dignitaries passed through and went upstairs for a private dinner. I had gotten a plate of cheese and marinaded tomatoes, and my mouth was stuffed as His Holiness walked by, so I couldn't get to shake his hand, assuming his handlers would have allowed it! The brief reception ("una rifresco" is how it was described) turned out to be a full three course meal -- antipasti, first and second courses, dessert and spumanti (champagne)! A most unexpected delight. And it was entirely vegetarian, respecting the Eastern fasting disciplines for Lent, which are a lot more rigorous than what we do in the West. [Ok, it wouldn't take much to get more rigorous than the West!] I met several interesting folks: a Daughter of St. Paul from the US, some priests and nuns from India, but most of the time I ended up chatting with my companions from the talk. More connections in Rome!


Mattheus Mei said...

It would have been rather redneck and American of you to have just butted up and met his holiness with your mouth full, I'm sure he would have been saying in greek - 'this redneck must be from South Carolina' - what a missed opportunity for an international incident!

Gashwin said...

Hehe ... there was a minor incident I thought at one point: the dean of the college showed up in the corridor, shushed everyone and asked if the Turkish ambassador would please identify himself. A lost ambassador ... now that could be embarrassing!