The beginning of a new seminary year always surprises. In two short months, my path led me from Liverpool to Milan; from Milan to Turkey; and eventually back to seminary, the Venerable English College in Rome. So where does that fit in with a formation programme?
Well, every year a seminarian is sent on placement to live, work and discern among those he feels called to serve. This time I went to an oratory in Milan diocese to live alongside Don Nicola Petrone. Part of a team of four priests, Don Nicola cares for more than 400 young teenagers – it was a baptism of fire alright! My warm welcome was followed by a weekend trip to Laigueglia, a town on the Mediterranean. This was an opportunity to laugh and share with over 50 youngsters, experiencing their vibrant faith and joy. After a period of prayer, activity and development, many had taken the mature step of becoming 'animatori' – an important moment to take responsibility for their faith.
Back in Milan, where the Duomo and Palazzo witness to the fruitfulness of faith in the artistic legacy of Christianity, I improved my Italian by leading morning prayer in the church each day. In the parish of Ss Quirico and Giulitta, I was repeatedly struck by the love, hospitality and kindness I encountered. Another blessing was the chance to attend the leaving Mass of the retiring Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan and to meet the Pope Francis-appointed Archbishop Mario Delpini.
After Milan, the entire college community spent five days on pilgrimage, visiting the seven churches of the Apocalypse featured in the Book of Revelation. Our footsteps took us to modern-day Turkey: to Pergamum, Smyrna and Laodicea, to name but a few places. Particularly special were the ruins of Ephesus, the Greco-Roman port of which St John the Evangelist was bishop. I was privileged to read during Mass at the house believed to have belonged to Mary.
After a whistle-stop tour of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia basilica/mosque/museum, there was a tangible sense that this was a meeting point of Europe and Asia, Islam and Christianity. Anyway, we returned to Rome at 2am to begin 8.30am lectures the next day!
The pilgrimage enabled the seven new students, including three Englishmen, to bond with the rest of our 28-man community. Ours is a house of social, linguistic and international flavour – the Catholic Church at its best. My own formation is also diverse. Unusually, this year I will study an extra (third) year of philosophy, in Italian, to obtain the PhB degree. Normally we do two years of philosophy in English before proceeding to five of theology.
Please pray for us all here in Rome, and for all our seminarians.
Until next time, God bless.