The middle weekend has been free time. So I have had the privilege of seeing some of Rome’s great sites. There has also been space for more informal conversations with priests who live where I am staying; most of them work in the Vatican, some are students. So insights from different angles.
Sunday morning I took up the suggestion of worshipping with the ‘Caravita’ congregation at their english service. They don’t start until 11 so I decided to walk and visit beforehand. The streets are very quiet at 8.30 on a Sunday but by the time I reached the Piazza Venezia a few early starters like me were around. The Victor Emmanuel II monument is impressive but I found myself wondering what bits of it would remain and survive if it were ever to be broken down like the splendour of the Fori Imperiali now laid wonderfully bare for us all to walk by. The colosseum was already busy. Looking down imagining my Christian predecessors fighting for their lives in this vast arena is humbling. Yet I thought too of how little stadia have changed. The shape; the steep sides and steps; the cheap seats high up and the wealthy and powerful closest to the action; the cheering as the ‘combatants’ appear from the tunnels onto the ‘pitch’; the to-ing and fro-ing of the contest and the cheers and jeers from the crowd. Stadia have had a common purpose for millennia. They are designed to entertain. They allow all walks of life to attend but economics and influence keep different social classes apart. The performers have to entertain, or they fail. We may not have fights to the death in our stadia anymore but we still love the contests that are held in them. Stadia remain symbols of strength for those who build them and run them.
Here I was a rarity. The vast bulk of visitors were with at least one other person; many were family groups or large tour groups. Back on the now busy streets large numbers of families were out enjoying time together on this sunny Sunday morning. The Via de Fori Imperiali was closed and a cycle circuit had been established. Young teenagers were racing hard; learning the art of road racing young. There were interval points races and the young gladiators were watched and cheered on by their families. It was exciting to watch. Here were families together. Others were buying at the Farmers Market; many were sat drinking coffee. One of the small churches was being prepared for a wedding.
I found (eventually) San Francesco Saverio where ‘Del Caravita’ worships in English every Sunday at 11am. We were truly an international community, and an ecumenical one. The delegates of the Methodist-Catholic dialogue were all present. Terrific bible exposition from Bishop Donald Bolen (Bishop of Saskatoon and co chair of the dialogue). Well done, simple liturgy, with excellent music and very friendly afterwards. Here was church family together in worship and prayer. Here was God’s family recognising one another, yet living with the pain of not yet full communion.
Then in the evening I joined with a large congregation and ecumenical leaders at San Bartolomeo. This church is looked after by the St Egidio community. It is specifically run to commemorate the martyrs of the twentieth century. The chapels dedicated to each continent are powerful in who they remember and the artefacts used to do so. It was a powerful example of Christians from many nations and backgrounds standing together in remembrance and praying for the suffering church around the world today. United as one family in prayer.
The whole day spoke to me of family. The joy of seeing families out together enjoying being together. The pride of family in their sporting daughter or son, and the willingness to give up time and energy to do so. The family of humanity walking side by side; marvelling at the same historic places and cultures. The extraordinary family which is the people of God bound together in Jesus Christ, in the joy of the morning and the pain and sorrow of the evening.
Family means so many different things to us all. There is an absolute core basis for life and society which is found in the domestic family; built on the covenant love and commitment of the couple to one another, and to their children. The willingness to say ‘I do not come first, you do. I give myself to you for your wellbeing and growth. I lay myself down.’ In this setting children discover who God intends them to be; here in being loved they discover how to love. Here too husband and wife find, not lose themselves.
Yet this family has to be a part of the bigger family of society and of humanity. Here the church family matters enormously. In the church family becomes so much bigger and in a place like the Caravita Community its bigness can be clearer still; it is a worldwide family that seeks to help the whole human family discover how it can love and serve by being loved. Gathered around broken bread and out poured wine we were called afresh to go out to the highways and byways and make known to all that God welcomes us all to his amazing banquet, and into his family as friends, and beloved children.