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14 May 2018

Belgian Clergy visit the Eternal City

From The Revd Gillian Trinder (Chaplain of St George's Memorial Church, Ypres):

On Monday 7th May, Revd Stephen Murray (Ghent), Canon Andrew Wagstaff and Prison Chaplain Egbert van Groesen (Antwerp) and Revd Gillian Trinder (Ypres) went on a Study Trip to the Anglican Centre in Rome. This was founded in 1960 to build relationships and theological dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. Its mission is to promote Christian unity through hospitality, prayer and common witness and educational courses. We attended the weekly Eucharist service and lunch and afterwards Revd David Greenwood explained the history of ecumenical relations in Rome which is his subject of special interest.

Our host Chiara took us to visit the nearby site of St Paul’s prison which is decorated with early Christian frescoes. There are numerous quotations in the Pastoral Letters about St Paul’s imprisonment and chains and his famous prayer of putting on the full armour of God is thought to have been inspired by the familiar sight of his Roman guard (Acts 26: 27-32; 28: 16-20, 30-31; Eph 6: 10-18; Col 4:18; 2 Tim 2: 8-9; 2 Tim 4: 6-8). Afterwards we headed into the centre of Ancient Rome to see a panoramic view across the Roman Forum and then walked around the Colosseum and the Arch of Titus. In the afternoon we walked up to see the magnificent art collections of the Galleria Borghese which hold an outstanding collection of sculptures and paintings. The Florentine Old Masters are particularly beautiful including Fra Bartolomeo’s Adoration of the Child (1495). This masterpiece illustrates how the correct response of the believer is to look to Christ in love and prayer.

The highlight of the trip came on Wednesday morning when we walked across to the Vatican to attend the Papal Audience. Our pink entrance tickets brought us within 10 metres of Pope Francis as he delivered his weekly homily to the crowds which was then translated into many languages. This was a continuation of a catechesis on baptism: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6: 3-4).  Pope Francis said that by the pouring of water and invoking of the Trinity we are immersed in the mystery of Christ’s death and rising to new birth. We become a new creation and are made the children of God.  Baptism is sealed by an indelible mark upon the soul.  As a priestly people we are called to offer our lives daily and proclaim Christ’s kingship by our witness of faith, love and service to our brothers and sisters. Then we sang the words of the Lord’s Prayer together in Latin (which were printed on the back of our entrance ticket) followed by the Papal Blessing.  Among the crowds attending the audience were many groups of nuns and I met two young sisters of the Alexian Order named Christina and Lucia who were studying missiology in Rome as preparation for going out as missionaries to Africa. They were very interested to see a female priest at the Vatican and asked for our prayers.

In the afternoon we went on a guided tour of the Scavi or catacombs underneath St Peter’s Basilica.  By tradition this is the place where St Peter was martyred during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD). The Christian tombs can be recognised by their symbolic artwork and their inscriptions. One mausoleum depicts the Christian figure of a fisherman casting his line. One fish is taking the bite while the other swims away. The scene illustrates the souls who accept or refuse salvation. We finished our tour with a walk around the interior of St Peter’s Basilica where Michelangelo’s famous Pieta can be seen.

Our final day in Rome was Ascension Day which we celebrated with a Eucharist service in the tranquil chapel of the Anglican centre. Afterwards some of us walked over to the Spanish Steps and visited the Anglican church of All Saints with its beautiful stained glass windows and the icon of Christ which was a gift from Pope Francis. On our way back to the hotel we called in at the Church of St Louis of France to see the superb trio of Carravaggio paintings telling the story of St Matthew: his calling, his gospel writing and his martyrdom.

Our Study Trip to Rome offered a wonderful introduction to the Eternal City. It provided a remarkable opportunity to see the glorious art and architecture of Rome, to understand the special role and mission of the Anglican Centre and to experience a Papal Audience at the Vatican. It also gave us the chance to get to know our fellow chaplains better, to worship with one another and to build relationships while enjoying wonderful Italian food. So now we take back all our reflections to our chaplaincies and look forward to sharing them in our future ministries. 

In the words of the Eucharist Service Book of the Anglican Centre in Rome: May the Lord bless you in your walking and in your journey and be your first and constant companion. Amen.

Carravaggio: St Matthew and the Angel