From flocks to Foucault: March 13, 2012

By Trinna Leong

Bishop Siluan Span

Bishop Siluan Span talks to our class surrounded by two nuns in the Romanian Orthodox chapel | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

ROME — After four days of frantic reporting and nerve-wracking attempts trying to navigate through the Italian public transportation, the gang got onto a bus and headed out to the outskirts of Rome for fresh air and a nice tour of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the countryside.

The respite from throngs of tourists in the city was a welcome breather. We switched our attention from Michelangelo’s to soaking in the quiet serenity while drinking free champagne courtesy of Bishop Siluan Span who heads the chapel.

Simple and rustic, the chapel is part of a monastery that hosts the Romanian Orthodox diocese in Rome. A few nuns, a priest and a deacon occupy the monastery while living a communal life with eight pet dogs – one of them a very friendly blind retriever mix. Some of the dogs serve as guards since thieves are a concern in Via Ardeatina, one of the ancient Roman roads that lead to the city.

Surrounded by miles and miles of vineyards, Span’s parish deals mostly with Romanian immigrants coping with being far away from home and especially mothers who had to leave their family behind in their home country. Span brought up the issue of the bad image that Romanians have to deal with in Italy. According to the bishop, Romanians have often been perceived as criminals –even though, he argues, most Romanian youths have been excelling academically and are not the ones contributing to the crime rate.

“We don’t create tension, we just celebrate for our flock,” said Span.

He also complimented Pope Benedict XVI for being open to the Romanian community and for the support toward the integration of immigrants in the country.

Despite its size, the church says it also does charity work to provide for everyone in the area, regardless of ethnicity.

The Religio gang then left to head back to the city for an afternoon of frenzied reporting before regrouping for the next highlight of the day.

No doubt, the city is all about the view. During the tour to the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, our partner university for this trip, we climbed to the rooftop of the university to take one of our many group photos, with Rome’s skyline as our backdrop. The university is at a 14th century building that included its own cathedral along with a chapel attached for daily mass. A pontifical university is a branch of Catholic university established under the authority of the Holy See. It is mostly a school for priests and nuns, although it is open to all and has a few lay people studying courses that range from theology, philosophy and canon law to church communications.

We took stock of the breathtaking sight of Piazza Navona before we began our next item on the itinerary.

Our trip to Rome would not have been complete if we did not meet all the ranks that make up the Catholic Church. The class has so far met a seminarian, father, archbishop and the Pope (well, okay, we didn’t actually meet the Pope… yet) in just four days. But of course, missing from the list mentioned was a cardinal. Second in rank after the Pope, cardinals are the ones who decide who the next Pope will be.

Cardinal Stafford

Cardinal Stafford answering a question from a student. l Photo by Trinna Leong.

Enter American Cardinal James Stafford, who though he came to the Vatican in 1998 as an archbishop, left as a cardinal after getting a promotion from Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Stafford brought up the topic of changes in the laity movement, shared his experiences with Pope John Paul II and had a lively debate with Professor Alexander Stille on contraception. We also discovered that Cardinal Stafford enjoys the odd Foucault reference…

The day then ended with the gang heading over to Sicomoro restaurant for a feast of and conversation with two religion reporters, Gerard O’Connell and Francis Rocca. Both shared their thoughts on the importance of religion reporting as well as their experiences reporting on the Catholic Church and other religions.

A tiring day in all, we walked out of the restaurant and had a night view of St Peters as we strolled back to our hotel, exhausted and stuffed — yet again — with pasta.

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