WelCom May 2018:
Easter in Rome. He is risen Alleluia, Alleluia!
In the dark of the night, Pope Francis stood at the door and the only light was the new light of Easter. As the deacon sang out Christ our light, the light spread out across the thousands gathered at St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Pope Francis walked up the aisle and passed right next to us. He presided and preached a call to be a disciple and to live the Resurrection by service. He spoke of joy and the choice to be a follower of Christ in all we say and do.
The service was long for my family who had flown in that morning from New Zealand and had no Italian, but we were all overwhelmed being among thousands in a single proclamation of the Resurrection.
Was this the highlight of my Easter in Rome? No.
Was it on Good Friday afternoon with the deacons at the English College singing the prayerful and uplifting Passion of St John and their schola of students singing the crowd parts to a setting of Byrd? No.
It was Holy Thursday night in the Church of the Santi Quattro Coronati – the four martyrs whose names are unknown – an abbey tucked away in the centre of Rome, close to the Colosseum and home to a convent of Augustinian contemplatives.
As we walked in, the sisters connected and welcomed us from within their grille. After we witnessed the prayer and the washing of the feet, the highlight was walking with the Lord through the cloister to the altar of repose then walking the streets of Rome to seven churches to spend time in prayer with Him.
“The highlight was walking with the Lord through the cloister to the altar of repose then walking the streets of Rome to seven churches to spend time in prayer with Him.”
What did I learn from my Easter in Rome? Missing my community has been the greatest impact of being here. I needed to be at home to celebrate the Pasch. I missed Chrism with the whole Diocese gathered. I missed the ‘saints’ who every year come down from Wairoa. I missed seeing them and knowing our common faith. I missed Bishop Charles breathing into the Chrism. I missed the immersion baptism in the middle of the Vigil, which always gives me such a reinforcement of my belief and commitment.
This Easter in Rome, I realised we are part of the ‘great’ – as in big, universal – Church; but we live it in the local, parish and family, and diocese.
The call to holiness Francis writes of during Easter week is to be lived, rejoicing in our part of the modern world. For us it is in Wairoa and Waitara, Westport and Wainui – in the joining in prayer in St Joseph’s, St Patrick’s, St Candice’s. It is in taking the risk of welcoming the people whose names I am yet to learn who sit in the row in front and behind and in the service of those who walk in our doors.
We have been called to holiness in our place and time. And it is in the companionship of the ones the Lord has called us to live with in our place and time.
It has been wonderful to be in Rome for Easter but as with the Easter call the Lord says ‘go home to Galilee, Palmerston North, Wellington and I will see you there’ because that is where you and I are called to be disciples of the Lord!
Mark Richards is Pastoral Services Manager for the Diocese of Palmerston North. He is in Rome for three months to complete his doctoral study and research.