A Londoner In Rome…

An English nun who helped to hide Jewish refugees in Rome in World War II may be beatified. I’m in Rome to find out more about this story.Mother-Riccarda-Hambrough

The nun is Mother Riccarda Hambrough, who died in 1965. She joined the Brigettines back in the 1900s, as one of the founder members of the new community established by Mother Elisabeth Hessleblad who revived the Order after an almost 400 year gap – it was a Swedish order dissolved in the Reformation.

Riccarda is the Italian form of Richard, and the young Madeline Hambrough took this name to honour Richard Reynolds, one of the English Martyrs.

Mother Elisabeth Hessleblad has already been honoured by both the Church and by the Jewish people for her heroic work in World War II. She is named at Yad Vashem, the great Jewish Holocaust memorial in Israel.

Finding out about Mother Riccarda is proving something of a detective adventure. I am slowly piecing it together, and realising that there were many unsung heroes of wartime, and that telling the story of any of them is something that requires lots of research and patience.

Meanwhile, Rome, washed by torrential rain in the first part of this week and then relaxing in pale sunshine in the later part, is getting ready for the massive event that is to take place after Easter : the beatification of the great Pope John Paul II. Today I lunched with EWTN’s Joan Lewis – we met in London a few days ago – and I recommend a look at her Blog for information if you are thinking of joining the crowds on May 1st. Click on “practical information for visiting the Vatican”.

Here, the Church bustles about its business: clergy and nuns abound – figures in cassocks hurrying across St Peter’s square with briefcases or chatting into mobile phones, or guiding groups of pilgrims around the colonnade and across the cobbles, nuns in pairs, intent and talkative, on their way to a meeting or to study somewhere, or to Mass, or to a bookshop. The latter are selling the Pope’s new book “Light of the World” in Italian and other languages, plus souvenir-books galore of JP11.

There is joy here, and a sense of youth. There are young seminarians, lots of centres of study, missionaries getting trained, young nuns with a sense of energy and with cheery smiles. You might expect the city at the centre of the Church’s structures to be full of serious older men, but it isn’t so – in Rome you really do get a flavour of something bigger “The Church is alive, and the Church is young”.

But I am sure that living and working here could make one cynical about the Church, in the sense that you also see its bureaucratic procedures, probably there are inevitable careerists, there are ways that pressure groups and moneyed groups can make themselves big and bossy. You can see new trends arriving and new moods emerging, and it can all seem very human and political rather than great and Godly. But there is still the greatness of things, there is still the Saviour at the heart of it all, when you slip into a church and there are people quietly praying, when pilgrims gaze at St Peter’s with awe, when crowds gather to look up at the window where the successor of St Peter has his rooms, and you are aware that God did provide for his Church, that he gave instructions to a fisherman and provided him with successors, and that, supported by prayer and nourished by the Eucharist,the work goes on…