Live – From the Eternal City

I’m in Rome!

A British TV team brought me here to take part in a programme discussing women and religion…we spent this morning working on that. But my day began with an early Mass at St Maria Maggiore – a particular joy because a priest friend celebrated his First Mass there back in the 1990s and so many memories returned.

Kneeling there, I realized, with a deeper understanding than ever before, just what we mean when we speak of the Immemorial Mass. Here were the words of consecration that I hear Sunday by Sunday – the Mass that has been celebrated for centuries here in Rome, the reality of a sacred duty carried out from the time that the first Christians gathered together under the leadership of St Peter. The words were in Italian, and around the globe they are said in every possible language, including my own. I sensed the hugeness of it, the fact of this unchanging mystery, the full depths of which we can never adequately explore.

We were in a side-chapel, with a magnificent dome, which gave way to another dome beyond – a glimpse of Heaven and of Christ’s message about eternity. In another side-chapel, the Blessed Sacrament was placed on the altar for adoration and the faithful knelt there in silence. Along the aisles, three confessionals were busy and people waited silently.

November often sees rain in Rome, but this morning the air was crisp and fresh with bright, bright sunshine. After the morning’s work, I walked down to the Corso Vittorio Emmanuel, via a café where I had a slice of pizza, and another one where I had an ice-cream. I wanted to look into the Gesu, but it was shut for midday. Why? It seems the Romans don’t do lunchtime Masses. In fact, too many of the churches where I dropped in as I walked along were empty, or almost empty. This seems all wrong. The streets were thronging. But I also noticed something else – very few children. Of course that isn’t so odd in the center of a busy city – family life belongs in side-streets and blocks of flats and busy suburbs. But it’s a bit odd to see almost no babies or small children at all. It seems that Italians really are denying themselves a future, just as the statistics say. In 30 years there will be very few Italians who have first-hand experience of having brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts and first cousins.

Vatican Radio interviewed me about my book on Blessed John Paul the Great. It was good to be with them and to enjoy chatting in the English section. Then, I visited a few bookshops….and on to [EWTN Rome Bureau Chief] Joan Lewis’ lovely flat where I am staying. She is a wonderful host and has made me so welcome. It’s great fun catching up on news and she is a wonderful cook…I’m writing this with a glass of wine to hand and a delicious smell coming from the kitchen. Outside, dusk has fallen on the glorious dome of St Peter’s and, as I walked across the Square earlier, I saw the lights glowing in what are always pointed out as the papal apartments.

This is the Eternal City and it is a joy to be here and thanking God for the great John Paul and praying for our dear Holy Father today.