Letter from Rome - December

By Joshua Dixon

As I write these words, a terrific storm is breaking over Rome. Lightning and torrential rain are infrequent but strangely welcome visitors to this ancient city. Not only do storms grant a reprieve from the heat and dust, they also invite us to contemplate the power and grandeur of the universe.

Rome does something similar. It is historical yet vibrantly alive. Here the divine and the secular worlds touch; the Pope resides in the Vatican in view of the Quirinale, home of the Italian president. The tradition of our faith has mingled organically with the ancient Roman world, for example in those churches converted from temples. Indeed, one of the Pope's titles, Pontifex Maximus – which literally means 'chief bridge-builder' – was taken from the ancient high priest of Rome.

This past month, two events have occurred which show the past flowing into a hope-filled future. Firstly, a memorial Mass was held here at the Venerable English College for the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, former rector of the seminary (1971–77), bishop of Arundel and Brighton (1977–2000) and, subsequently, Archbishop of Westminster (2000–09). The Cardinal, popularly known as 'Cormac', was well-liked among the students as a kindly and sociable figure, gentle and humorous.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, a priest of our Archdiocese and currently Secretary for Relations with States at the Vatican, presided at Mass while Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, preached. Amid the appreciation of the late Cardinal, mention was made of his love for Rome, which he had described as needing to be enjoyed over time like a fine wine. It also sticks in my mind how he was known to everyone as simply 'Cormac'. He will be fondly missed by all who had the pleasure of meeting him, including us here at the English College.

The second event of note took place at the titular church which had been assigned to Cardinal Cormac in Rome: Santa Maria sopra Minerva (pictured). One of the blessings of formation in Rome is the opportunity to make friends from across the globe, and my time so far has proved no exception to the rule. In my first year I became good friends with two Italian Dominicans based at Sopra Minerva, studying together at university and supporting each other in our vocations. Two weeks ago, in a joyful occasion, Manuel Rosso OP and Fabrizio Cambi OP were solemnly professed as Dominican friars in the stunning setting of Rome's only Gothic church. Their witness, humour and love have been a real help.

So while we bid farewell to Cardinal Cormac, we can also thank God for the hope-filled future to which he continually invites us through so many witnesses.