Today has been another incredible day in Rome. Yesterday I attended the second day of the Convocation of Renewal, and it was long, hot and fascinating. But today brought an even bigger treat.
We began with a time of prayer with Cardinal Angelo Comastri in the lower chapel inside St. Peter’s. He is second in command to Pope Francis and responsible for St. Peter’s Basilica. He followed the basic approach of the whole trip: focusing on finding unity around the life and ministry of Jesus. Following our prayer and conversation, we headed into the depths of St. Peter’s for a tour of the magnificent basilica, which dates back to its origins under Constantine. He built the original structure of St. Peter’s in A.D. 322, two years before heading off to construct and resettle the capitol of the empire in Constantinople. The basilica provided a rich and invigorating reminder of the history that has marked this place.
After leaving Cardinal Comastri, we went to the opposite end of Vatican City for our meeting with Cardinal Rylko. Pope John Paul II’s longest and best friend, he comes from Poland and serves as president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. A scintillating two-hour exchange ensued on the role of the laity in the church and the hope that the church universal can find common ground to advance the life and ministry of Jesus. Doug Coe, founder of the National Prayer Breakfast movement, gave a spirited call for all of us at the table to work toward God’s greater purposes in the world. He reminded us how often we focus on the minority of things that keep us apart rather than the majority of things that should draw us together. He honored Cardinal Rylko, and together we prayed for him.
Our time continued with Archbishop and Cardinal Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council on the Family. He must be one of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Short of stature, he reminded me of St. Teresa’s comment upon meeting John of the Cross for the first time. He, too, talked at length about their hope of finding common ground in working together. They have planned a worldwide conference in Philadelphia for 2016. Hearing him talk reminded me of one of my favorite books on the family by Dolores Curran, “Traits of a Healthy Family.” She begins with the famous opening from “Anna Karenina,” “Happy families are all alike. Unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.” She describes the 15 qualities of the happy family, which forms the backdrop for their goals for families all around the world. In this meeting they also unveiled plans to build and open an International Center for the Family in Nazareth, and they hope we will join in supporting 2016 as the year of the family. Truly inspiring.
The evening concluded with a whole host of dignitaries, including U.S. congressmen, a nationally recognized television star, the editor of the largest Italian newspaper, a two-star general, several ranking government and church officials and many more people. All in all, it was an absolutely stimulating day—which started at 8 a.m. and ended tonight at 11:30 p.m.
As I conclude this blog, it’s already after midnight. Tomorrow we’ll join the throngs in St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Francis, enjoy meetings in the afternoon and evening and settle into the non-stop rhythm that has become standard for our trip. Tomorrow should be special. Until then, blessings and good night.