Fr Richard Thompson VG in Rome
On 4 February, I arrived in Rome, in pleasant but cool weather, to attend the International Conference for the Ongoing Formation of Priests. The Dicastery organises the conference for the Clergy under the leadership of Cardinal Lazzaro You Heung-sik. Our Korean chaplain, Fr Andrew Yang, is well known to the Cardinal, who sends his greetings to Fr Andrew and the Archdiocese.
With just under 1000 participants, the conference has gathered clergy from nearly 60 countries, including several representatives from Australia. I have been enjoying the company of Bishop Greg Bennet from Sale diocese, who is now a member of the Dicastery for Clergy, as well as Fr Khalid Marogi, National Director for Clergy Life and Ministry and Migrants and Refugees.
At the outset of my visit, I experienced a different kind of hospitality from the Church administered from Rome. This time, for me, it is apparent that the leadership is very much focused on listening to its clergy in a time of enormous change in every cultural context across the world. While the focus of the conference is certainly on ongoing formation for priests, the context is set in this fast-changing world with the challenges it creates.
The Opening Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State to Pope Francis, at The Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica. This was a special time for me to pray for the Archdiocese, Archbishop Christopher and our clergy as I gazed upon the Bernini masterpiece, the window of which is the symbol of our Archdiocesan Year of the Holy Spirit.
We shared in launching the new website from the Dicastery of Communication that has been created to resource and support all clergy internationally. www.clerus,va. I commend it to all.
Another exciting aspect is the dynamic created in this conference. It operates in the synodal manner exercised at the ongoing Synod of Bishops. While there are challenges with such large numbers in the Auditorium Conciliazione, we workshop in small groups of seven or eight, of which I am one of the facilitators. This style of meeting is becoming the norm, even in our Archdiocese, as we put more time into listening to each other, reflecting and discerning what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. It is a respectful, inclusive and gentle way to participate with the Spirit and each other. My group comes from the USA, UK, India, Philippines and Australia.
Several world-renowned expert speakers are presenting, including Cardinal Tagle, Prefect for the Dicastery for Evangelisation, Reverend Mother Martha Driscoll OCSO, Fr Hans Zollner SJ, among others.
On Thursday, we shared an early audience with the Holy Father and then later that evening, a very special experience at the Papal Archbasilica of St John Lateran where we were moved by a concert meditation on the vocation of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, led by the choir of the Diocese of Rome and the “Fideles et Amati” Orchestra directed by the famous Maestro Monsignor Marco Frisina.
On Saturday, the closing Mass will be held back in St Peter’s Basilica, led by Cardinal You Heung-sik.
Even though the conference is still underway, this has been a wonderful opportunity to meet and network with those involved in ongoing priestly formation. It has been a busy programme that has left little time for any sightseeing, but the hospitality of the Church and Rome has more than made up for expanding my vocational experience – and waistline.