Rome a city of subplots

New Zealand particpants will be sending posts from the Synod on Marriage and the Family in Rome this month.
Here is a post from Bishop Charles Drennan.

Subplots sometimes take centre stage. When I first came to work at the Secretariat of State the then Monsignor Mark Coleridge who was leaving said to me: looking back on my time here, it has been the footnotes which have often been the most interesting. What did he mean? Part of living in Rome is participating in what the eternal city has to offer beyond work. Often that starts or ends around a table of kai.

Cardinal John and I were guests today with a couple of Oz Bishops at the Augustinian Father’s Generalate (HQ). Fr Tony Banks our host it turns out is Kiwi. Kaitaia is where he grew up and his father had been the BNZ manager in Palmy. Their Generalate is a magnificent building that looks over the piazza to St Peter’s and beside their home and offices is their fine university, the Augustinianum, which specializes in patristic studies. Romans know how to build well. They have been doing so for centuries. And they still do. Contemporary elements of the Augustinianum building are as magnificent as they are clever. Such puts an end to the myth that beauty in ecclesial structures is limited to imitation of architectural styles of the past. A claim I have never understood.

Last night’s subplot also had a Kiwi connection. I was invited to dinner by the new-ish President of the Vatican Bank, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu and his Belgian wife Helene. The setting was on the sumptuous side I would have to admit: the Circolo della Caccia – a hunting club. Throw away any kiwi notions of a hunting club. I suspect the only thing the members of this club might hunt is butterflies. It forms part of the 16th century Borghese Palace. The guests numbered a dozen. One was Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai with whom I shared a taxi. Neither of us was quite sure why we had been invited. Anyhow, it wasn’t a fundraiser.

What was the Kiwi connection? To cut a long story short, the Vat Bank President was hosting the dinner in honour of Anna Halpine who founded the World Youth Alliance as a teenager in 1999. Anna had been in New Zealand recently visiting Len Blackwell a Palmy Cathedral parishioner and scientist at Massey Uni. Part of Anna’s work is to support the development of the science around natural, chemical free, family planning. Len is a world expert in this area and I had attended a meeting with Len and Anna while she was visiting Palmerston North. So the table was quite a mix: Cardinals, Financiers, Scientists, Activists and me.

From a more modest table – lunch at Santa Marta – a circuitous NZ connection via Lyon. I’ve commented in other contexts about the remarkable fact that from what today we would call the young adults group, of one parish, in Lyon France, in a period of just a few years, an extraordinary crop of courageous young men and women set forth to NZ and the Pacific as the first missionaries. Suzanne Aubert was one of them.

Today at lunch it turns out I was sitting next to someone from a more recent batch of Lyon missionaries: Bishop Henri Coudray. As a late teenager he joined the Lyon Province of the Jesuits. Then, aged just 22, he was sent to Chad (south of Libya) in North/Central Africa and has remained there ever since. He speaks Arabic fluently and works hard at Christian Muslim dialogue. He is now Bishop of Mongo Diocese in that country.

My 4th form (Yr 10 for the age-challenged) social studies teacher used to say to us: boys, if you think you’ve got problems think of Chad. Not sure I will share that with Bishop Henri.

Bishop Charles Drennan is Bishop of Palmerston North.