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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Institutions, Ordinations and Admissions

As the Scots College library gets busy and seminarians actually wake up feeling stressed, it is a safe bet that exams are once again around the corner. I thought I'd take this opportunity, before I bury myself under notes and essays, to reflect on April and May 2016.

Life has been busy at the College over the past couple of months. I seem to say that in most of my posts, but there is no other way of describing it. Some of the 'highlights' of late include a private Audience with Pope Francis in the Apostolic Palace (see previous post), ordinations to the Diaconate, the institution of new Lectors, and the admission of new Candidates for Holy Orders.

While I wont reflect again on the College community's time with the the Holy Father on the 14th April, I will reflect on the later events of that evening. At a Mass with Archbishop Tartaglia and Archbishop Cushley, three seminarians were instituted as Lectors. I was one of them. Of course, many people will not have any idea what this means - I certainly didn't before I came to seminary. Every seminarian must be instituted to the ministry of 'Reader' at some time before his ordination. Essentially, Lectors are instituted as ministers of the Word of God. They are asked to take seriously their prayer and mediation with the Scriptures, and to be able to help with Catechesis (instructing others in the Faith). While many people now read at Mass back home, this is the Lector's primary role.

Next, two weeks later, the entire community was very busy preparing for the ordinations to the Diaconate. This is without doubt the 'biggest' event in the College calendar every year. This year, three men in their sixth year were ordained as deacons - Paul Denney, Bernard Mournian and Jonathan Whitworth. The College chapel was as packed as it has ever been on Sunday 1st May, with around 200 people in attendance for the Mass and later reception. This included around 40 priests from Scotland, Rome and elsewhere. Bishop Toal from the Diocese of Motherwell was the main celebrant.

The ordinations serve as a real encouragement for everyone in the community, not least of all the seminarians who hope one day to be ordained themselves. Now that they are deacons, Paul, Bernard and Jonathan turn their attention towards their priestly ordinations.

Finally, on Thursday 12th May, the Vatican's Bishop Brian Farrell visited the College and celebrated Mass, during which he formally admitted three seminarians as Candidates for Holy Orders. Emmanuel Alagbaoso, Emmet O'Dowd and Rafal Szweda are in their fifth year of formation, and at the Mass they publicly declared their intention to be ordained to the priesthood.

So, in a four week period, we had all of this - and much more - in the College calendar. However, the formal timetable becomes less hectic now, as we enter into another summer exam session. One thing that is certainly different from last year is the weather - 30°C days and 25° nights haven't yet arrived in Rome.

Please remember the seminarians and deacons in your prayers over the next few weeks. We need your prayers!

Monday, 18 April 2016

The Pope and the Palace

At the end of the Easter Vigil Mass, the rector of the Pontifical Scots College thanked the community for a worthy celebration of the Paschal Triduum. He also made a surprise announcement: we were going to meet the Pope.

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Mission Oath, which signified the Scots College becoming a place for the formation of priests for Scotland, and in response to an invitation to the College, Pope Francis invited the community to the Apostolic Palace for a private audience. Of course, the seminarians, deacons, sisters and priests discussed the audience at a small reception after the Easter Vigil, and continued discussing it during the Easter holiday.

Everyone returned to Rome one week later, and suddenly it became obvious that the time between our return and the audience was minimal. Although time seems to fly by at the best of times, the community had an episcopal visitation to host one week into the new term. These visitations happen once a year, and involve two bishops coming to Rome and having individual meetings with all members of the community so that they can put a report together for the rest of the Bishops' Conference.

On Wednesday 13th April, with all the arrangements confirmed, we were able to publicise the audience, which was to happen the next day. The seminarians, deacons and sisters would travel to the Vatican with the spiritual director to meet the rector, vice-rector and two archbishops at the entrance to Vatican City.

On Thursday 14th April, the community met outside the College for photographs. One such photo was of the seminarians who are soon to be ordained as deacons (Sunday 1st May). They had been chosen to present the Holy Father with gifts from Scotland including a quaich and a bottle of Scotch. The vice-rector would present him with a copy of the first Mission Oath taken at the College.

In Vatican City, we entered through the famous Bronze Door. As we did so, we were saluted by various Swiss Guards. Without meaning to seem too dramatic, the excitement was palpable. We remained in the foyer beyond the Bronze Door for some time, taking photographs and wondering when we would be invited to proceed.

Eventually, a member of the Papal Household signalled for us to climb a marble staircase, which led out into a large courtyard, flanked by the famous Apostolic Palace and the office from which Popes pray the Angelus on Sunday afternoons. We walked across the courtyard and a second member of the Papal Household told us that we should take the elevators to the fifth floor. We entered two mahogany elevators, which were operated by more members of the Household, and got out on the fifth floor. 

We were saluted by more Swiss Guards and shown into the first waiting chamber, which bears the name of our founder Pope, Clement VIII. We waited for the rest of the community to get out of the elevators, and then we were called into a second beautiful room. Although I am not sure about the name of this room, I remember that there was an impressive throne in the centre.

Finally, we were beckoned into a final room, the Hall of the Consistory, where Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI announced his resignation. We were shown to our seats and given an English translation of the Holy Father's address to the community of the Pontifical Scots College. 

After a time of anticipation, Pope Francis walked in. He almost surprised us. We stood up and applauded him. He looked happy to see us. He sat down. We sat down. Archbishop Tartaglia then addressed His Holiness in Italian, on behalf of the entire community. Afterwards, the Successor of Saint Peter addressed us.

In his address, he spoke about the blood of the martyred Saint John Ogilvie being a foundation of the College. He also told us that although the persecution that we face may not be as obvious as that which Saint Ogilvie faced, nevertheless we live in a time of martyrdom, in a culture which is hostile to the Gospel. He also told us that we must have the passion and love for Scotland and the Church that our brothers had 400 years ago, when they agreed to return as priests to Reformation Scotland.

After his address, the deacons-to-be presented him with the gifts from our country. He greeted them, and then greeted each member of the community individually. He also imparted his Apostolic Blessing on us and extended it to the people of Scotland.

Remarkably, the thing that made the greatest impression on me was not shaking the Pope's hand; it was, in fact, listening to what he had to say to the seminarians of Scotland. Although martyrdom (in the traditional sense) is not likely, we are expected to give our lives completely to Christ and His Church.

Reflecting on the experience, it was obvious that Pope Francis was happy to meet with us. He showed us a real love for Christ and the priesthood. He was aware of the challenges that we face today in Scotland and around the world, and he ensured us of his prayers for us and our country.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Easter, Charity and Ministries

I haven't posted anything on here for a couple of months, but things have been pretty hectic, both in Rome and in Scotland.

As if the celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary of the Mission Oath at the College were not enough, The Pontifical Scots College community welcomed the seminarians from the Royal Scots College in Spain to Rome for Holy Week. The Rome community then split up for the Holy Week retreat. Those who are preparing for ordination went to a house in Rome run by the Passionists, and the rest of us went to a retreat house in the Alban hills, looking out over Rome. The retreat was, as ever, a great experience. We arrived on Friday evening and entered into silence after being assigned our individual spiritual directors for the 5-day retreat. The opportunity to cut yourself off from the world during this time is too good to pass up. I had a very fruitful retreat, and I really appreciate the prayers people said for me during this time.

We all returned to the College on Holy Thursday morning and immediately began preparing for the Easter Triduum. Because our community is a relatively small one, everyone was involved in some way at one or more of the liturgies of the Triduum.

After the Easter Vigil, there was a small reception. This allowed us to say our goodbyes, as most of us travelled for Easter week. I went home, and had a fantastic Easter Sunday dinner with my family. It was great to meet up with my friends afterwards, although when Easter Monday came around, I was exhausted. The 3-day trip to Edinburgh was relaxing, and gave me a good chance to catch up properly with my parents. We did the touristy things, including a tour of the Castle and a 'Ghost Tour'.

A few days after everyone returned to Rome, the community hosted its first annual charity quiz night. This year, it was in aid of Mary's Meals, and we were delighted to raise an impressive €1,500 for the work the Scottish charity does.

This week, things are as busy as ever. The Scottish archbishops arrive this afternoon for an episcopal visitation, during which they will meet every member of the community individiually for a chat. Also, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the UK Ambassador to the Holy See has invited a number of us to a performance of Hamlet on Wednesday evening.

Finally, for now, on Thursday evening, Archbishop Tartaglia will institute three new Lectors. The ministry of Lectorate is one that all men who will be ordained must receive. It is the first ministry seminarians receive, and at the Scots a College the seminarians receive it in third year. That means that this year, I will be instituted as a Lector, along with two other men.

Please pray for us, and for all members of the community. We have a busy few weeks ahead, with diaconate ordinations just around the corner.