Federico Fellini, the great Italian film director, would have loved the cinematic possibilities for the opening of Day 5.
We were off to Mass in the Vatican. All of the delegates gathered on the steps of the Jesuit Curia at 7am. For some, like myself, who live in the Curia, that was a relatively straight-forward task; but for those hardy types lodging in the Russicum and the Germanicum, it took a 45 minute walk just to get to the Curia steps and only then did battle commence.
What was meant to be an early morning pilgrimage in the soft rosé twilight of a Roman dawn took on a more apocalyptic edge as the skies darkened and the thunder growled menacingly. A graceful black crocodile of 200 Jesuit umbrellas wending its way up Borgo Sant Spiritu, hesitated only when we hit the open waters of St Peter’s Square; it was here that the rain became torrential, the lightening flashed and the 200 umbrellas broke ranks and began to jog – every man for himself – into the shelter of Michelangelo colonnades, where the bemused Italian Police processed us through security.
The transition through the Holy Door of Mercy was marked. The Basilica of St Peter’s was almost silent and empty of tourists and the dignity and magnificence of the setting set the tempo for our prayerful Eucharist.
Fr Nicolas joined us and concelebrated, but the honour of presiding was given to Fr Ben Nebres of the Philippine Province, who is the senior member of GC36 and a veteran of General Congregations of the past.
I had a wonderful view from the raised choir platform as I was part of a little volunteer Jesuit Schola who sang (with slightly more enthusiasm than accuracy, it was generally thought afterwards) to give some musical shape to the event.
To share our Eucharist at the tomb of St Peter is symbolic for the Congregation in a number of ways. Firstly our catholicism takes us back through time to Christ and the tap-root of our faith, the faith of the Apostles who were His First Companions. Yet also our catholicism is important in another way as we contemplate our Universal Mission over these coming weeks. As the First Companions of Ignatius, drawn from many nations, came to Rome seeking guidance, so the 215 members of the Congregation represent so many different cultures and from every continent except Antarctica, return to Rome seeking guidance.
Perhaps our little volunteer Schola is a microcosm of our universal mission: working together imperfectly to sing a Catalan hymn, we had a Belgian and a Lithuanian as tenors; the bass section consisted of an American, a Central African and an Englishman; we were conducted by a German, had a Gujarati theologian on the violin, and Jose, a South America Jesuit, on guitar. Well, Jose would have been on the guitar, if the Italian Police hadn’t confiscated it at the Michelangelo colonnades.
Every silver lining has a cloud.
Our day had begun.