Every six years since the establishment of the Confederation of the Oratories of St. Philip Neri in 1942, A General Congress of Congress has been held every six years. Among the purposes of the Congress is the promotion of understanding, support, and communication among the canonically erected house of the Oratory. The Congress also offers a way to nurture and promote the Charism of St. Philip, the life of joy, living in collaboration with others and in the midst of the universal church. This year, the Congresso was held in Rome, hosted at the International Pontifical College, Maria Mater Ecclesia From September 27 through October 4. Unfortunately, the wifi situation prevented a “real time” posting of the events, but Fr. Michael has organized this overview so our friends and lay Oratorians may have a sense of the charism for an overview with some pictures of the Congress. Fr. Anthony, c.o. and Fr. Michael, c.o. were delegates representing the Brooklyn Oratory. The texts and pictures have been organized by Fr. Michael to provide our lay Oratorians, friends and collaborators can have a sense of the Congresso.
Fr. Anthony and I left New York on the rainy 24th, our flight delayed by the weather and air traffic. After an uneventful flight (Deo Gratias) we landed in sunny Rome and made our way by train and taxi to the host site.
We settled our rooms and headed by foot to St Peter’s square in the Vatican, a 45-minute hike as the campus is some distance from Rome center. At the square, there were still some of the crowds from the weekly audience with Pope Francis and we ended our way through the streets taking in the familiar sights of monuments and building facades.
Like most priests, we stopped in several religious good stores, ones we have frequented before, picking up religious supplies and an array of prayer cars and rosaries, especially items related to the pending canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
We made our way to the Chiesa Nuova and the tomb of St. Philip Neri, our Founder and Father. There we prayed for the needs of our parishioners, our Brooklyn Congregation and the success of the Congresso. Fr. Rocco, the Provost, greeted us warmly and we spoke with him for a while on things Oratorian in Rome and Brooklyn. Re-energized by a afternoon espresso doppio, we continued to wander through the familiar streets of Rome before dinner al fresco on Piazza al Pigna. After dinner we returned to the college and retired to our small but lovely rooms for a good night’s sleep.
At the Chiesa Nuova before St. Philip’s altar where he is buried.
The original iconic portrait of St. Philip in ecstasy has been recently restored.
Fr. Michael buying mementos of the Oscar Romero canonization to be held October 14
The rooms were neat, clean and relatively comfortable for their purpose!
Congresso Day 1
As Oratorians continue to arrive, we shared breakfast with Oratorians from Oratories in Verona and Prato, Italy; Pharr, TX and Toronto, Canada. we took the day to see some of the churches of Rome and to return to the Chiesa and prayed in the chapel dedicated to Cesare Cardinal Baronius, where his remains are enshrined.
The Roman weather was stunningly beautiful, warm but not hot, brilliant blue skies and a gentle bit of breeze.
Inside the dining hall.
Caravaggio’s Deposition at the Chiesa Nuova.
At the Church of St. Agnes in Agony that commemorates her martyrdom, one of the altarpieces caught my eye. It featured the sister of St. Agnes, who it seems was also martyred. Her name was Emerenziana and she died a martyr at age 12 committed to the faith and to her sister, stoned to death when locals tried to prevent the Christian burial of Agnes. Pretty amazing for a 12-year-old.
Figure 1St. Emerenziana in the center. Her sister St. Agnes, (top left), already martyred, points the way to Christ and heaven.
We visited our Jesuit brothers church, the Jesu, which has a relatively new painting of the Deposition of the body the Lord from the Cross by Safet Zec. It is a captivating piece, the Lord’s lifeless body being gently taken from the cross, the crown of thorn removed and placed by a basin to bathe the corpse, an act to relieve the humiliation and sign of suffering, even as the final flow of blood comes from the wounded side of Jesus. How often do we assist the crucified Jesus today, tending those who suffer injustice, pain, rejection, humiliation? How well do I gently take the broken Christ into my life, into my arms each day?
Sanctuary of the Gesu.
Deposition of the Body of Christ from the Cross, Safet Zec, 2014. Installed in the Gesu.
We made our way by bus back to the college and formally registered for the Congresso, which officially began with a dinner and a presentation by the Permanent Deputation related to the ministries of the Oratories among the seven language groups in the Confederation in the evening. There are 136 voting participants from across the globe. While some of the proceedings will have a multi-language translation, not all will. If only there was functioning wifi, Google translate could help!
Congresso Day 2
We opened with Mass of the Holy Spirit, the Novo Ordus in Latin. The rest of the day Following breakfast, elections for officers of the Congresso were held. There is a President, Secretary and Scrutators. The scrutators verify the votes. After three rounds of ballots, a president was selected, Fr. Marco Guillen of the Toronto Oratory. The secretary and scrutators were also elected.
Following lunch, we received the reports of the outgoing Procurator General and the Father Visitor. Translation headsets helped in the nuances as both reports were delivered in Italian without translation. Following the reports, we had the opportunity to ask questions or make “interventions”. These often take the form of suggested topics for further study, discussion or action by the Congresso, or subsequently the Permanent Deputation which conducts the business of the Confederation between Congresses. There was also a review of the status of causes for Oratorians proposed for canonization or beatification. The day closed with vespers and dinner.
Our badges and packets!
Pranzo (lunch). The delegates in the picture are from Italy, France, England.
Fr. Felix Selden, C.O. (Vienna) outgoing Apostolic Visitor presents his report, Fr. Gullien, C.O. (Toronto) President of the Congress and Fr. Stefano Bertolini, C.O., (Prato It.) Secretary of the Congress.
Fr. Michael trying to follow the translators on the headset. At times it sounded like something between a new Pentecost and the old Tower of Babel!
Congresso Day 3
The third day of the Congress fell on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, defender of the Church. Presiding at Mass was Fr. Felix Selden, the outgoing Visitor from Vienna. In this time of great challenge for the church across the globe, we prayed especially for Francis and the renewal of the Church. The protection of S. Michael was invoked as we closed the liturgy.
Daily Mass, Vespers, and opportunities for personal prayer were provided in the College chapel.
There were four conferences offered by Jesuits and Oratorians. The first by Fr. Anton Witwer, S.J. reminded us of our dependence upon the Incarnate Word in our accompaniment of people on the spiritual path. The second conference was offered by Fr. J Schneifer, S.J. that reflected on the effects of St. Phillip’s spirituality in our spiritual dialogues with others. Most important to S Philip were not programs for spiritual practice but the opportunity thru the day and year to take moments of quiet and reflection to be aligned with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. The experience and life of each individual shape the experience of God and the spiritual path traveled. The spiritual accompaniment is for Oratorians, personal and intimate.
The first Oratorian presenter spoke on the experience of working with youth and the second presented on Giovanni Battista Arista, who worked to renew and strengthen the Oratory of Acireale early in the 20th century. Of note from his presentation was the idea that when we carry the burden of the cross others should benefit from our sacrifice, not share in the burden.
After Vespers and a simple dinner, we met in our national/language groups to select candidates for the Permanent Deputation. Calling on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we selected two American candidates. These candidates will be presented to the entire Congress on Sunday night and voting will take place on Monday afternoon.
Congresso Day 4
Sunday is less meeting and more praying. After an early breakfast, we had morning prayer, a conference on the Spiritual Fatherhood of St. Philip offered by Fr. Florian of the Vienna Oratory. He underscored that for the Oratorian, our role as a spiritual guide is to understand, console, protect and guide those we are called to serve that we might challenge them to grow into the image of Christ as each one is called.
Following the talk, was exposition and veneration of the Eucharist for private prayer followed by Mass. Lunch followed Mass and I had the opportunity to eat with Oratorians form two houses in France, London, Monterey CA, Toronto, and Germany. We seem to have enough overlap in language to understand and be understood – the Holy Spirit at work.
The afternoon is free time to rest or go into Rome proper. The night concludes with the presentation of Candidates for the Permanent Deputation.
Fr. Edward of the London oratory sent greetings to Fr. Joel whom he knew when studying at Oxford.
The Church where St. Philip was ordained a priest, not far from the Chiesa Nuova. There is an Ethiopian community of the Gees Rite which worships there how.
Congresso Day 5
Today is the day of elections. We start with what seems like interminable rounds of paper ballots. When they try to move to electronic, the system does not work so back to paper. A new Procurator General, Apostolic Visitor and Permanent Deputation are elected. The Postulator of Causes of Oratorian beait and sancti is re-elected. The digital system works for the Permanent Deputation elections, though two are redone when questions arise about absolute majorities being reached. The process of elections takes all day, apart from meals, prayer, and Mass.
There were also conferences to discuss Oratorian life. Delegates shared on their experiences and models including the secular (lay) Oratory, Liturgy, social action and prayer.
Congresso Day 6
Today is a day for visiting the sites of St. Philip. Some of the delegates are attending the Mass opening the Synod on Youth at St. Peter’s with our Holy Father Francis. Others are making visits to the Seven Churches and other sites as well as enjoying lunch on our own in the city. Lots of options for great food in Rome! There is Vespers and Mass at the Chiesa Nuova. The Roman Oratory hosts: Incontro dell’Oratorio in Musica “Hai nenedetto la notra terra.” It is a combination of Biblical text reflecting on the creation and the playing of Vivaldi’s four seasons with orchestra and violins. Dinner in the courtyard of the Roman oratory concludes the day.
The Feast of St. Francis is the day for Mass with some parts in English! There is final voting on various aspect of Oratorian business and Mass with the newly elected Procurator General, Fr. Marco Guellin, C.O. The Congresso approved nine mandates to guide the activity of the Permanent Deputation over the coming years which will be the basis for the activity of the next Congresso in six years time.
St. Philip’s chalice
Even saints need eyeglasses!
From St. Philip’s death mask.