A lot of my work on ecumenism here in Rome intersects with that of the Centro Pro Unione, the unique hub of academic, spiritual and ecclesiological study of the movement for church unity located in a former Doria-Pamphilj palazzo in Piazza Navona. The gorgeous setting with painted cherubs on the ceilings, oversized candelabras, and spectacular views overlooking Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers is itself steeped in history, as the non-Catholic observers to the Second Vatican Council held weekly discussions and briefings there. Today, it hosts conferences, lectures and social events, while boasting one of the finest libraries on ecumenical sources anywhere in the city. Their website (www.prounione.urbe.it) is worth exploring, with access to video interviews, articles and information on study courses offered here in Rome on topics related to intra-Christian and inter-religious dialogue.
There are close relationships between the Centro and the ecumenical faculty at the Angelicum, as Italian-American Franciscan Father Jim Puglisi directs both.
Through my time at the Centro and pontifical university, I have developed a growing friendship with the former’s associate director, Teresa Francesca Rossi, and her fascinating family. The three Rossi sisters — Teresa, Teodora, and Margherita, as well as their brother Girolamo — are all lay professors at the Angelicum, specializing in different branches of theology and Catholic approaches to the social sciences.
For the American still becoming accustomed to life in Italy, there’s an endearing quality right out of Cinecittá (their version of Hollywood) about the quintessentially Roman siblings. For instance, whenever you are having an espresso with one of them between classes, another inevitably rushes up to you, gesticulating frenetically about something noteworthy and obviously urgent, whether theological or otherwise. I frequently wave to one or another whizzing past me around town in the tiny two-seater Italian car they share —rotating which one walks or takes the bus so the others can fit.
But while exuberant and amusing, they are serious and inspiring scholars with interests ranging from reception theory and dialogue between the Christian denominations to the papacy and postmodernism to St. Thomas Aquinas. Teresa once told me that she informed her parents that she wanted to be a canon lawyer at 6 years old (!), and the group recently warmly invited me to Mass one weekend in their family parish in suburban Rome, where they said all of them were baptized and joked they will likely receive estrema unzione (“last rites”). They don’t see enough of each other on campus every day, and so have a traditional Sunday lunch together after church each week, often supplemented with Moody Blues music afterward, as they claim to be the biggest fans in the country.
In addition to my work with Teresa, Teodora’s ongoing seminar about Pope Francis and the challenges of post-modernity has proved particularly invaluable in following and writing about this pontificate — including for this column — as we have often discussed the intricacies of Bergoglio’s biography, thought, Ignatian spirituality and governing style.
Life in Rome is not always easy: constant traffic and public transportation issues; climbing over, around, and sometimes through waves of tourists. Ice cubes are luxury, and nearly impossible to find when it comes to coffee or alcohol. And don’t even get me started about the post office! But people like the Rossi family make it not only endurable but wonderful to live here and be an infinitesimally small part of the Eternal City’s organic and pulsating history.
Collingswood native Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum), Rome.