Vocations meeting - Castelgondolfo, nr. Rome, Aug. 5th-12th: part 1

When I got back from Togo on July 31st I had just a few days to recover and get my digestive system back into order before flying to Rome for a week long conference at our community house in Castelgondolfo, a picturesque small town on a hill about 10 miles outside Rome. The Pope traditionally goes to the Papal Palace at Castelgondolfo each summer for a few weeks break. Pope Benedict happened to be there during our conference. But more about that later.

The conference itself was organised to give Brothers responsible for co-ordinating vocations work (or Vocations Directors) around the world the chance to share experiences and plan strategies for the future. There were 16 of us at the conference together with the members of our General Council, ie. our 4 head Brothers based in Rome (= the Superior General and 3 Assistant Generals).

Our Superior General, Brother Yannick Houssay (France), outside the Papal residence at Castelgondolfo. He was able to use his influence (= a friend of the Chief of the Carabinieri!) to jump the queue with us our way to the Sunday midday Papal audience in the Palace courtyard.

By the end of the conference we had come up with a range of very practical suggestions which each Province in our congregation can adapt to their given situations. Our Superior General has since written a document to be circulated to all our communities that puts these suggestions in the context of his own reflexions in the light of what he heard from us during the week. I'm pretty sure it will be made available online. When it does, I'll put a link to it on here.

But, being that we are all members of the same religious "family", such an event is also a chance for fellowship, fraternal sharing, prayer and mutual support. So although the meetings were pretty intense and some of us had extra responsibilities (I was the English-speaking group secretary + reporter and did some French-English translation work), there was always a relaxed atmosphere and much good-humoured banter, much of which was instigated by one of the Assistant Generals, Bro. Gildas Prigent (see photo below).

Waiting to for the Sunday Papal audience in the Papal Palace courtyard in Castelgondolfo. From left to right: Bro. Pierre Créteau (France - missionary in W. Africa for nearly 30 years, he spent a sabbatical year in our Paris community while I was there - great bloke), Bro. Gildas Prigent(France - Assistant General), Bro. Samson Lodja Ngona (Democratic Republic of Congo - former Zaire) + Bro. Dino Di Carolis (Italy).

Pope Benedict during the Sunday audience.

Some of us were taken on a guided visit to the Papal Observatory given by a Jesuit astronomer priest, Fr. Mattheo, friend of the Brothers in Castelgondolfo and frequent celebrant for Mass in our community. The Observatory is part of the Papal Palace complex. To get to it we had to pass through the Palace courtyard where we had the audience with the Pope (see below). As we were going through, the priest told us to stop and listen... we could hear a piano being played (very well... something Romantic/19th century, Brahms perhaps). The sound was coming from apartments just above our head to our left. We were told it was the Pope himself! I knew him to be a big music fan and pianist, but never did I imagine that I would hear him playing the piano myself :-)

Being serenaded by the Pope.

A chance to see Jupiter and its largest 3 moons.

More photos to follow.....

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