Update from Rome

On Wednesday January 24th, Br. Denis Hooper and ten monks from San Anselmo  joined their fellow Benedictine confreres in the Basilica of St. Paul to sing Vespers commemorating the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The basilica lies outside the Vatican walls.

Pope Francis presided with dignitaries and representatives from all the different Christian Churches in Rome to mark the Week of Christian Unity. The main message from the Pope was that Christians should pray, proclaim and serve together.

Any event that the Pope attends outside the Vatican needs enormous planning and organisation. Various Vatican officials were on hand to make sure that everything was exactly as it should be for the ceremony. Apart from the dignitaries, the entire basilica was packed to overflowing.

Security was discreet but very much a presence with the Swiss Army Guards most visible in their colourful uniforms. The press were in attendance and with at least 30 photographers from various media outlets who were gathered in a specific media area.  Vatican TV videoed Vespers with a full production crew.
The Choir of Westminster Abbey joined the Vatican Choir and they acted as the Schola for Vespers. The Monks sang in reply. The sound in the Basilica was magnificent and hopefully the video will do it justice.

The Pope arrived at the Basilica in a Ford Fiesta (the car favoured by the monks of Glenstal). Br. Denis thought he looked physically tired at the beginning of Vespers. He certainly had a cold and used his handkerchief throughout. The Pope is in need of two knee replacements and this was clearly visible as he almost tripped on the steps up to the altar but he was quickly and ably assisted by his attendants. Thereafter he was flanked on both sides and helped up and down the various steps.

As Vespers proceeded, the Pope became more and more animated. 

By the end of Vespers he was smiling and was totally re-energised as he went to meet the various Christian Church leaders in attendance. By the time he reached the main congregation of the Basilica there was spontaneous applause with shouts of “Papa” everywhere. The Pope was in his element embracing children and blessing everyone.

It was a marvelous and unique experience for Br Denis and the monks of San Anselmo to sing for the Pope. There is even better news for San Anselmo as the Pope will make a pastoral visit there at the beginning of Lent. More updates later.


Further details of the event are available at the link below including a short clip from Vatican Radio.