Thursday, 10 May 2012

“Has anyone got a tranquiliser we can give Daniel?” : Rome Day 2

Our second day began with a meeting at Vatican Radio and the head of the English section – Sean Lovett. We learnt that the Pope and Winnie-the-Pooh have something in common as they both live in an area of 100 acres. Whether the Holy Father realises this or not is unknown... Sean also told us that Radio Vatican broadcasts in 40 different languages and has the biggest budget of all media sections to enable it do so. Translation is obviously a key issue and the English section often takes the lead on stories that are then translated into other languages and broadcast around the world. Sean clearly loves his job and his infectious enthusiasm put us all in a good mood as we stepped out into the sunshine and wondered up the Via della Conciliazinoe toward the Pontifical Press Office to meet with Fr Lombardi.

Lucy, Stephen, Matthew, Michaela, Fr Lombardi, Marie, Dominic, Daniel and Edward

Respectfully known by his last name, Lombardi greeted us in a plush conference room with traditional cinema seating and a huge papal coat-of-arms above a stage at one end of the room. Huge plasma TV screens adorned the otherwise bare walls, reassuring us about the Vatican’s acknowledgement of 21st century technology. Lombardi spoke at length about his role as director of Vatican Radio, Vatican TV and the L'Osservatore Romano – the daily Vatican newspaper. Before meeting with him we had been sceptical about the wisdom of having one man in charge of all three media outlets but after speaking with him we were utterly convinced of his commitment to the cause of communications.

It was then time to visit another previous intern – Danny Howard – now working for the Human Dignity Institute. (With a good number of past interns now in Rome, there may be hope for some of us yet!) Danny told us about his work, lobbying different European parliaments that are in t eh process of proposing or passing legislation which compromises the dignity of human life as viewed by the Catholic Church.

Whether it was the ever increasing heat or the ridiculous amount of seafood based antipasti at lunch, no one is quite sure but the afternoon rapidly descended into surreal chaos as we were shown around the Pontifical University of Science. Nothing could have prepared us for the debacle I will refer to as ‘Terrapin-gate’ though. Almost in slow motion, and as if by providence, we walked past a fountain outside the university just as one of the two terrapins fell into the outer groove of the fountain and became trapped on the grate where the water gushed out into a drain! A large branch, plenty of commotion and one brave Michaela later the terrapin soared though the sky and plopped safely back into the fountain.

The Terrapin
Having calmed ourselves we headed for the most powerful department within the Vatican – the Secretary of State. Mgr Philip Whitmore, who previously served at the Westminster Cathedral, talked us through his responsibilities which include speech-writing for the Pope and replying to correspondence to the Holy Father. Mgr Whitmore then led us down a corridor and out on to a rooftop terrace adjacent to the Papal apartments with the most stunning views over Rome. We were all taken aback but none more so than Daniel.

Interns with Mgr Whitmore on the terrace overlooking St Peter's square
An hour later we found ourselves on another beautiful rooftop terrace, this time with a cool glass of Prosecco in hand, having met with the UK Ambassador to the Holy See. Nigel Baker has been the ambassador since September and works closely with his Deputy Justin Bedford and Ecclesiastical Advisor Mgr Charley Burns, both of whom also met with us at the ambassador’s apartment. All those featured on our itinerary had been invited to dinner which was eaten back downstairs and followed by a great opportunity to chat informally to an eclectic mix of people. 

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