04 June 2008

by Jonathan Boardman

Avoidance techniques
I NEVER made it to the diocesan synod of the diocese in Europe. I checked in for my flight to Cologne, where the meeting was taking place, but before I boarded the plane a slight discomfort, which I attributed to something I had eaten earlier, developed into pain such as I had never experienced.

Luckily, I was with my colleague, the Revd Lawrence MacLean, the Chaplain of St Mark’s, Florence, and although he agreed that it was probably wind, he posed the crucial question as I dithered about what to do: “Instinctively, do you think you should get on this plane or not?”

“No,” was the plain answer.

I waved Fr Lawrence off, and then asked for assistance. Within minutes, I was on my way to the emergency department of the nearest hospital (vomiting liberally as I went), and within hours had been operated on for acute appendicitis.

What some people will do to get out of going to synod! And what a lesson about trusting your instincts.

Skilled handiwork
A FEW weeks before at the chaplaincy’s annual meeting, Daniel Rizzo was elected as one of a new team of churchwardens. The child of a Northern-Irish mother and an Italian father, born in Libya but raised here in Rome, he has been coming to church for a couple of years. He was confirmed last year, and has become what I can only describe as a pillar of our congregation.

The selfless and gentle care that Sara MacVane, the curate here, gave his mother during her last illness was decisive in drawing him into our community.

It was Sara and Daniel who dashed to the hospital at Ostia when news of my indisposition reached them. Sara calmed me down, and Daniel got busy with his day job. He is a junior surgeon at one of the big teaching hospitals in Rome, and he was able to prod and prompt the staff to hurry me through the necessary procedures. He then accompanied me into surgery.


Although he was not officially permitted to operate, it is rumoured that the fancy stitching (which he later removed) owed something to his undoubted skill.

Homelessness in context
THE ELECTION of new churchwardens at All Saints’ coincided with the mayoral electoral contests in Rome and, of course, London. I can confidently announce, however, that we avoided the fashionable swing to the right exhibited by those two capital cities.

Gianni Alemanno, before being chosen as our new sindaco, was known to me only through his own laudatory electoral literature, and through his opponents’ unsuccessful attempts to contradict it; whereas I have known Boris Johnson these past 25 years. We were contemporaries at Oxford and, despite differences of political principle, I have always had a soft spot for him.

I now know a good deal more about Mr Alemanno, and I cannot say the same for him. The shameful way in which the issue of public safety was exploited to sweep him home, scapegoating a variety of immigrant communities and other homeless people, had the unexpected consequence of setting the tone of the best ecumenical planning meeting I have ever attended.

Ostensibly to plan a vigil for Pentecost under the auspices of the diocese of Rome, we sat around in the Lateran Palace — Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Calvinist, and Salvation Army ministers — all united in horror at the summary destruction of shanty towns around the city, with no attempt to provide more suitable accommodation or better access to services.

My own pastoral experience was typical of the situation: for three years we have been helping Pietro, the spokesman for a group of homeless men who live in an encampment under one of the Tiber bridges. Pietro is Italian, but has fallen somehow between the cracks of conventional survival, always grateful for food parcels, contributions to pay for gas cylinders in the depths of winter, or warm clothing. He works when he can as a labourer on building sites.

He came to me in tears to relate how the camp had been broken up: the police, tolerant of the situation for years, appeared in the dead of night to scatter their few belongings in the river and destroy in seconds what was had been their home.

“Era un punto di riferimento” (“It gave me a context”) was how he put it. Appeals to social services to provide other accommodation for Pietro and his friends remain unanswered. Pietro has to start reinventing himself, and in spite of all the bluster and rhetoric from the mayor, I guess he will have to do it in much the same way somewhere else.


‘Si chiama Pietro’
DANIEL RIZZO, surgeon and now churchwarden, left a small case of his instruments in my house to save carrying them backwards and forwards. Before doing so, he announced: “Sai, Padre, si chiama Pietro?” (“You know, Father, the case is called Peter?’”).

What did he mean?

“Si chiama Pietro, perché si torn’in dietro” (to preserve the rhyme: “Let’s call it Jack, so that I’ll get it back”). It is a phrase to denote that a loan is to be of limited duration.

It worked, as the instruments are back at home now, whatever they were called.

Canon Jonathan Boardman is Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.

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