Meetings in Rome

This week I traveled to Rome to attend the plenary meeting of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, of which I am a member.


The main theme for the meeting was monastic life and its significance in the Church and the world today.

At the meeting, we tried to address some of the issues and challenges that monastic communities are facing. In Europe and North America we are facing a decline in the number of vocations as well as the progressive aging of monks and nuns. At the same time there are signs of hope. For instance, I met there a young Cistercian nun who is the superior of a flourishing community in Denmark. Also, in other parts of the world like Asia, Africa and Latin America, vocations to monastic life are growing.

Currently, there are 12,876 monks living in 905 monasteries and 48,493 contemplative nuns living in 3,520 monasteries, two-thirds of which are found in Europe. Spain has, by far, the most of any country.

At the plenary meeting there were cardinals, bishops and religious. Among those attending were the Father General of the Franciscans, Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo and Father Aldolfo Nicolas, the Father General of the Jesuits. There were also a number of monks and nuns, who made presentations on the experience of monastic life in the Church today.


During the plenary meeting, Cardinal Franc Rode, who is the prefect of the Congregation, told us how fondly he remembered his trip to Boston in September and the Symposium on Religious Life he attended at Stonehill College.

One of the highlights of the trip was the Congregation’s audience with the Holy Father on Thursday. The audience was at the Sala Clementina or Clementine Hall, which is a magnificent hall inside the Vatican, where the pope holds his larger audiences. The ceiling is two stories high and was built by Pope Clement VIII.


The pope greeted all of us personally and made an address. Though, as of today, the full text of the Holy Father’s remarks is available online only in Italian, I did find a Vatican Information Service bulletin which gives a nice summary of the pope’s remarks in English:

The Pope today received participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year. The assembly was held from 18 to 20 November.

Having recalled the theme of the meeting — “Monastic life and its significance in the Church and the world today” —the Holy Father indicated that “consecrated persons are a special part of the People of God. Supporting and protecting their faithfulness to the divine call is the fundamental role you play”, he told the members of the dicastery.

Benedict XVI expressed the view that the work of these days, “which focused particularly on female monastic life, may provide useful guidance to monks and nuns who ‘seek God”, practising their vocation for the good of the whole Church”. In this context he recalled how during his address last September to the world of culture in Paris, France, he had “highlighted the exemplary nature of monastic life in history, and underlined how its aim is both simple and essential: ‘quaerere Deum’, seeking God and seeking Him through Jesus Christ Who revealed Him, seeking Him by fixing one’s gaze on the invisible truths that are eternal, in the expectation of the glorious manifestation of the Saviour”.

“When consecrated people live the Gospel radically, when people dedicated to an entirely contemplative life profoundly cultivate the nuptial bond with Christ, … then monasticism can, for all forms of religious and consecrated life, become a reminder of what is of essential and primary importance for all the baptised: seeking Christ and placing nothing before His love.

“The way indicated by God for this search and this love is His own Word”, the Pope added, “abundantly present in the books of Sacred Scripture for mankind to reflect upon”.

The recent Synod on the Word of God “renewed its appeal to all Christians to root their lives in listening to the Word of God as contained in Sacred Scripture, and invited religious communities in particular, and all consecrated men and women, to make the Word of God their daily sustenance, especially through the practice of ‘lectio divina’”.

The Holy Father concluded by expressing the hope that “monasteries may increasingly become oases of ascetic life, where the allure of the nuptial union with Christ is felt, and where the choice of the Absolute … is immersed in a climate of constant silence and contemplation”.

– – –

Another highlight of the trip was a visit to my titular church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria, or Our Lady of the Victory.


The Carmelite Fathers who operate the church arranged for me to celebrate Mass there Sunday. Though it is a magnificent church, it is fairly small, so it was filled to capacity.

11162008Rome_010 The bulletin on the door announcing that I will celebrate the Mass

11162008Rome_008The interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria



The choir was lovely and I was joined by the Capuchin Roman Provincial, Father Carmine De Filippis, and many of the friars.

11162008Rome_006Speaking with Father De Filippis before the Mass

Hanging over the door of the church you can see the pope’s coat of arms to the left and mine to the right, indicating it is my titular church.


One of the first cardinals to have Santa Maria della Vittoria as his titular Church was Napoleon’s uncle, Cardinal Joseph Fesch.


They say that Napoleon wanted to take the beautiful Bernini statue of the Transverberation of St. Teresa back to Paris but his uncle stopped him. They told me that story when I said I wanted to bring the statue back to Boston!


After the Mass, with the Carmelite friars who are in charge of Our Lady of the Victory Church. I am very thankful of all their work there and very grateful of their welcoming every time I visit. 

After the Mass, the Capuchin provincial invited us to visit the Capuchin Church of the Immaculate Conception.


The Church and convent, which is located on the Via Vittorio Veneto, was built by a Capuchin cardinal, Cardinal Antonio Barberini, who was the brother of Pope Urban VIII. The church, built in the 17th century, is the first in Rome that was named for the Immaculate Conception of Mary.




It is a very historical church, but it is mostly known because of its crypt-ossarium, a capuchin cemetery, that contains the skulls and skeletons of nearly 4,000 capuchin friars buried there between 1528 and 1870.





Pope Urban brought the remains of St. Justin Martyr to this Church which are located under the altar. St. Justin is one of the most well known martyrs of the early Church. He was martyred in the second century.


St. Felix of Cantalice, one of the first capuchin saints is also buried there. His feast day is May 18. You can read about his life here.




There are also beautiful paintings, including this one of the Archangel Michael fighting Lucifer, painted by Guido Reni.


Also in the church is this painting of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen. Born in 1577 in current day Germany, Mark Roy — he took the name Fidelis upon entering the order — was a lawyer who eventually became a capuchin friar.  You can read more about him here.


The Church is the burial place of several Capuchin cardinals, which are in the central aisle.


Among those is the tomb of Cardinal Barberini, whose epitaph reads “Hic iacet pulvis cinis et nihil” which means. “Here lies dust, ashes and nothing.”


On Thursday, after the audience with the Holy Father, we had Mass in the Chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti.  The chapel is in one of the grottoes underneath St. Peter’s Basilica very near the tomb of St. Peter.  I offered for the people of Boston and particularly for God’s blessing upon us on this Bicentennial year.

11202008Rome_003 11202008Rome_002

On Sunday, we will be celebrating the closing of the Bicentennial year of the archdiocese with a Mass that will take place at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross at 2 p.m. We are looking forward to that beautiful liturgy and I encourage all of you to attend.

In Christ,

Cardinal Seán

39 thoughts on “Meetings in Rome”

  1. I just finished reading “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” which featured Father Carmine De Filippis. He is one remarkable man. God Bless him and all the exorcists that fight evil face to face on a daily basis. Pax†

  2. Cardinal Sean,

    I appreciated the cover letter you wrote to accompany the summary report from the 2005 visitation of U.S. seminaries. I haven’t had a chance to read the entire report, but I was encouraged by what you wrote in that cover letter.

    I’ve been interested in seminary formation / reform for a number of years, and have been blogging about it since 2005.

    God bless –


  3. Dear Cardinal Sean:

    Hi am a 7th grade student at ST. Pauls School. I thought it was wonderful to see the hundreds of Priests, Deacons, and Bishops. Also I enjoyed seeing all of the different types of classes of people from across the world. This is a great site, and I enjoy reading your different blogs. I hope some day you could visit our school.

    ST. Pauls School

  4. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I wish I could go to Rome and see that amazing church. It was beautiful. I think it is important that the number of nuns do not decrease. It’s wonderful how in different parts of the world, vocations are increasing.

    I hope you visit our school soon!


  5. Dear Joanne and Paul,

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    I read Divine Mercy In My Soul about 10 years ago, then later donated it to my parish library. The reflections are truly beautiful, and now, it is one of those books I wished I kept. Perhaps I’ll head over there today and sign it out 🙂

    I did come across this on the internet this morning. In the words of Jesus to St. Faustina,

    “In convents too, there are souls that fill My Heart with joy. They bear My features; therefore the Heavenly father looks upon them with special pleasure. They will be marvels to Angels and men. Their number is very small. They are a defense for the world before the justice of the Heavenly Father and a means of obtaining mercy for the world. The love and sacrifice of these souls sustain the world in existence.” (367)

    God bless,

  6. Querido Cardenal Sean: he conocido su blog por una noticia que ha salido en España en el diario digital 20 Minutos, y me ha parecido muy interesante.
    Le felicito por acercarnos a los fieles católicos, las vivencias de un Cardenal del Vaticano.
    No hablo inglés, así que le dejo mi comentario en español, esperando que lo traduzca y lo lea.
    Le invito, si tiene tiempo, a pasarse por mi blog.

    Un cariñoso saludo desde Jaén, España, y le animo a seguir editando post, para que lo conozcamos mejor. Le visitaré con frecuencia.

  7. Querido Padre Sean,

    We were at the Thanksgiving Mass today with your Capuchin brothers, thanking God for His love and His many blessings in the lives of those who reveal Him so well especially the lives of our Priests, who live for Christ and have dedicate their entire lives to Him.

    Last Sunday, thanks to BCTV, we followed the Bicentennial Mass. Opportunities like that, are especial occasions for us to give thanks to God for all the good that He is helping you to do in Boston because that good is the Lord and you along with so many people and so many priests are precisely doing the Lord’s work in the midst of so many difficulties while, from across the miles and across the world, we continue to receive the Lord from you. We are all journey together in Christ!
    Felíz Día de Acción de Gracias Padre Sean. We love you and pray for you always. We thank God for you.

  8. Your Eminence,

    It is nice to read your blog in Ireland. God bless you.
    What a welcome change technology has made, thank God.

    Your humble friend,


  9. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    I enjoy visiting your blog on a regular basis. It is so inspiring. I was delighted to see that Santa Maria della Vittoria is your titular church in Rome. I am a Lay Carmelite, and I visited the church in 2006. My photo of the St. Teresa sculpture is not as fine as yours. God bless you in your ministry of bishop and have a happy Thanksgiving Day!

    Ruth Ann

  10. Dear Your Eminence,


    I enjoyed viewing your Blog. The pictures are great.

    Would you please view my web site?

    Perhaps someday you might contibute a sermon or two. We would be appeciative should you decide to do so.

    I have asked my Web Mistress to include your photo in the Prayers for Priests section. Do you have any pictures of Nuns we could include? We would be grateful for any help in this direction.

    With the assurance of my daily prayers for all your good work in the vineyard of the Divine Master, I remain yours truly in Jesus and Mary Immaculate.

    Your humble Servant,


  11. On Thursday, after the audience with the Holy Father, we had Mass in the Chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti…I offered for the people of Boston and particularly for God’s blessing upon us on this Bicentennial year.

    Thank you, Eminent Father!

  12. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Your trip to Rome seemed like such an experience! The Santa Maria della Vittoria Church was beautiful. The pictures left me speechless! It’s a place I would love to be able to visit someday. I can’t wait for next weeks blog!!

    ~ Hannah Paradise

  13. I just discovered your blog and loved this post. The photos are wonderful.

    That Bernini statue of St. Theresa is one of my favorite works of art — how fortunate that you were able to celebrate Mass there.

    Thank you for the inspiring post. I know I’ll be checking for more of them.

  14. Dearest Cardinal Sean and Michele,

    I read Michele’s wonderful post questioning monastic life. To find beautiful reflections on Monastic Life, I encourage all to read “Divine Mercy In My Soul” the Diary of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a true mystic of modern times.

    Jesus speaks to her as to why He brought monastic convents into being.

    Hope this can answer some of the questions about the importance of silence, prayer, and fasting.

    Peace and joy,


  15. Hello Cardinal Sean. My name is Marissa and I attend the school of St. Paul School. When I saw the images of the Santa Maria della Vittoria I was in awe. It was beautiful. You are very lucky to have been in a church like that. I, too, I have been fortunate enough to

  16. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Rome is a beautiful place. The church and the paintings were also very beautiful. My aunt previously visited Rome and got to see the Pope celebrate a mass! I can’t imagine what an honor it was to meet him.
    God Bless.
    Caroline Sullivan St.Paul School

  17. Cardinal Sean, I really enjoyed your photos of Rome. I went there on my honeymoon. Additionally, the sacristan at the Capuchin Crypt sneaked us back behind the altar to see St. Justin Martyr’s grave. 🙂

    I was wondering…what is the Latin translation of the words above St. Justin Martyr’s grave? And what is it like to talk to the pope?

  18. It is great to see these places with you in them, your eminence, especially the bernini statue of St. Theresa in ecstasy. thank for the trouble you take to share your experiences and thoughts with us.

  19. Dear Cardinal Sean,

    My name is Colby and I attend St. Paul School in Hingham. You must be so tired after such a busy week! The pictures from when you went to Rome were so beautiful! I wish I could travel to Rome and see those wonderful things that you saw!
    I can’t wait for next week’s blog!

  20. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Hi, its Caroline Kenneally from St. Paul School in Hingham. It is so cool that you traveled to Rome. All of the pictures are beautiful! I especially loved the interior of Santa Maria della Vittoria. It is great that you celebrated Mass there! I would love to visit Rome someday!

    ~Caroline K.~

  21. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    My name is Curtis and I attend St. Paul school in Hingham. It is so great to see your blog again! The pictures of the Church in Rome are so amazing and beautiful. Thank you Cardinal Sean for writing another amazing blog. It was wonderful to hear from you again.

  22. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    This week’s blog was very interesting. The Sala Clementina, the Santa Maria della Vittoria church, and the Chapel of the Madonna of Partorienti were extremely beautiful. It must have been amazing to have visited them. I also enjoyed viewing the stunning paintings you posted. I can’t wait until the next blog! God Bless.

  23. Hello, I am an eight grade student from St. Paul School in Hingham. I think this week’s blog was very interesting. The Church in Rome that Cardinal Sean visited looked unbelievable. I can’t imagine how long it took to build. I wish I had the privilege to visit a Church like that one.

    Until next week…

  24. It is uplifting to see this pictures and be reminded of the faithful religious. Thank you, Cardinal Sean!
    One of the most beautiful prayers I have come across w/ regard to the religious is found in Chalice of Strength, published by Opus Sanctorum Angelorum:

    Mary, Mother of the Church
    Mary, Mother of the Church, to you we turn. With your “yes” you have opened the door to the presence of Christ in the world, in history and in souls, receiving in humble silence and total submission the appeal of the Most High.
    Grant that many men and women may know and hear, even today, the inviting voice of your Son: “Follow Me”. Stretch out your motherly hand over all missionaries scattered throughout the world, over religious men and women who assist the elderly, the sick, the deficient, the orphans; over those who in the cloister live on faith and love and beg for the salvation of the world. Amen. –[Pope] John Paul II

    The last line of the prayer is instructive as well as beautiful. Thank you, Your Eminence, for having nudged my memory and conscience by your post. I recall now that when we pray using the words of the Church and Her apostles, we gain a clearer understanding of what we should be praying for!
    It is also of great benefit to remember Our Blessed Mother when we pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. How often we are tempted to site secular, external causes for a shortage of priests and religious, rather than to admit the ways in which we have failed to act and pray as the Church has taught us.
    Perhaps this answers part of Michele’s question.
    In the Love Who IS,

  25. Hi Cardinal Sean!
    This was a great blog! It had great pictures! My favorite part of this blog were the pictures of the crypt-ossarium. It is amazing that it contained nearly 4,000 skulls and skeletons. Thank you for writing.

  26. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    My name is Johnny and I attend St. Paul School in Hingham, Massachusetts. You must have been very busy this week because this week’s blog had a ton of pictures of what you did in Rome. The pictures of the trip caught my eye because they all looked so interesting. Just from the pictures it looked like you had a great time and I hope you did. Thank you Cardinal Sean for writing another wonderful blog. It is great to here from you every week. Thanks again!

  27. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    My name is Kelly and I am an 8th grade student at St. Paul School. I enjoyed reading your blog. You are very busy. Your trip to Rome looked like so much fun. The churches were beautiful. When I saw the interior of Santa Maria della Victtoria, I was in awe. I can not wait until your next blog!

  28. Your Eminence,
    Thank you for sharing the information about this meeting in Rome. The pictures are beautiful and bring fond memories of the Eternal City.
    Sincerely in the Lord,
    Sister Agnes

  29. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Hi. Wow, you went to Rome! That Church was so pretty, it was so detailed! It must have been so great to see that church for real,I bet it had thousands more beautiful paintings! It would be so amazing to attend a mass there.

    Thanks for your awesome blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ~Emily from St.Paul School in Hingham~ 🙂 🙂

  30. Dear Cardinal\Pastor,
    Monastic life, as I was taught, was the near perfect life that few might be called to pursue. It would be wonderful if our churches could talk to young people about this vocation. They must be taught how prayer changes life and lives. Also is there a place for older people to dedicate their lives to communities of prayer? Prayer can be powerful.

    I know I must sound quixotic, but again I say, if the Church taught the right and wrong of modern beliefs, would it not grow in God’s grace? Though the lines may be clouded, I am not talking about politics or political action. When people are taught right from wrong, an issue doesn’t become a political issue. The Church must Teach, Sanctify and Rule in matters of faith and morals.

    Please let me know how I might help. I hope I am not being seen as being critical, I know I have a lot to learn, but these are my observations. “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Andrew

  31. Eminence,

    I really enjoy your blog although I don’t get a chance to check it out often.

    Thank you for your unflagging efforts on behalf of the faithful
    and the unborn. I’m outraged at Planned Parenthood’s arrogant response to your remarks !

    Pax et Bonum !

  32. Hi Cardinal Sean! Great to see your blog again. I was in awe when I saw the pictures of the church in Rome! It is beautiful. The inside of it was magnificent!!!! It is a good reminder that God instills this desire in people, to go and build churches that are still standing today!

    Thank you Cardinal Sean!

    St. Paul Student
    Hingham Ma.

  33. What a magnificent report on Rome an environs. For those of us who have been privileged to visit those sights, and for I who have been blessed to paint them, Grazie mille!

  34. The photos are so edifying and to walk the same ground as these saints is simply awe inspiring to say the least.

    I hope to be able to attend the Mass tomorrow, Sunday at 2:00 P.M.

    Thanks again for a great post.


  35. What IS the significance of monastic life in the church and the world?

    It must be a rare calling, for others, it would be a life of suffering. I think we’re all called to be a house of prayer, to seek God first and heed his words, in our sitting, walking, coming and goings, but I also think God hardwired us to have meaningful connections with others as well.

    “And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

    “I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one.”

    Today, many Christians also feel compelled to retreat from this secular world and associate only with other Christians. They listen to Christian radio, read Christian books, send their children to Christian schools or home school them. They do their best to retreat from all the immorality, violence and evil surrounding them. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, and I have done this myself. But then I realized, for me, it was also a form of escapism, and hindered me from ministering in this world. As frail and weak as we might be, we need to allow our light to shine before people. There will be times when people will catch a glimpse of faith or power or compassion that they know is beyond our human capability.

    “Even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”

    I love this prayer…

  36. Cardinal Sean ~

    I have been following your blog for a few months and have come to look forward to the your weekly posts.

    I enjoy reading your posts and viewing your photos.

    Today’s photos are especially wonderful.

    Thank you for sharing.


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November 2008