On Monday of this week I watched a recording of the BBC Scotland documentary, Priest School, which I had been unable to watch when it was shown the previous evening. For this documentary the BBC were given rare access, by the Scottish Conference of Bishops, to the inner workings, personnel, seminarians, and history of the Scots College in Rome which, as it so happens, is the oldest Scottish institution abroad, dating back to its foundation in 1600. The programme followed part of the formation and faith journey of the class of 2018/2019, with a special focus on five of the seminarians at differing stages in their studies, one who was only in his first year, and one in his seventh year, nearing the end. The culmination of the documentary was when the most senior of the students, who had featured prominently throughout, the one in seventh year, came home to be ordained at St. Thomas’ in Wishaw.
I’m not going to give a running commentary on the programme as I’m sure many of you watched it, or are intending to watch it on playback. It was well promoted in the various diocese, and in the Catholic media, both at the time it was being made, and in the lead up to it being shown. The first thing I want to say is well done to the Bishop’s Conference for allowing it, and well done to the college staff and the seminarians for taking part, it was a really courageous thing to do in these difficult times for the church. A number of the seminarians are known to us here in St. Mungo’s as, when they come home for a break, and they are all home at this time because of the Coronavirus, they would sometimes appear in our church, perhaps to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or say a prayer, or attend Mass. Of course, they are not able to do any of those things at present either. But we have come to know them as good men of faith, and we would remember them often in our prayers.
I have to confess that I watched the programme with a certain trepidation as there is always a fear that the church might be caricatured in media presentation, and not really shown in a good light. However, I have to say well done to BBC Scotland also, as I felt it was presented very well, and very sympathetically, with Daniela Nardini narrating beautifully. I was struck by the audience the seminarians had with Pope Francis during the Scottish Bishop’s Ad Limina visit in 2018. The first-year student had only arrived a few days before and couldn’t believe his luck. Archbishop Tartaglia remarked on how much of his time Pope Francis had given them, in no hurry it seemed, even to go for his lunch, while the Archbishop himself was getting a bit ravenous. The seminarians spoke warmly of this encounter and I hope that is something they carry forward with them, together with an appreciation of where Pope Francis is trying to lead the church, in faithfulness to Christ and to the Gospel, despite opposition.
The scenes in the college itself, and in the Gregorian University, brought back memories of my own time in Rome,1982-83, when I was doing my diaconate year in preparation for my own ordination. I too studied at the Gregorian University and was warmly welcomed by the easily recognised, purple-clad Scots College students, and, while I myself was living in the Passionist monastery of Saints John and Paul, near to the Colosseum, I was frequently invited out to the Scots College for a bite to eat, to watch Celtic videos, and to take part in a few kick-abouts with the students. I was glad to see that football continues to play a part in seminary life. I enjoyed one of the lads who was still holding on to his season ticket for Celtic Park, even though he could only manage about three games a year, because the seat was too good to give up. I’m sure family and friends are benefitting from his ticket the rest of the time. I was also invited to some of the feast day celebrations mentioned in the programme and remember the staff and the students as being excellent hosts. Fond memories indeed.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, no great change to life in Bishopbriggs. Our routine remains the same and we are all, thank God, keeping fine. Fr. Gareth and his mum remain well in the Valleys. So, remember, protect yourselves, protect others, and protect Christ in your lives.