I returned to my apartment Saturday evening after one of the most extraordinary dining experiences of my life, and it had nothing to do with the food or the service. I dined at L'Eau Vive (Living Water), a restaurant owned and operated by an order of sisters affiliated with the Carmelites. When I walked into the place, I was met by a large photograph of one of Word on Fire's great patrons, the Little Flower. The servers were the sisters, each of whom dresses in the garb of her native country.
Toward the end of the meal, a group of the sisters played a song for all of us, but then, a few minutes later something really wonderful took place. A sister reminded us that the Gospel reading for Sunday would be the parable of the Prodigal Son and then a trio of sisters, all Asian, performed a lovely, delicate ballet, acting out the moves and feelings of the story. It was one of the most beautiful sermons I've ever "heard" on that familiar Gospel. Finally, we all sang, to the accompaniment of a twelve-string guitar, the Lourdes hymn: "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria." As we were leaving, I spoke to an African sister from a francophone country, and she told me of their great devotion to "la petite Therese," and she reminded me that Karol Wojtyla often ate there when he would visit Rome as a Cardinal.
Saturday morning, I took a long walk along the Tiber, which was as high and wild as I've ever seen it. I headed toward Cardinal George's titular church, St. Bartholomew's on the Isola Tiberina, an island in the middle of the Tiber. It is a small but beautiful church, and under the altar are the remains of St. Bartholomew. It is associated with the work of the St. Egidio Community in Rome, a group dedicated to common prayer and ministry to the poor.
St. Egidio is truly one of the signs of renewal in the Church of Rome today. In ancient times, on either side of the Tiber in that region of the city many Jews lived. Even today, the main Jewish synagogue is in that quarter. Almost certainly, Peter and Paul would have come to that part of Rome when they arrived in the city, and both probably lived there for some time. Right now, I'm working on the section of my book dealing with Peter and Paul; so it was wonderful to drift back in imagination to their time and to see them working and preaching in that section of Rome.
Little Flower, pray for us!