Music plays a significant role in the Community’s life and worship, and Caravita has been blessed with three fine music directors since its inception all of whom are composers: Slovakian Jesuit Vlastimil Dufka; Australian liturgical scholar Mrs. Jenny O’Brien; and for the past seven years, Dr. Hector Salcedo of Rome’s Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra, originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. When Caravita re-opened its doors for worship in the year 2000, it was a British Anglican priest – Canon John Andrew, Rector Emeritus of Saint Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City where he served for thirty years – who donated the Worship hymnals that are still in use today. Saint Thomas is known for its accomplished Choir of Men and Boys, and so the gift of those hymnals was a touching ecumenical gesture from an a prominent Anglican church in New York to a small Jesuit Oratory in Rome. Throughout the year, concerts are regularly held at Caravita, and the Community has hosted choirs from Australia, Finland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and the United States among others. On 12th June 2011, Caravita hosted the Boys Choir of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, U.S.A., and on 17th June 2012, the Saint Chad’s College Choir of Durham University, U.K. who sang Choral (Anglican) Evensong. The Very Reverend Canon David Richardson, Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See and Director of the Anglican Centre Rome presided at that Evensong; and The Reverend Austin K. Rios. Rector of Saint Paul’s “Within the Walls” Episcopal Church preached.
In recent years, the Oratory has also served as a sort of bridge or centre within Rome’s diplomatic community, having had as regular members diplomats accredited to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); the World Food Programme; as well as several Ambassadors and Deputy Heads of Mission accredited to the Holy See. Australian Ambassador to the Holy See Tim Fischer and Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See Anne Leahy were both active members during their tenure in Rome; Fischer also served a two-year term on the Caravita Pastoral Council. The British, Dutch, Irish, Slovenian, and U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See have all been regular visitors. As a result, Caravita has occasionally hosted events on behalf of the Australian, Slovenian, and U.S. Embassies to the Holy See among others. When more than 11,000 Australians descended upon Rome in October, 2010 for the canonisation of Mary McKillop – Australia’s first saint – Caravita served as the Pilgrimage Centre for those visitors at the request of Ambassador Fischer and Sister Maria Casey, another Caravita member who served as the Postulator for Mary McKillop’s cause in its final years prior to canonisation.
The Ecumenical Mission of Caravita continues to grow, as well. Ecumenical Liturgies of the Word on Ash Wednesday along with celebrations of Ecumenical Evening Prayer are a regular part of the Oratory’s annual schedule. On 3rd February 2008, Caravita hosted the official Rome farewell for The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See, Bishop John Flack; and on 12th June 2011, the official farewell for the Methodist Representative to the Holy See, the Reverend Doctor Trevor Hoggard. Bishop Brian Farrell, L.C., Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity presided at both liturgical celebrations. The Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Doctor Rowan Williams, preached at the Oratory on 20th November 2009 during an Ecumenical Evening Prayer at which His Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper, then President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, presided. Canon David Richardson and his wife Margie are close friends of the Caravita Community, and the Anglican Centre regularly uses Caravita for its own worship celebrations when unable to accommodate people in the Centre’s Chapel of Saint Augustine of Canterbury because of a large number of pilgrims or other guests. This “Spiritual Ecumenism” as Pope John Paul II called it in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, is further expressed each Sunday at Caravita, when the Anglican Centre’s Patron Saint, Augustine of Canterbury, is remembered in the Eucharistic Prayer along with Caravita’s own Patron. That gesture is reciprocated on Tuesdays at the weekly Anglican Centre Eucharist when the intercession of Saint Francis Xavier is invoked.
The Community’s intentional ecumenical outreach is also evident in the series “Conversazioni at Caravita.” In late 2003, it was Canon (now Bishop) Donald Bolen who suggested that Caravita should take advantage of the rich collection of interesting speakers coming to Rome throughout the year. He proposed a series of informal talks which the Oratory would host, where the Community would invite various individuals visiting Rome along with some residing here to lead one of the “Conversazioni” on a topic of their choice. Each conversazione would be followed by the usual Caravita prosecco – allowing the opportunity for those present to meet the speakers personally. March, 2004 saw the launch of the series with four “Conversazioni” held within a span of just a few weeks. On 11th March, the co-Chairs of the International Methodist-Catholic Dialogue, The Most Reverend Michael Putney, Bishop of Townsville, Australia, and The Reverend Doctor Geoffrey Wainwright of Duke University, Durham, N.C., USA, spoke together on important developments in Methodist-Roman Catholic Relations. Just two weeks later on 23rd March, the Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord George Carey and his wife Lady Eileen Carey spoke on Anglican-Roman Catholic Relations. One week later on 29th March, the Bishop of Salisbury and Chair of the Church of England’s Liturgical Commission, The Right Reverend David Stancliffe, addressed the subject of ecumenical liturgical cooperation. Two days later on 31st March, distinguished British Anglican theologian, Professor Mary Tanner, OBE, spoke on the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission. A glance at the “Conversazioni” link on the Caravita website reveals an impressive array of speakers and topics over the years including the well known liturgical scholar of the Uniting Church in Australia, The Reverend Professor Robert Gribben who spoke at Caravita on 1st February 2012. His topic was “Methodists in the Middle: Dialogues with Catholics, Anglicans, and the Salvation Army.”
And Caravita draws its share of seekers. Several years ago, a visitor in his 30s spoke with one of the priests after Mass on the First Sunday of Advent. It was his first time in church in more than fifteen years, long enough, he said, to have forgotten that forgiveness was even possible. Visiting Rome on business, he attended a concert at Caravita on the previous evening. Seeing the announcement of a Mass in English, he returned the following morning but with great trepidation. The liturgy was the Catholic Mass he had remembered. But something happened during the Eucharist: he felt embraced and forgiven. In the General Intercessions, prayers had been offered for Muslims during Ramadan, for those living in exile, for those estranged from their families. He said that the Mass at Caravita had brought him back into the circle and that he had come home. Such visitors bring their own grace and the Caravita Community is richer for the presence. Several Muslim delegations from Turkey and Cambridge University, U.K. have also visited. They wished to observe Catholic worship on their visit to Rome and chose the Caravita Oratory. And there have been Jewish visitors, as well.
Today, Caravita continues to grow with a sizeable core group of regular members resident in Rome, and a significant number of visitors hailing from every corner of the globe. On any Sunday one can find British citizens and Canadians, Germans and Norweigans, Pakistanis, Ethiopians and Belgians, Slovakians and Australians, French, Brazilians, Italians and Mexicans, along with Americans from the U.S., all worshipping together. The Oratory is also shared by a thriving Mexican Community which gathers on two Sunday evenings each month to celebrate the Eucharist in Spanish.