18 June 2020, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

With its front lawn and ­surrounding gardens, the Pontifical Irish College is an oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of Rome. Located a stone’s throw from the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Pope’s cathedral, it was established as a ­seminary in 1628 but now, almost 400 years later, Ireland’s bishops have announced that no students for the priesthood will be sent to the college for the autumn term. The Collegio Irlandese will continue to accommodate priests undertaking further studies or ­sabbaticals, and it is considering offering new programmes for permanent deacons and lay pastoral workers and catechists.

This news comes at a period of uncertainty for the whole Rome-based priestly formation programme, sparked in part by the Covid-19 pandemic. The pontifical universities, where seminarians from around the world study, have been hoping to reopen doors in October but it is not clear if, or how, that will happen.

I understand that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s secretary of state, has written to bishops’ conferences encouraging them to send students back to Rome for the beginning of the academic year. During the pandemic, many seminarians returned home and are continuing studies remotely. Students at the Venerable English College are due to return after the summer, but it is unclear what will happen if there are travel restrictions or ­universities are not fully operational.

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