Sunday, March 8, 2009

Lenten Journey Week 2: San Felice da Cantalice

This week my Lenten Journey took me to the Church of San Felica da Cantalice in the neighborhood of Centocelle which is 11 stops on the train along the Via Casilina, the ancient Roman road that leads from the Porta Maggiore toward Naples. The parish is staffed by the OFM Franciscans.

I found a building built in 1935 that looks like a warehouse. It is next to a playground and the piazza in front of the church is currently taken over by the construction of a new subway line.

It seems that a front porch was added to the structure in the 1960's.
This week's prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book begins with the words "God of the unexpected..." and it was an unexpected surprise that I discovered inside this church.
When I walked through the graffiti splattered front door a dramatic rectangular interior with an apse presented itself. Tiled columns separate the nave from the side aisles and the flat ceiling rests above a row of small windows that let in interesting patters of light. Above the sanctuary there is a skylight within a concrete half-drum.
San Felice da Cantalice was established as a titular church by Pope Paul VI in 1969 for Stephen Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan of South Korea, who served as the archbishop of Seoul for 33 years, retiring in 1998. Cardinal Kim Sou-hwan died in February of this year at the age 86.

Who was San Felice?
San Felice (St. Felix) was a Capuchin friar, born at Cantalice, on the north-western border of Lazio. He died in Rome in 1587. He is sometimes represented in art as holding the Infant Jesus, because of a vision he once had, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and placed the Divine Child in his arms.
Detail of Sanctuary fresco painted in 1968 by Friar Ugolino da Belluno.

Felice was a shepherd as a young person and then a farm laborer. A friend read to him the lives of the Desert Fathers, inspiring him to seek the Franciscan way of life. Because of his poor health he was appointed to work as a questor for the community in Rome, begging for alms. Felice's special work while in Rome was with children. He would gather them together in bands and, forming a circle, teach them to sing canticles that he composed. These canticles became popular and frequently, when on his rounds to ask for alms, Felice would be invited into the houses of his benefactors and asked to sing. He was canonized in 1712. 

God of the unexpected,
when we come to our senses like the prodigal son,
give us grace to repent and turn to you again,
for where else can we go?
Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent
A New Zealand Prayer Book

I need to be open to the unexpected!
In the 1st reading of the liturgy for the Second Sunday of Lent, God asked of Abraham the unexpected test for him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. When the Angel of the Lord stopped Abraham from actually killing his son, there was the unexpected ram caught in the bushes. I imagine that the gospel reading of Transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah before the apostles was unexpected.

Abraham obeyed. His descendants became as numerous as the stars in the sky. Peter, James and John left the mount of Transfiguration pondering the meaning of the resurrection of the dead. I left the Church of San Felice da Cantalice with a renewed sense of looking for the unexpected.

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