Monday, April 30, 2012

A Church in "the Bronx" of Rome

My search for 21st Century churches in Rome led me to the neighborhood of Quartaccio, in the quarter of Torreveccia, less than 20 minutes by car west of St. Peter's in Vatican City. I came to the neighborhood from the GRA autostrada and was amazed to see attractive "contemporary" linear buildings of two and four stories.

I discovered that these homes were built as subsidized housing units according to an urban plan by Pietro Barucci, 1984-88. It is a complex of 700 apartments for 2,500 inhabitants. It is said that it "marked the return of a more human and traditional building manner. (Other buildings in the quarter are 15 stories.)

A taxi driver told me that this quarter is popularly called "the Bronx." My online reading of news stories from the last few years dealing with crime and police activity in the area confirmed this nickname.

It was here in "the Bronx" that I found the Church of Santa Maria della Presentazione. (Actually, the church name has been taken off of the fence and replaced with a canvas banner proclaiming the activities of three churches that are now united as the Parish of Santa Faustina. This location is called the Quartaccio building.)

The Diocese of Rome instituted a plan to build 50 new churches at the beginning of the 21st century. (Each site, on the periphery of Rome, included a church with a daily chapel, religious education classrooms, a sports facility, and a community gathering place.) The Nemesi Studio responded in 2002 with this Church of Santa Maria della Presentazione.

At first sight it was difficult to find the defined spaces within the construction. A large roof was supported over the complex and under it were a series of columns, ramps, stairs and other architectural elements.

The parish office seemed to be suspended in all of this.

 The gymnasium and meeting space is entered under these projecting canopies.

 I eventually found the worship space, which was closed. (The banner on the front fence indicated there was only one Mass a week, Sundays at 10:30.)

Glass doors open to a vestibule outside what appears to be a windowless sanctuary. (Maybe there is a skylight.) From drawings of plans that I have seen in Roma: Nuova Architettura, by Sebastiano Brandolini, the church is an oval shape with a sphere at the end opposite the entrance.

There was some activity of a few families going in and out of the sports center, but they seemed oblivious to the church. During my visit a middle aged Italian woman was wandering around the complex looking for where the church was. From a ramp I pointed down to the sphere and told her it was closed and probably only open for Mass on Sunday.

The only religious imagery was a cross on the roof that could only be seen from a distance. Pigeons fly through the open spaces, weeds are growing in the sidewalks, trash has been blwon into corners, and even though the building is only ten years old, there is need for basic structural maintenance.

 I hope Saint Faustina's "Divine Mercy" can bring life into this space and let it become a "box of mercy and hope" for its depressed neighborhood.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Nostra Signora di Czestochowa

I am "bird walking" around Rome this week, seeking out modern churches. My first journey took me to the Tor Sapienza Zone, about 12 km from the center of Rome. Here I found the Benedictine parish church of Nostra Signora di Czestochowa sitting in the middle of a busy intersection  It was designed in 1970-71 by Alberto and Gianfranco Tonelli.

The church is a trapezoid box that dominates the intersection. It seems to be floating above the roadways because the structure rests on an opaque-blue glass base. With the wide sliding doors open, the church almost invites the traffic to come inside.

It was disappointing to encounter a plump statue of Padre Pio
outside the door before I entered the church.

But when one does walk in off the street, the world changes. The interior is illuminated with natural light filtered through a band of windows near the coffered concrete ceiling. The eyes are drawn over the large altar table to the stained glass on the rear wall, framing the tabernacle.

The altar platform is positioned in a way way that is in the midst of the nave and the people who gather to celebrate the Eucharist.

The scale of the building and the furnishings are massive. One cannot reach across the altar.
The spherical baptismal font reminded me of the cauldron hanging in the fireplace of Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water house. 

There is a side chapel on the left side of the church
with an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Church of San Corbiniano

This week I have set off to explore some modern churches in Rome. I was looking for the Church of San Guglielmo designed by Umberto Riva. (I had seen a design for the church in Roma - Nuova Architettura by Sebastiano Brandolini.) By the time the church was consecrated one year ago (March 2011) the name had been changed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Church of San Corbiniano. Corbiniano (670-730) was the saint who founded the Pope's home diocese of Freising.

The church is in a new residential neighborhood of Rome, about 20 km from the Coliseum, off the Via Cristoforo Columbo. The church is a sprawling complex that culminates in the Sanctuary with parish recreational facilities behind it.

The nave of the church is an open, light-filled space, that seems almost "sculpted" in concrete, with glass, steel and wood. It is a very practical, welcoming and comfortable space for community celebrations.
The sloping ceiling is at first sight overpowering, but as you enter, the weight gives way to a sanctuary that is flooded with light from high windows.

The furnishings are minimal. A bronze baptismal font sits appropriately in the front of the church. A contemporary and realistic crucifix dominates the altar area.

On the left side of the nave is a chapel for the  reservation of the Eucharist. (On the day of my visit, several parishioners were praying in adoration.)

I spoke with a newly ordained priest from Trento who is part of the parish staff. (He is actually in exile from the Neocatechumenal Way seminary that was closed by the bishop of Japan. He was ordained here in Rome and hopes one day to be able to return to Japan.) The priest was enthusiastic about the growth of this new parish, incorporating people of all ages. He was proud of their a men's group called the "Bears of San Corbiniano."