Forty Jubilarians celebrate 1900 years of priesthood at Venerable English College

 Jubilarians, with  Bishop Regan (centre), Monsignor Hudson, Rector of the VEC (front left) Fr Anthony Wilcox, coordinator of the pilgrimage (front right)

Jubilarians, with Bishop Regan (centre), Monsignor Hudson, Rector of the VEC (front left) Fr Anthony Wilcox, coordinator of the pilgrimage (front right)

To mark the Year of Priesthood, the Venerable English College in Rome has taken two significant initiatives.  Firstly, they invited every priest in England and Wales who celebrates this year a Ruby, Golden or Diamond Jubilee to enjoy a week's hospitality at their retreat-house, the Convent di Palazzola near Rocca di Papa, seventeen miles outside of Rome.  Secondly, they have mounted, in the crypt of the church, an exhibition about the first priests to have trained at the 'Venerabile', as the College is affectionately known, and their return to the Mission in England and Wales.

Forty priests flew to Rome on Monday to enjoy a 'Sabbath Rest' by the 'Gallilee' of Lake Albano, overlooking the Pope's summer residence of Castelgandolfo.  Among them were twenty-four Ruby, twelve Golden and four Diamond Jubilarians.  The Diamond Jubilarians are Fathers Reginald Bessler from Hallam Diocese and Geoffrey Cunliffe from Lancaster, Monsignor William Dalton from Liverpool and Canon Kevin Rea from Plymouth. 

Yesterday,  4 November, the Jubilarians had a day in Rome.  They attended a General Audience with Pope Benedict XVI and enjoyed the hospitality of the "Venerabile" for lunch and supper.  Bishop Edwin Regan of Wrexham, a Golden Jubilarian himself, presided at a Mass for the students concelebrated by some sixty priests.  Mass took place in the newly refurbished church of St Thomas of Canterbury, reopened by Archbishop Nichols a fortnight previously. 

In a speech after dinner, the Rector, Monsignor Nicholas Hudson, pointed out that the Jubilarians represent nineteen hundred years of priesthood between them.  He said to them, "Thank you for offering yourselves for the priesthood all those years ago; thank you for the fidelity to your vocation that this year of Jubilee represents."

Before Mass, the Jubilarians visited the exhibition in the crypt of the College church.  Entitled 'Non Angli sed Angeli: A Pilgrimage A Mission', it presents the history of the College and the Pilgrims' Hospice which preceded it and which make the 'Venerabile' the oldest English institution outside of England. 

Using interactive and state-of-the-art technology, the exhibition allows the visitor to share the experiences of those pilgrims who made the long and arduous journey from England to Rome from Medieval times, while also discovering what life was like for those priests who made the return journey from the English College itself to Elizabethan England, on mission and in secret. Visitors are invited to experience what it was like to hide in a priest hole, visit a sixteenth-century London prison and to cross the English Channel! 

The exhibition will remain open until July 2010 for the benefit of the many modern-day pilgrims who will visit Rome and the College in the coming months.

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