Fifth year seminarian Chris Doig (Aberdeen) describes the visit of a bishop-emeritus of his diocese to Rome for the diamond jubilee of his ordination to priesthood.Archbishop Mario Conti was ordained a priest in Rome on 26th October 1958 in the church of San Marcello al Corso. Sixty years later, he returned to the Eternal City with a group of pilgrim friends and family to celebrate.
The trip was marked by memorable moments that included Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, visits to the other Papal Basilicas, and a trip to the Scots College, where His Grace celebrated Mass for the group. After the Mass, the College community hosted a reception.
On the final day, Archbishop Mario got the opportunity to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father in the chapel of Santa Marta. Later that same morning, he celebrated a Mass in the church where he was ordained 60 years earlier. After Mass, the group – including some of the College’s seminarians – enjoyed lunch at a nearby restaurant, bringing the celebratory trip to its conclusion.
The visit to the Scots College was particularly important for the seminarians; we were able to celebrate 60 years of joy and fidelity were celebrated as His Grace encouraged and motivated us to follow our own call to the priesthood with all our hearts. He celebrated a votive Mass for priests; the readings spoke to him of his call to the priesthood: “For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:1-2;5-7). The reading about “earthenware jars that hold this treasure” prompted him to speak about the prominence of preaching in the life of a priest. He reflected on how he would often look back at previous homilies, only to ask himself: “Where did that come from?” The eloquence, with which he speaks, he said, is given by the Lord; it is Jesus working through him.
A reception followed Mass and, before it came to a close, His Grace gave thanks to God for the great time he had in Rome as a seminarian, and he encouraged the College community to embrace everything the Eternal City has to offer – culture, history, music, engagements with ambassadors and Church officials – ‘romanità’, as he called it during his homily the following day at the church of San Marcello. He reflected on the need for priests to be well-formed so that “they can feel comfortable at all levels of society.”
At Mass the following day, he reminded us of the readings he chose for his ordination: Psalm 35 spoke to him of his own time in the seminary: “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” The harvest of seminary life prepared him to be the man he is today. The culture, history and academic studies he received in Rome are the things that he carries with him today in his priesthood. He also made reference to the “sheaves” as a metaphor for the Eucharist, which is the central part of his “share in the redemptive priesthood of Christ.” He also remembered that the words from the Collect were the same that he had heard during a Latin Mass: Sincero corde servire; that is, ‘serve with sincerity of heart’. These words would later form his episcopal motto; he encouraged the group to also take those words into their own lives.
At the end of Mass, Mgr Charles Burns said a few words. He was “amazed” that the two of them were able to celebrate Mass together in the church where the Archbishop was ordained 60 years earlier. He also remembered that his mind was somewhere else during the ordination, which took place in a time of uncertainty, a time of conclave. Having heard great noise on the streets outside, they thought that a pope had just been elected; it turned out to be a group of football fans from Naples who had passed by the church.
During the farewell meal, a word of thanks went out to Archbishop Mario Conti for his great witness, one that had touched the lives of those who sat with him at table.
We wish Archbishop Mario all the best on his anniversary and we wish him many more happy years of priesthood – Ad multos annos!