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Done at the Villa Lante, Rome...

Probation, our group preparation for perpetual vows, took place at or by our motherhouse from when the programme began over 200 years ago until the early 1970s - except during those years when war prevented travel. Then came several years of different locations before it finally found a home, from 1981, at the Villa Lante, a huge edifice on the edge of Trastevere, which for many years was Sophie's on-off home in Rome. This was where I made my own probation in 2003, and where I spent last weekend, my first time back there after nine years.

Inevitably, in the intervening decade there have been changes. Probation is no longer housed in the wing called Betania, some other rooms have changed their use, and various once-familiar routes around the labyrinthine house have been altered or blocked. But other things are reassuringly unchanged. Local roads, the Vatican to one side and Trastevere on the other (including my favourite gelateria!) are all as I remembered them. Within the Villa, I was able to walk around the lush, terraced garden and revisit places where I had prayed or delighted in fireflies, various fondly remembered nooks and crannies still exist, and Angelina is still in the community, and greeted me with a big hug.

And the chapel is still the same. This, the scene of last Sunday's vows ceremony, is where I made my own perpetual vows alongside most of my companions, who were all very present that weekend, in my heart and my prayer (including one who - oh joy! - was also in Rome that weekend). But for the first time I was aware of so many others - the hundreds of others, from every continent, who, since 1981, have spent this precious, intense time of preparation here. And the vast majority of them, over the decades, who have stood at that same altar and - whether nervous, joyful, radiant, calm or visibly moved -  pronounced their vows in one of about thirty different languages, each formula ending Done at the Villa Lante, Rome... and the date. Hundreds of RSCJ, some of them good friends and important in my journey, some there at the ceremony; others unknown to me, but with whom I share a common consecration and a common call - for a moment, their presence filled that chapel, their myriad voices echoing softly around the space. And within that roll call, my companions and I - we too, in probation and profession, were Done at the Villa Lante, Rome...

And above us all, the same Sacred Heart, his arms outstretched in a gesture which welcomes us in even as it sends us back out...

Today, Candlemas, is also the World Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life. It's a day for being inspired by Anna and Simeon, two faith-filled contemplatives, wholly given to God and trusting in his promises, who were able to recognise his saving presence in an otherwise unremarkable baby, and spent the rest of their lives proclaiming this discovery with joy. And this, essentially, is the common call and mission to which we have all vowed ourselves, whether in the Villa Lante or not, and to which we are all sent by the ever-open Heart of Jesus, the unchanging constant in our lives, and the source of our joy and passion in our common vocation.


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