The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

The Catholic Church across Yorkshire's historic West Riding since 1878

Fr Tony: Home from Rome!

Fr Anthony Rosso, Parish Priest of Our Lady and St Joseph’s Parish in Haworth and Ingrow, was one of only two priests recommended by their Bishops (Bishop Marcus and Archbishop John Wilson) to represent the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales at a recent meeting of clergy in Rome in advance of the October 2024 Synod of Bishops. On his return, Fr Tony shares his thoughts on a few intensive days of discussions, meetings – and a personal chat with the Holy Father!

When in Rome …

Only minutes after arriving in Rome for the ‘Meeting of Priests for the Synod,’ I found myself being shoved about by other travellers as I tried to board public transport from the airport into the city. I was reminded of a time 16 years ago when I first arrived in Rome as a seminarian. I recalled how I stood next to an American tourist who, like me, couldn’t make his way through the enormous crowd to get on a bus. He looked at me and said, ‘Well, you know what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.’ And with that, he shoved his way through the crowd and onto the bus! All these years later, as I was on my way to the meeting, something about that phrase, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ really made me think. There I was in Rome, about to start a week of meetings regarding the ‘Synod on Synodality’ called by the Holy Father back in 2021, and it occurred to me that the phrase was actually excellent advice for all the participants. Now, I realise that might sound bizarre! However, in a way, all of us Catholics united to the Bishop of Rome are in a special way Romans. And what is it that we always do? Well, since the beginning of the Church, we have always striven to listen to the Holy Spirit and let it guide us. That’s what we “ecclesial” Romans do. While in Rome, continuing that tradition of being guided by the Spirit was exactly what we 200+ priests from more than 100 countries were being called to do; to do what our forefathers in the Catholic Church have always done.

The objective of the week was to gather priests from all over the world to discuss, discern, and share our experiences, not only with each other, but also with the Vatican’s Synod Office, which is led by Cardinal Mario Grech. The goal was for us to give all those present at the next session of the Synod in October, a grassroots report on the issues priests (and the flocks they care for) are currently facing around the world. We were asked to give our thoughts and ideas on how a Synodal Church can help. A wide range of topics came up, but the primary aim of our discussions was mission. One of the bishops who was present this week as a speaker, +Pablo Virgilio David from the Philippines, summarised the aim of Synodality for us when he said it was, ‘moving from maintenance to mission.’ It’s about how all of us in the Church must collaborate, from the bishop to the laity, to be co-responsible for the mission of the Church today. This is especially true at the parish level.

I used to hear priests at the Gregorian University in Rome joke about how if you want to know what’s happening in the Universal Church, go for a coffee in the Greg Bar. As international as the Greg Bar is, I have never experienced the Universal Church like I did at this gathering of priests. I can honestly say it was one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had. Meeting priests from so many places and hearing their stories, struggles, joys, and experiences was incredible. The whole week was something I shall never forget. For example, I met a priest from Iraq whose church and village were obliterated by ISIS. I met a priest from Sri Lanka whose parish was bombed and 250 of his parishioners were killed. I heard the dangerous struggles priests face in certain parts of South America. I listened with great hope to the positive stories from priests in South Korea and countries in Africa that are experiencing a beautiful growth in baptisms and vocations to the priesthood. There were stories from Eastern Catholic priests present, who had wives and children back home. We all had diverse backgrounds, stories, and nationalities, but our love for the Lord and his Church, and of course our shared priesthood and fraternity, brought us together. Our experiences informed our conversations and helped us discern many issues as we worked in groups for over 10 hours each day; asking the Holy Spirit to guide our thoughts and words as we prepared syntheses every day regarding various topics. My own working group was fantastic and we all became quite close after so many hours together! Our table represented four continents and so many different experiences. One priest had been ordained 50 years and another only four years. It was a privilege getting to know all of them.

The week culminated with a meeting with Pope Francis on Thursday 2 May. The Pope answered questions from priests and gave us wonderful reflections on synodality and on the role of priests. ‘The Church could not go on without your dedication and your pastoral service,’ he said. ‘So before all else, I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation for the generous work that you do each day, sowing seeds of the Gospel in every kind of soil.’ He went on to say, ‘Parish communities increasingly need to become places from which the baptised set out as missionary disciples and to which they return, full of joy, in order to share the wonders worked by the Lord through their witness.’ The Holy Father echoed everything we heard throughout the week. Namely, that we need to collaborate with the people in the parish to be missionaries, with their involvement in all levels of parish life. As priests, we have to help our people find their place on this mission and journey alongside them. This is crucial to synodality.

The Holy Father was then gracious (and patient) enough to greet each one of us individually as well. Before leaving, he gave us a mandate to go and be missionaries of synodality; a mandate to go back to our parishes, dioceses, and bishops’ conferences to inform them of what we learned. He wants us to share with others what we received from this historic gathering of clergy.

On arrival at the meeting, I sensed a bit of trepidation among some priests about what was ahead. Some were worried about the synodal way and what changes may come as a result of the Synod. However, all of that seemed quickly to disappear. The joy we had, as well as the peaceful atmosphere that emerged throughout the sessions, are evidence of the Holy Spirit’s guidance over the days we met. I feel like all the priests succeeded in going to Rome and ‘doing as the Romans do’. That is, listening to the Spirit and letting it guide us. I hope and pray that my brother priests and I can successfully accomplish the mandate given to us by our Holy Father to be missionaries of synodality throughout the world.

Fr Anthony Rosso meets the Holy Father


Fr Tony Rosso & Fr Marcus Holden with colleagues from the UK, including Fr David Camilleri, Fr Taras Khomych (sent by the British Ukrainian Catholic Bishop), and Fr Antony Chundelikkat James (sent by the British Syro- Malabar Eparchy)


Listening to the Holy Father: Fr Tony’s front row seat at the Synod


Fr Tony with Cardinal Lazarus You Heung-sik (Prefect of the Dicastery for the Clergy) and priests from South Korea


Cardinal Mario Grech (General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops & who organised the conference) with priests from across the world who were in the same working group as Fr Tony.


With Sr Nathalie Becquart (Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops)