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Touring Vatican City with Father Bernie

Father Bernard O'Connor is a 1994 graduate of UT Knoxville's College of Law who nows works at the Vatican. (See a recent profile of Father Bernie in Alumnus magazine.) Since June 2004, he has been the director of the Office for Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Affairs for the Roman Catholic Church in south India. This office is part of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.

O'Connor said his role at Vatican is akin to being the associate of a cabinet minister within secular government. There are 33 dioceses, over 40 bishops and about 4.5 million members of the Catholic Church in his area. When Church officials from the area contact the Vatican about issues ranging from human rights, development, finances or even tsunami damage, O'Connor responds on behalf of the Vatican and sometimes in the name of the Pope.

O'Connor has nine college degrees from universities in three different countries, including his law degree from UT. His honors, jobs, memberships and writings fill a 19-page resume -- and that's before you get to his hobbies, which range from scuba diving to coin collecting to traveling and to writing.

He recently sent these photos from Rome. The first was taken in Vatican City, a 109-acre walled enclave within the city of Rome. It is the smallest independent state in the world by both population and area. O'Connor is standing in St. Peter's Square with St. Peter's Basilica in the background.

The second photo, O'Connor wrote, "was taken in front of the main artery leading to other sections of the city beyond the Vatican City area. In the background are two points of interest -- the famed pine trees, conspicuous of Rome and flourishing here since the most ancient of times, and one of the most famous monuments of the area, the Tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, now known as Castel Sant'Angelo.

"The Emperor Hadrian had this constructed between 135-139 A.D., and his ashes were interred there in 138. The place was sacked by Germanic tribes in 401 and again in 537, by the Goths. It was then transformed into a military fortress, though unable to withstand the aforementioned Germanic invaders. After the 14th century, the Popes converted it into a castle. It was then meant to protect them from hostile enemy forces. For example, Pope Clement VII took refuge there when besieged by the troops of Emperor Charles V in 1527. Alas, the refuge was never a success, and the Popes were generally captured."

"The final photo is of a fountain on the Borgo Pio, one of the streets leading directly into the Vatican. It is lined with shops and lovely restaurants. The Borgo dates back to the ancient era, when this was a scene of villas for the wealthier citizens of that epoch. The fountain, an artesian well, served their needs from at least the period of the Caesars. It was refurbished by the Popes during the Renaissance for the convenience of the many artisans and English speakers who lived in what was then a kind of 'bohemian' section of Rome. The well, bearing the Papal crest of that time (the Renaissance) would have been almost certainly visited by such notables as Michelangelo and da Vinci. As you can see, it continues to be used today."

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Blogger Kay said...

I too had Bernie O'Connor for comparative religion and got certified in Community Mediation thanks to him. Could you please tell me how to contact him, either by email or letter or phone? I have a long handwritten letter from him that I've never answered as I didn't know how to find him.
Many thanks

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