Ab Aeterno

Olivier Fermariello

2010 - 2012

The project spans a two year-long journey, from 2010 to 2012, in Albania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, the Ivory Coast, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the Vatican City State, across a range of meetings of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE), who coordinates all roman catholic bishops’ conferences in Europe. Despite the huge media coverage on the recent scandals of the Roman curia, the purpose of my work was to draw a portrait of these men belonging to an institution, self-proclaimed as the official representative of God, that has always gripped the collective imagination. I focused on some aspects of the lives of these high dignitaries of the Church, capturing their engagement within the CCEE, their journeys from one country to the other, their activities in sacristies and official meetings, taking part in conferences and sightseeing tours, always sealed by a convivial banquet.

Since I grew up in Rome, my eyes became accustomed to the massive presence of priests and religious people of any kind orbiting around the core of the Roman Catholic Church. Their presence is a constituent part of the cityscape and for a long time I just did not mind them.

During the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, the Catholic Church experienced one of its worst crisis, leading to a dramatic level of mutual incomprehension with modern society. This escalation urged me to investigate on this subject, deepening my knowledge through photography. My photographic research was also a way to interrogate myself on my position towards Religion.

It took me several months to convince the CCEE staff to allow me to follow its work. The climate of paroxysm, at the time, made people suspicious about my intentions, perhaps fearing that, somehow, I could strain the image of this institution further. Apparently the fact that I was just trying to fulfil my curiosity sounded awkward to them. After a while, I was able to convince them that I had no hidden purposes and that I was only interested in observing the daily life of a bishop at work.

Still, the most frequent question I was asked during the dozen of journeys along with the delegation of bishops was: “Which diocese do you belong to?” My face was already looking familiar to them, but they still could not understand who this outsider was. The feeling of being part of a community is deeply rooted within these circles and my presence has always been a surprise for those I met.

As a matter of fact during these two and a half years of work within the CCEE, I dealt with extremely cultivated and open-minded, but yet very normal people, doing common things such as chatting, eating, travelling and touring to new places (or rather being shunted from one place to the other). Sometimes I had the feeling of travelling with a group of young pupils on their first class trip, singing, making jokes about themselves, laughing or competing with each other on who had the latest smart phone. Nothing extraordinary ever happened and this represented –at first -the most difficult aspect of my work, documenting just every day life. What was I doing there? Only later I understood how all these meetings, rituals, ceremonies, etc. were part of a social routine initiated long time ago and that was necessary to strengthen the bounds of the local catholic communities around the World.

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  • Spain. Malaga. April 2010. Seminary of Malaga St.Sebastian and St.Thomas. Eucharistic celebration in the seminary chapel during a CCEE meeting of the Migration Commission.

  • Croatia. Zagreb. September 2010. Taking a break during the CCEE Plenary Assembly session. CCEE plenary assembly is held yearly, by rotation, in the country of origin of a member. Depending on the allocated budget for each meetings, conferences are held either in luxury hotels' conference rooms either in local religious facilities. Besides the cost of traveling, which is faced by any single participants (with financial help for the less wealthy), the costs for these meetings are supported by the hosting dioceses, by private sponsors and by the CCEE itself. The assembly ratifies the final balance and votes the forthcoming budget, relates about past actives of the CCEE and plans others to come. Every five years the assembly elects a president and two vice-presidents.

  • epublic of Cote d’Ivoire, Abidjan. November 2010. CCEE and SECAM members attend an official dinner at the Apostolic Nuncio's residence during a CCEE-SECAM meeting. An Apostolic Nuncio is a permanent diplomatic representative of the Holy See to a state or international organization, having the rank of an ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary. SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) and CCEE meet every second year, on rotation in Europe or in Africa. Their meetings are part of the activity of the Europe/Africa CCEE commission.

  • Portugal, Lisbon. June 2012. In occasion of the 3rd european catholic-orthodox forum promoted by the CCEE, bishops from the Greek Catholic Church during a guided tour to the Belem tower by the Tejo river. During each meeting a recreational activity is organized to entertain the participant members.

  • Vatican City State. February 2012. View of St. Peter's square from the Apostolic Palace of Sixtus V.

  • Switzerland, St. Gallen. September 2012. Opening session of the 41st. CCEEs' plenary assembly at the cantonal council hall of St. Gallen

  • Israel, Jerusalem. January 2012. The Holy Land Coordination (HLC) is an organization aiming to coordinate the bishops conferences of Europe and North America for the Catholic Church in the Holy Land. A CCEE delegation take part to HLC activities to express its concern for the autochthonous's christians minorities. HLC and CCEE members visit the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

  • Switzerland, St.Gallen. September 2012. Hotel Einstein conference room, where the 41st CCEEs' plenary assembly is held. CCEE plenary assembly is held yearly, by rotation, in the country of origin of a member. Depending on the allocated budget for each meetings, conferences are held either in luxury hotels' conference rooms either in local religious facilities. Besides the cost of traveling, which is faced by any single participants (with financial help for the less wealthy), the costs for these meetings are supported by the hosting dioceses, by private sponsors and by the CCEE itself. The assembly ratifies the final balance and votes the forthcoming budget, relates about past actives of the CCEE and plans others to come. Every five years the assembly elects a president and two vice-presidents.

  • Austria. September 2010. Traveling from Sankt Pölten to Mariazell during a Pilgrimage of the CCEE Environment Commission. Mgr. Léonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Bruxelles e Mgr. Massafra bishop of Scutari-Pult (Albania), lead the morning prayer. Pilgrimages are occasionally organized by the CCEE.

  • Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Abidjan. November 2010. Before celebrating the Holy Mass at St. Paul Cathedral, CCEE and SECAM members pose for a group photo. First raw from right: Mgr Ake, Mgr Defois, Mgr Jordan. Second raw from right: Mgr Dos Santos, Mgr Afonso. Mgr Polak joining the group. SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) and CCEE meet every second year, on rotation in Europe or in Africa. Their meetings are part of the activity of the Europe/Africa CCEE commission.

  • Austria, Mariazell. September 2010. Convivial celebration meal with the local community representatives closing a CCEE Environment Commission meeting. Mgr Léonard, archbishop of Mechelen-Bruxelles, singing.

  • Vatican City State. February 2012. During a CCEE-SECAM Symposium, a delegation of Bishops from Africa and Europe celebrate the Holy Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) and CCEE meet every second year, on rotation in Europe or in Africa. Their meetings are part of the activity of the Europe/Africa CCEE commission.

  • Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Abidjan, November 2010. View of the CERAO's parking lot (Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa), venture of the CCEE-SECAM meeting. SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) and CCEE meet every second year, on rotation in Europe or in Africa. Their meetings are part of the activity of the Europe/Africa CCEE commission.

  • Albania, Tirana. September 2011. During the CCEE Plenary Assembly the participant members visit the Presidential palace of the Republic of Albania. Visits to the State's representatives are normally scheduled. CCEE plenary assembly is held yearly, by rotation, in the country of origin of a member.

  • Austria, Mariazell. September 2010. The local firefighter band has been hired to welcome the representatives of the CCEE Environment Commission at the Europeum congress centre during a welcome party thrown by the local community.

  • Portugal, Sintra, Great Lisbon subregion. June 2012. Visit to Cabo da Roca, continental Europe's westernmost point. Mgr. Minnerath, archbishop of Dijon (France), pointing at the horizon. During each meeting a recreational activity is organized to entertain the participant members.

  • Portugal, Sintra, Great Lisbon subregion. June 2012. Visit at the Convent of the Capuchos located in Sintra's Natural Park. The small group got lost finding his way out and Mgr. Minnerath, archbishop of Dijon (France), tries localize its current position through his smartphone. During each meeting a recreational activity is organized to entertain the participant members.

  • Vatican City State. February 2012. A delegation of Bishops visit the Apostolic Palace of Sixtus V. Occasionally, a CCEE delegation is invited to attend a private audience with the Pope.


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