Based at the Romanesque church of Santi Apostoli, which overlooks the River Arno, Fr. Kramer Cameron is a priest for the English–speaking community in Florence. As well as discussing his admirable charity work and his love for the outdoors, we met with Fr. Cameron to talk about his role within the Church and his vision for Florence’s international Catholic community.
Where are you from and what brought you to Florence?
I’m from Canada. I’ve been in Italy for nine and a half years and Florence for two and a half. I attended boarding school in the States and went to a seminary there for many years. Because I’m part of the congregation, we all studied Philosophy in Rome and, during my last year, I was told there was a need for a priest for the English-speaking community of Florence. So I initially started coming on the weekends to help out, but then when I finished my studies and was about to be ordained a deacon, I was asked if I’d be interested in staying on as priest here full time. I loved Florence and how international it was, and so I replied, Yeah, I’ll definitely stay.
What was the most rewarding part about becoming a priest and coming to Florence in general?
That’s a tough question. I guess the most rewarding part is seeing the longing, desire and need that people have for spirituality and for God. I think anybody in the ministry would say the same. Being in Florence specifically, I’d say it’s very rewarding working with Italians and seeing their response…What’s also really fulfilling is I get to meet people from all over the world, from all different faiths too. People from different faiths come and want to talk or pray and participate in our activities. And obviously, Florence is such a beautiful city. The most beautiful experiences that I’ve been having here as a priest are definitely the weddings. Lots and lots of weddings. It’s obviously such a special moment in couples’ lives, and to be present and share that moment with them, for me, is awesome. I unfortunately have to turn down a lot of them though, because I get so many!
What was the hardest part?
Not being able to play hockey. I’m Canadian! I just went home for Christmas and my family and I went to this public outdoor ice surface. I literally showed up and within three minutes I was already playing a hockey game. Moments like that I’m like, Wow, I love Canada. That’s one of the things I miss. I mean Florence has a lot too, a variety of cultures, food and people. The mountains aren’t far away if we want to go skiing and I love running and biking, so the weather and the parks here are great for that. But there’s no hockey.
You mentioned the church’s activities. What sort of outreach and community work have you been up to recently?
The ministries take part in something called Night to Shine. It’s an activity organized by the Tim Tebow Foundation, which is run by the professional NFL football player with his wife, Debbie. The event is basically like a prom party for those with special needs, making them the kings and queens of the night. It happens once a year, usually around Valentine’s Day. We also take part in something called Pane ai Bisognosi (Bread for the Needy), where we make sandwiches for those who are hungry and deliver them throughout the city in groups of young people. There are also mission trips every year, such as Bosnia in the New Year and Mexico in the summer, Covid permitting.
Fr. Kramer Cameron, a priest for the English–speaking community in Florence at church of Santi Apostoli
How do you involve the younger generation?
On Tuesday nights, we have something called Upper Room for college students and young professionals, where we’ll have a moment of mass adoration and then a social afterwards. I have a really special place in my heart for Upper Room. When we originally started in Rome, my friends and I saw that there was a real need to support college students along their spiritual journeys since a lot of them were coming to Italy (especially to Rome) expecting an experience of their faith. But there wasn’t a lot on offer for English-speaking students, so we tried to fill that void. We’d have adoration and a moment of prayer and then go out to eat—we used the nickname ‘Jesus and Tacos’ because there was a really good place down the street that did tacos for 1 euro. The name Upper Room then caught on in Florence. Depending on the time of year, sometimes we have very few students and other times we’ll have a good group of 20-30 people. It’s a really interesting dynamic because we never really know how many students are going to come.
What’s the schedule of your religious services not only for English speakers, but also for the Italian community?
The church is closed on Monday. Then on Tuesday it’s 6pm for Upper Room. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday we have a similar thing at 6pm, but in Italian. Lastly on Sunday, we have English Mass at 10:30am, Italian at 11:30am and Italian again at 7pm. So that’s the general schedule for the Mass times. As far as scheduling confessions, I kind of just give out my number—I don’t have a specific time or day for that, it’s just whenever works best.
What’s your vision for the English-speaking Catholic community in Florence?
My main goal in Florence is to offer an experience of God’s love, so that people have a true encounter with God and his love for them. By forming apostles, it fills people with light, and they naturally go and share it. In other words, I’m just one person and I can do so much. But if I’m able to help others to have the experience of God’s love and it transforms them, then they can also make an impact. The community here is very international, so they’re working in many different places all over the world. Whether it’s in their workplace or with their families, they can share that light anywhere.
I’m sure you’re aware of the papal visit in February. What are your thoughts?
It’s really exciting that the Pope is coming to Florence and to our diocese. Our hope is to be able to participate in some way. He’s only here for the morning, so it’s very short. My hope would be that we can be there to support him and hear his message for us. But with COVID, we’ll see what happens. Whether we’re able to go physically or it has to be virtually, having him as Pope and as our leader will still bring light to our city.