*Due to slow internet I will post pictures later!
Pilgrimage Days 16, 17, and 18
Day 16 – June 18, 2016
This morning I woke early and had breakfast prepared by the Sisters and set out by 9am to explore. Where I am staying is only 500 meters from the Colosseum, so it is a stunning view from the piazza outside! I decided to follow the road up to the Colosseum, where I visited the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine, the Vittorio Monument/Palazzo Venezia, Teatro Marcello, Campo de Fiori, and eventually, the Piazza Paulo alla Regola (where a church stands on the location of St. Paul’s first home in Rome!). I sat in the church for a bit and imagined Paul’s work in Rome. I read the first chapter of Romans — he really loved those people!
8 First, I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is heralded throughout the world. 9 God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in proclaiming the gospel of his Son, that I remember you constantly, 10 always asking in my prayers that somehow by God’s will I may at last find my way clear to come to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.
After studying my map and figuring out my next leg, I took off in the direction of the Tiber. I walked along the river up to the Ponte Palatino then took a left to walk along the Circus Maximus. Then I walked all the way to the edge of the city, to the outer walls. The words of Psalm 24 kept coming to mind:
Lift up your heads, O gates;
rise up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter.
Who is this king of glory?
The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.
Even though they are addressed to the ancient temple in Jerusalem, I feel they apply well here as the heart of the Church resides in Rome.
My next destination goal was the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary situated on Monte Mario, the highest hill in Rome. I had hoped to go to mass there on Sunday to be able to see the famous ancient icon of Our Lady (the Madonna di San Luca). Considering how I’d struggled with directions in Rome as it was, I decided a dry run would be best, and hoped I’d get to meet a nun or two.
As I’d feared, it took me probably two or three times as long to get there as it would have if I were familiar with the area, had GPS, or, at the very least, spoken Italian. I walked up to the door of the monastery and buzzed in to the Sister on duty. We had a very brief but meaningless exchange as she spoke no English and I, no Italian. There was a long silence on her end and I figured she’d given up on the frantic American standing outside in the blistering Roman sun. Looking up at the sign, I figured there was no better place than this to break out my Rosary and start praying.
Just as I finished the first decade a young man rode up on a scooter, took off his helmet, and approached me with a wide smile across his face. He introduced himself in English and asked how he could help me. I gratefully explained that I was a pilgrim following the footsteps of St. Dominic and that I wanted to visit the monastery as part of my journey. He buzzed the Sister and their exchange was also brief. She basically told him there was no way I could enter.
The man apologized and rode away as quickly as he’d come and I began the long trek down the switchback roads of Monte Mario, back to the bus, and finally, onto the train. Returning to Old Rome, I took an evening walk, got a slice of pizza, and found my way into the church of Santa Maria in via Lata, where adoration was going on until 10:30pm. It is really hard to be in a place where no one speaks English, I feel lost most of the time, and I am alone. But I found some comfort in being in the Lord’s presence in that beautiful place.
Day 17 – June 19, 2016
On Saturday night one of the Sisters who runs the guest facilities I’m staying at told me there was a 9 o’clock mass on Sunday not 25 meters away. So instead of returning to Monte Mario I went there before heading out to the Via Appia Antica — also known as the Appian Way. The Appian Way is one of the oldest roads still in use in the world — it was completed in 312BC. It is a gloriously beautiful place with plenty of shade and lots of history to experience. Last year when I was here we visited the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, where St. Cecilia was originally buried, located along the Appian Way.
Today I visited the Churches of San Sebastiano and Domine Quo Vadis. San Sebastiano is a beautiful church with an elegant facade where, according to legend, the remains of Saints Peter and Paul were taken during the Christian persecution. That is why the original name of the church was Basilica Apostolorum (“Basilica of the Apostles”), before being devoted to Saint Sebastian, who was buried in late third century in the catacombs located underneath the basilica.
Mass was going on inside so I didn’t linger long, only to see the side chapels near the back of the nave. Then I sat on the front porch for a little while to eat the picnic lunch I’d brought before taking the long walk down the Way toward the Church of Domine Quo Vadis.
The Quo Vadis Church is in the top two churches I have visited in Rome so far (as of 6/21/2016). It is small and simple, but is a very moving destination for pilgrims. In fact, there used to be an inscription above the front door on the church’s facade which read: “Stop your walking, traveler, and enter this sacred temple in which you will find the footprint of our Lord Jesus Christ when He met with St. Peter who escaped from the prison.” It is said to be the place where Peter encountered Jesus as the former was fleeing the persecution of Nero. According to the legend, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (Domine, quo vadis?). Jesus answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again” (Eo Romam iterum crucifigi). Then Peter returned to Rome and the former words of Christ were fulfilled: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
It is a moving image to behold: to the right of the altar is a fresco of Jesus on the cross. To the left is one of St. Peter being crucified upside-down. The words of St. Paul came to mind: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” Jesus was crucified a second time in the person of Peter.
By the time I returned from my trip outside the walls of Rome I was exhausted. I decided to give myself some time off and went to bed early. Two more full days in Rome ahead!
Day 18 – June 20, 2016
Today was the first day that I felt like I had found my bearings enough in Rome to get around with some ease. I started the day with mass at Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major, one of the four major papal basilicas in Rome), where I passed through the Holy Doors. The doors are beautiful! On the right, Jesus extends his hand, and on the left, Mary extends hers.
After mass and a tour of the basilica I walked to nearby Termini station and took the train to the San Paolo stop to visit another of the four major basilicas, San Paolo fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls), now my favorite church in Rome. It is the burial place of the Apostle Paul, and his sarcophagus can still be seen in the interior of the Basilica. Recently a large window was built under the Papal Altar, allowing visitors to see the tomb of the Apostle with its original engravings. The basilica is breathtaking, second only in size to St. Peter’s in the Vatican, covered in mosaics of Jesus and the apostles as well as every pope from Peter to Francis. It really seemed to tie together the 2,000-year history of the Church.
I could go on about details, but for now I will be brief and when I come back later to add pictures, I will add more description.
After leaving St. Paul’s I enjoyed an American lunch at… wait for it… McDonald’s! Reminded me of our days in Poland last year — sometimes you just need a taste of home. After lunch I hopped back on the Metro and found my way to San Giovanni in Laterano, the major basilica in Rome! The real name of the church is the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior and Saints John the Evangelist and the Baptist and it is actually the ecclesiastical seat of the Pope (as Bishop of Rome), which means that only the Holy Father can celebrate the mass from its altar.
After visiting the Lateran I needed a break so I returned to my room and took a nap. When I woke I made my way to the last of the four major basilicas, St. Peter’s. As with the other three basilicas, I entered St. Peter’s through the Holy Door, then I went to confession and prayed for a little bit before walking to a nearby store where I’d connected to WiFi several days ago. The store was closed but I was able to hang around the door and make some phone calls using the internet. Even though I had enjoyed such an incredible day visiting all four major papal basilicas, I was feeling really overwhelmed with culture shock, loneliness, and a lot of other feelings, so it was nice to hear familiar voices on the line.
Before making my way back for the night I stopped by Old Bridge for some gelato then took a bus to the Trevi Fountain. It was a peaceful and beautiful sight despite the crowds. I passed by Santa Maria in via Lata (one of the churches I mentioned earlier) on my way back and stopped in for a few moments of adoration before turning it in for the night.
Only one more full day in Rome, then on to Dublin! I’m ready.