Last week, together with our two missionaries from Uganda, Fathers Dominic and Ubaldo, I had the privilege of visiting Rome. It was by no means my first visit as I have been there many times over the years thanks to the hospitality of an Italian priest friend who is based there. For Fathers Dominic and Ubaldo (L & R) it was their first visit.
Because of its association with the Apostles Peter and Paul, Rome has a particular importance for Catholics, and it is of course the home of the successor of Peter, the Pope. It is a city of immense grandeur and charm which goes back to the days of the great Roman Empire which spread its tentacles far and wide some two millennia ago. Every time you turn a corner in Rome there is something to be seen; from the four magnificent Papal Basilicas, to the Roman Colosseum and remnants of the Imperial Forum close by. It is a city of art and culture with buildings housing some of the greatest art treasures of the world. In many cases the buildings themselves constitute the treasure, buildings like the Pantheon built by the Emperor Hadrian around 126 A.D. on the site of a pagan temple, and now in use as a Christian Basilica; it is said to be one of the oldest buildings in continuous use in Rome.
The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly the Papal audience which takes place every Wednesday in St. Peter's Square - while the weather permits. Here Pope Francis drives through the assembled throng imparting his blessing and greeting children and the sick. He then delivers a short message, a teaching or reflection on some aspect of the Christian life. We were blessed to have good seats in the Square and had a good view of the Pope when he made his appearance. What struck me most in the square that morning was the universality of our church. All around us were people of different nations from around the globe all waving their National flags and obviously delighted to be there, united by Baptism.
On the Thursday we took a very special tour of the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica, these excavations led to the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Peter himself during World War II. It's a little-known attraction in Rome and they take small groups of twelve at a time for the hour and a quarter guided tour. They have excavated a section of the graveyard that occupied the Vatican Hill before the Emperor Constantine - who converted to Christianity - built the first Basilica on the site, and it's amazing to walk the street where family tombs are intact as they stood 2000 years ago. Tickets have to be booked many weeks in advance and this can be done online at www.scavi.va, its well worth the effort!
Our visit to Rome included a visit to the Catacombs of San Sebastian, just outside the city where the early church buried the dead. They also met in secret in these underground tunnels to celebrate the Eucharist in safety away from their persecutors. You come away from the catacombs with a great sense of the sacrifice of believers for the faith as many of those buried here were martyred. We have it so easy by comparison. Thanks to Ryanair a trip to Rome is very affordable, and I would recommend the Villa Irlanda Guesthouse which is owned and operated by the Pontifical Irish College and situated in its grounds. It's very reasonable priced and offers a good location and comfortable rooms. Booking can be made online www.villairlandaroma.it
If you've never been to Rome put it on your bucket list now.
St. Mary's Lucan