This final reflection on my visit to Rome provides an overall review of the trip, highlighting some of my thoughts of which I have already written about in the rest of the series and adding new insights
Maybe it’s a wee bit nostalgic to imagine Audrey Hepburn discovering the delights of Rome but nevertheless this Roman Holiday was more of a pilgrimage to discover the origins of the Christian faith in the earthly bound eternal city and which has left a lasting impression of constancy and commitment.
Arriving in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it was left to my imagination what the view might be from the window of my room, as we were welcomed to the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas; but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty and sense of antiquity as I looked out to see the Coliseum at the foot of the garden and in the distance the Palatine Hill and other landmarks I’d only read about and yet felt I already knew. Yet, it was watching a small flock of sparrows and wondering if their antecedents had once pecked a living among the Roman temples and busy forums that it really struck home just how incredible this city is in terms of all of our histories.
Our week was packed with visits to these monuments to a great civilisation, and the grandiose basilicas and mausoleums provided opportunities to understand the importance and power that the Roman Empire wielded across the known world at its height.
Still, in amongst all of these shows of dominance, the first sparks of the Christian revolution that was to spring into being and eventually triumph, began to reveal themselves. Whether strolling along cobbled streets and entering houses, where the first-century Christians began to meet in secret…
…or circumnavigating the walls of the Coliseum and peering down into the arena space, imagining how it must have felt to be waiting to be brought out to a public spectacle and certain death or hearing about St Peter’s cruel death in the Circus of Nero and seeing where his remains were buried, originally outside the Vatican necropolis. [Supersize Faith] All of these things brought to life those dry, dusty textbooks that we study.
Perhaps though the most poignant moment came as we gathered below ground and stood together in the building where they believe that St Paul was held whilst he was under house arrest and listened to a reading from his second letter to Timothy, all the while feeling very close to the zealous ‘apostle’ [Within and Without]
From the past to the present, we also had the opportunity to visit and hear about the work of the Comunità di Sant’Egidio [An Example of Cheerful Giving], a group of lay Christians who sacrificially devote some of their spare time to working with many disadvantaged groups within the city. Their ‘soup’ kitchen provides meals for up to a 1000 people each day and care is taken to treat everyone with respect as well as forming ‘familial’ relationships.
The community is also proactive, and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food was delicious too!
Obviously it wasn’t all about learning – we had plenty of fun too! From surviving the inimitable style of the Rome taxi drivers (would-be extras from ‘The Italian Job’) to browsing along the Via dei Cestari for ecclesiastical ‘tat’ (would that be cardinal red socks or papal purple?).
As well as evenings walking through the busy piazzas soaking up the atmosphere and nightlife. Even the papal audience, which meant several hours sitting under the glaring sun was both interesting (can there be such a thing as a papal groupie?) and at the same time inspirational.
All in all an incredible week with so much more that I could still tell you about. New sights, new friendships, new understandings. Ciao!