Tag Archives: Rome

Trip Advisor * * * * * The City Of Rome

THE Italian Ice Cream shop - Della Palma - Gelato di Roma

THE Italian Ice Cream shop – Della Palma – Gelato di Roma

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.

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

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.

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

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…

Original Roman Streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

Some of the original Roman streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

…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.

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Colosseum

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Coliseum

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!

Pause for Thought

Pause for Thought

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?).

So much choice!

So much choice!

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.

The Pilgrims Gather

The Pilgrims Gather

All in all an incredible week with so much more that I could still tell you about. New sights, new friendships, new understandings. Ciao!

A papal audience with Pope Francis

A papal audience with Pope Francis

 

 

Sant’Egidio – An Example of Cheerful Giving

Comunità di Sant'Egidio

Comunità di Sant’Egidio

The second in a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

Up until a month ago I had never heard of a saint called Egidio, and even when I found out that it was the Italian translation of St Giles I had to look up who he was. Having done so I discovered that Giles was a hermit monk who lived deep in a forest with only a hind [female deer] for company. One day when the king and his retinue came a-hunting, an arrow, intended for the deer, struck and wounded Giles and thereafter he became the patron saint of those who were physically and mentally challenged and as a consequence were often those cast out from society.

It was therefore entirely appropriate when a community of lay Christians chose the church of Sant’Egidio in the Trastevere area of Rome to become a centre for continuous prayer and welcome for the poor and pilgrims. This was back in 1968 and since then the work that the community has done since and is still doing amongst the poor, the homeless, the dispossessed and quite frankly the unloved has been amazing.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly
or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver – 2 Corinthians 9:7

 When one thinks of giving it is often in the sense of a monetary capacity – donations to various charities, towards the upkeep of our churches, payrolling the official ministry team – but at Sant’Egidio’s the giving is from the heart, entirely voluntary and selfless. All of the volunteers are lay members of the church, often with full-time paid employment or family commitments who agree to be part of the community as regularly and as often as they can; not simply as an occasional act of philanthropy but as an inclusive life-choice.

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant'Egidio

Christmas Meal in the church of Sant’Egidio

Their main work is in solidarity with the poor and homeless who end up for a multitude of reasons on the streets of Rome,  and who each day are welcomed into the Centre for a meal, use of the washing facilities (both bodies and clothes) and healthcare through the medical centre. The meals themselves are not simply doled out – care and attention is paid to offer a proper substantial meal, with fruits and drinks, presented on cloth-covered tables, proper cutlery and served by the helpers with smiles and respect. At Christmas time this meal turns into a huge banquet served in the church itself with personalised… yes personalised  presents for each and every person there.

‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you’ Luke 14:12-14

Prayers are offered each day

Prayers are offered each day

The Community also provides spiritual support to those in need because the heart and the life of the community is in communicating the Gospel both in word and action. Each day prayers are offered at both morning and evening worship. However, it is often spiritual matters of a more practical nature that are of concern. Many of the street people have been abandoned by or lost touch with their families and they are worried about what will happen to them when they die. Here the community steps in to reassure them that even at this moment they can rest assured that as part of the community family they will receive a proper funeral and their memories will be treasured through continuing prayer.

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant'Egidio sponsored restaurant

Just some of the Amicos who work in the Sant’Egidio sponsored restaurant

The work of the community doesn’t stop at acting responsively, it 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 is delicious too!

Other projects that the community is involved in are working with immigrants, refugees and the Roma people to overcome language barriers where bureaucracy is involved and running ‘Schools of Peace’ for families and children. They are also active in ecumenical dialogue, which is just one of the reasons we were welcomed so warmly during our visit.

All in all I came away from the experience feeling incredibly uplifted by the sheer demonstration of what can be achieved when we choose to live our lives wholly sacrificially –  because joy certainly abounds when Christ is placed at the centre of everything.

The interior of the church of Sant'Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

The interior of the church of Sant’Egidio, Trastevere, Rome

More information about the work of the community can be found here: http://www.santegidio.org/

Roman Reflections – Supersize Faith

The Altar Canopy or Baldacchino, St Peter's Basilica, Rome

The Altar Canopy or Baldacchino, St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

The first of a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

As an ecumenical advocate it would be hypocritical of me to censure the joy and devotion inspired in fellow Christians and others when visiting holy landmarks. A visit to the Vatican and in particular St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, however, has led me to reflect on how I would wish to express my own idea of reverence and faith.

As humans we are drawn to those places where the people who are part of our history actually walked and talked and left their mark on the landscape. As part of our veneration of their lives we erect memorials so that future generations will know the exact spot where they too might draw closer to these colossi of faith

Yet the hustle and bustle of thousands of pilgrims rushing from one grandiose monument to another without pause to look at what they are actually snapping through their camera lenses; the papal catacombs in which the human remains of the former bishops of Rome repose amidst the splendour of carved marble reliquaries; and being continuously funneled around those holy objects that offer the best ‘selfie’ opportunities, somehow left me cold and wanting to shout ‘Let’s clear the temple!’

From sky to grave - St Peter's Basilca, Rome

From sky to grave – St Peter’s Basilica, Rome

The Lord is high above all nations and his glory above the heavensPsalm 113:4

Yet, the visit hadn’t started like that. It had actually begun deep underground in the Roman Necropolis directly under the Basilica. Here in the ancient cemetery, originally without the city walls, the brick-built mausoleums, designed to hold the remains of Roman households spoke of reverence. Places where families might occasionally climb up onto the rooves to have a picnic whilst they remembered their departed relatives and loved ones.

Even so, we were still among the glory of the Roman empire, whose prosperity could afford to erect these monuments, whilst the poor and persecuted were buried in pauper’s graves.

Simon Peter was one such as these. After he had met his gruesome death in the Circus of Nero c64AD, his body was laid in the ground and discretely memorialised by the early Christians, many of whom chose to be buried close by. A small ‘trophy’ or physical shrine was erected to mark the grave by the theologian Gaius around the end of the 2nd century and at the beginning of the 4th century the newly converted Emperor Constantine marked the spot with a white marble sarcophagus over which the altar of the basilica was to be built. Now, as then, the open dome of the basilica provides a direct connection from the skies or heavens above, through the baroque grandeur to the simple grave of Christ’s rock and foundation of his church

The dead do not praise the Lord, nor those gone down into silence
Psalm 115:17

I have to admit, that without Pope Pius XI’s desire to be buried as close as was possible to the tomb of St Peter, then these things may have remained undiscovered and maybe they should have. For Simon Peter, the simple fisherman, would surely be turning in his grave, that is if he wasn’t already in heaven, at the way that people have put all their energies into immortalising the saints in stone and precious materials whilst failing to grasp the irony of their riches.

A papal audience with Pope Francis

A papal audience with Pope Francis

Perhaps the latest Bishop of Rome, will continue to lead by example as he sets aside some of this pomp and ceremony and tries to live out his life and ministry close to the people he serves. I do hope and pray so, for all our sakes.