I first came to Rome in 1982. My parents joined me here and we had a holiday together for a few weeks, including a train trip to Lourdes. Then we travelled together to Delhi, taking in a visit to the Taj Mahal in Agra. They also had ten days or so with me in Pakistan, visiting Lahore, Gujranwala and Murree, before they returned to Australia.
I next came to Rome in 1983 and studied here for three years, doing a Licence at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
I arrived here yesterday. Today I fulfilled a plan I had formed long ago, a walking visit/pilgrimage to each of the Basilicas or major churches in Rome in the one day.
I left the house around 10.00 am, walked to the Metro, and took the train to St Paul’s Outside the Walls. It contains the grave of St Paul.
Then I had about an hour’s walk to St John Lateran. This is the Cathedral Church of Rome, which surprises many who think that honor belongs to St Peter’s.
From there it was a short walk to St Maria Maggiore, near Statione Termini.
Then it was another longish walk down through the city and across the Tiber to St Peter’s Basilica, with its famous Bernini colonnade and statues that is familiar to all who have watched major papal outdoor events on television. It is built on the site of St Peter’s grave. Among its many features, some of the more popular pilgrim/tourist sites are Michaelangelo’s famous Pieta, the graves of Pope John XXII, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II and many others besides. While there, I also visited the Columban chapel in the grotto.
Finally, I had a beer in Piazza Navona, passed by the Pantheon, had a pizza and a glass of wine nearby for tea, and for my penance walked home, up through the city, just under an hour. All in all, I had been out and about for nearly 12 hours. So all the walking was good training for the Camino! Though I admit I am feeling a bit weary now, so will sleep well tonight! And adding a pack to the walking will also make a difference. I will have to cope with that when the time comes, possibly some time late next week.
- I had availed of the sacrament of reconciliation at my first stop of the day at St Paul’s, which considerably lightened the load for the rest of the day! I spent some time in prayer in each of the basilicas, so the day was a genuine pilgrimage.
- As you can see from the photos of the facade and the interior, the basilicas are certainly grand buildings. They have huge spaces, unlike the Orthodox churches I had seen in Bucharest. But like them, these basilicas were highly decorated and ornate, some with more symbolic decorations, but often with wonderful art, sculptures, mosaics. They are a feast for the senses. I can only marvel at the Catholic religious culture which produced such architecture and decoration, which in some cases, took decades to complete, sometimes having to re-build when destroyed. Which makes me wonder, what are we as a society investing in today? What are the buildings we erect to show our faith? Shopping malls?!?! Entertainment centres?
- During the walks and in the quiet times in the basilicas, I remembered my visits to those places with my parents and with other visitors. I remembered my family and friends. I remembered my years of study, my peers and staff at the Institute, my confreres and companions in Collegio San Columbano (St Columban’s College) the same building where I am again staying now! I remembered two of my cousins visiting me in 1986 when we met Pope John Paul II. I remembered my visit to Rome last year when I met Pope Francis.
- More Romans/Italians smoke cigarettes than do Australians. The previous week I had experienced the same higher use of tobacco in Romania, where it came as a bit of a shock. In Australia, smoking is frowned upon, so to indulge the habit you almost have to be a social pariah (though of course, for young people, it can still be a matter of rebellion). Not so here. Smoking is quite common, quite accepted. Though I did think it ironic that where a hospital displayed strict No Smoking Signs, the outcome was a lot of people outside on the footpath indulging their tobacco habit.
- During the day I caught snatches of Italian conversations around me and marveled at the language. It flows. It bubbles. It burbles. It is a current. It is a torrent. It is expressive. it runs. It fills the spaces. I sometimes think that Italian is the Punjabi of the Mediterranean, or that Punjabi is the Italian of the sub-Continent. Both languages have a flair about them, they flow and skip and run. I enjoy the cadences, the flow, the rhythms, the rhymes, the fill-in words which fill the gaps and provide the flow.
More to come later, but for now, off to bed!!!