Pilgrimage to Rome’s Major and Minor Churches
ROME is the city where one can see big churches just a few meters away from each other, unlike in the Philippines where Churches are several kilometers away from each other, and smaller in structure. Truly, Rome is the world’s seat of Catholicism.
We first visited the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, one of the 4 major churches in Rome. It is a walking distance where my sister Vicky and I stayed, at San Peter Roma, located at Piazza di Santa Maria alle Fornaci. We can see the Dome of the Basilica from our street. We never got tired of walking back and forth to the Basilica and St. Peter’s Square—morning, afternoon and evening—knowing that The Holy Father Pope Francis is just a short distance away, staying at the Vatican. We felt blessed, secured and at peace. We want to have memories of everything about Vatican, even having pictures with the Swiss Guards at the front gate of the Vatican Compound.
Day 1 of the International Congress for Catholic Action started with a Mass inside the Basilica. We passed through the strict security procedures of the Swiss Guards posted at the gate of the Vatican Compound; we did not use the main door of the Basilica. We were blessed to have the rare opportunity to see Casa Santa Marta where Pope Francis resides (oh oh… no picture-taking says the Swiss Guard). The Pope’s residence is just across the side door of the Basilica where we entered and just beside Aula delle Paolo VI or the Synod Hall where we met Pope Francis after the Mass. While waiting for the Mass to start, presided by Vatican’s Secretary of State H.E. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, we took advantage of admiring the more than life-size images of saints and the beautiful side Altars inside the Basilica, where Masses were simultaneously celebrated by the priests either alone, or with only one or two persons in attendance.
We attended the Anticipated Mass on our first week at Sta. Maria delle Grazie alle Fornaci, just in front of San Peter Roma where we stayed. On our second week, we attended Anticipated Mass at Sta. Maria del Carmelo in Traspontina, located at Via della Conciliazione, the road in front of St. Peter’s Square. This shows how near to each other are the big churches in Rome.
Next stop is the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls which is within the Italian territory, not the territory of Vatican City State, but the Holy See fully owns the Basilica. Italy recognized it and conceded the immunity granted by international law. Near the Altar and behind the grille is the side of the sarcophagus of unpolished marble, which contains the tomb of St. Paul; it is located near the Altar. In the golden bronze shrine, placed between the Tomb and the Papal Altar is the chain made up by 9 rings – the undisputed ancient tradition that St. Paul lived as a prisoner in Rome.
The Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran was our next stop. It is the cathedral church of Rome, the seat of the Pope. It is the oldest and has precedence among the 4 papal major basilicas of Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the only one titled “Archbasilica”. The Lateran Palace beside it was the residence of the Pope in the past. Two fires destroyed the structure and the Pope lived for a while at Sta. Maria de Maggiori Basilica until the Apostolic Palace at St. Peter’s Basilica was finished. Pope Clement XII, in the 5th year of his papacy, dedicated the building to Christ the Savior, in honor of Sts. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.
The 4th major church of Rome is the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria di Maggiori, or St. Mary Major, the largest Catholic Marian church from which size it is called “major”. When the popes returned to Rome after the period of having the popes’ residence in Avignon, the basilica became the temporary Palace of the Popes due to the deteriorated state of the Lateran Palace. Then, the papal residence was moved to Vatican City. We had our sacrament of penance and reconciliation (confession) at this Basilica.
We visited the other churches in Rome among which are: the Scala Santa or the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs, a set of 28 white marble steps located near the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. The Holy Stairs lead to the Church of St. Lawrence in Sancta Sanctorum or Holy of Holies, which was the personal chapel of the early Popes. The Holy Stairs are “the steps leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem on which Jesus Christ stepped on his way to trial during the Passion.” The stairs were brought to Rome from Jerusalem by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. TheScala Sancta are encased in protective wood and climbing it is a done on one’s knees. Pope Pius VII granted those who ascend the Stairs in the prescribed manner an indulgence of 9 years for every step.
Santi Pietro e Paolo a Via Ostiense or Sts. Peter and Paul is one of the titular churches in Rome to which Cardinal-Priests are appointed. The title was established on 5 February 1965 by Pope Paul VI. The cardinalate title is Santi Pietro e Paolo in Via Ostiense, and the present titular is our very own H.E. Ricardo Cardinal Vidal.
The Basilica of Saint Praxedes or Basilica di Santa Prassede is an ancient titular church and a minor basilica in Rome. It is in this Basilica where we venerated “the alleged segment of the pillar upon which Jesus was flogged and tortured before his crucifixion in Jerusalem.” I cannot explain how I felt when I touched the glass casing thinking that inside is a part of the pillar where Jesus was scourged, flogged and flagellated. It was alleged to have been retrieved by St. Helena when she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and collected relics associated with the crucifixion of Jesus on Calvary. The Basilica is just a walking distance to the right of St. Mary Major.
Among the other relics retrieved by St. Helena are pieces of the True Cross (now venerated at St. Peter’s Basilica), with fragments in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, also in Rome, and wood from Jesus’ crib enshrined at Santa Maria Maggiore.
There are still many Churches we visited outside Rome, where we venerated the first class relics of saints. We will discuss it in the next issue. I feel blessed having visited those places and I want to share with our dear readers what the tour guides told us, and we validated them.
It is Mother’s Day and I would like to honor Our Lady of Fatima on her Feast Day (May 13) and on the occasion of the 100th year of her First Apparition to the 3 children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta in Portugal. Our Lady appeared to the 3 visionaries 6 times and told them to pray the rosary everyday. Pope Francis canonized 2 of the 3 children—the brother and sister Francisco and Jacinta Marto—on this occasion. Let us invoke to Our Lady of Fatima and the new Saints Francisco and Jacinta to pray for us and for peace all over the world.
I also pray for all mothers and those who acted as mothers or are motherly to their nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces, to other children especially the orphans; please grant them good health. I also pray for my sisters, sisters-in-law, niece and most especially to my mother, Inay Gloria, who is now in union with our Creator. May our Lord bless all of them. Amen.