If American expatriates in Rome have a “home”, it is Saturday’s station church, the church of Santa Susanna. This church is the American parish in Rome, entrusted to the Paulist Fathers in 1922 for their ministry to the American community in Rome. Today it is a thriving parish which serves Americans working at the embassy and other expats. The station church pilgrims received a warm welcome from the parish Saturday morning, and they even hosted us for coffee and croissants after Mass! (Doughnuts are hard to come by in Italy.)
The church has ancient roots, being built on the site of a Christian house used for worship starting in the fourth century. We are told that the house belonged to the family of St. Susanna, martyred in the persecutions of the late third century. Susanna’s adherence to the Christian faith came to light when she spurned an offer of marriage, having made a secret vow of virginity for the sake of the kingdom of God.
The story of Susanna reminds us how precious a gift the early Christian Church considered avowed virginity. Not only did such a vow contravene the Roman Empire’s interest in population increase, but it also was surprising in light of the many Old Testament references to a family as a blessing. (cf. Ps 128:3) But for the earliest Christians, the presence of virgins was a witness to their faith in Jesus the Messiah. Virgins not only served Christ (and him alone) as their living Lord, but they were also an eschatological sign of our life in heaven, where we “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Mt 22:30) Let us pray that the charism of avowed virginity may flourish in our Church even today.
Written by Aaron Qureshi
Photos by Fr. Justin Huber