Walking in the Footsteps:San Giorgio

Guest blogger Chris Seith and photographer, Fr. Justin Huber guide us through San Giorgio:

Today, the English-speaking pilgrims walked to San Giorgio for the second day of Lent.  For those of us at the Pontifical North American College, we began our trek at 6:15 in the morning, walking alongside the Tiber River as the sun rose.  The location towards which we were headed has been used by Christians since the late fifth century.  Originally, the location was used as a center for social services and was later turned into a church in the ninth century.  The Saint it commemorates was a popular martyr during the Diocletian Persecution, the bloodiest persecution of the early Church lasting from the late third century until the year 311.  This Saint inspired many soldiers to remain courageous while they struggled to follow Christ.  He is also an inspiring Saint for the seminarians at the Pontifical North American College who hope to lay down their lives for Christ as Saint George did.  The church is connected to another inspiring figure as well.  San Giorgio was the titular church of the newly beatified John Henry Cardinal Newman.

The readings for today connect us in a particular way to the witness of the martyrs.  In Deuteronomy, Moses tells us, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  Choose life, then…”  With these words, Moses reminds the Israelites of the great gift of life which God has given them.  No doubt this seemed strange for a people wandering through the desert with no relief in sight.  Much like many in our time, the Israelites doubted the beauty of life amidst their many sufferings.  Yet in the Gospel, Jesus offers clarity by telling us that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  Our Lord offers a new perspective on life and invites us today to reconsider the grace of our Baptism.  Through this Sacrament, we have become sons and daughters of God.  God sees us as having died with Christ and risen with Him.  Therefore, when we embrace our daily crosses out of love for God, we live the reality of our Baptism by sharing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Suffering, then, is not a hindrance to living life abundantly but is rather the very means by which we do so.  When we unite ourselves to Him who is Love, life reclaims its original magnificence and beauty no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

Learn more at Church:  http://www.pnac.org/station-churches/week-of-ash-wed/thursday-after-ash-wednesday-san-giorgio/

Walking in the footsteps of the saints and martyrs of Rome


With the help of our seminarians and priests studying in Rome, we will be able to participate in one of the most ancient Lenten practices of the Roman Church. Dating back to the late second or early third century, the Bishop of Rome would celebrate Mass in parishes around the city. By the fifth century, there was a fixed calendar in place for the dates of those liturgies.

Today, it has become the practice of the North American College to “host” the English speaking stational churches liturgies. Each day Mass is also celebrated in German and Italian and for many years the Pope has celebrated the Ash Wednesday liturgy at the first of the stational churches. We begin our pilgrimage with a reflection by Patrick Lewis and photos by Fr. Justin Huber.

Santa Sabina

Today the Church begins Lent, the season of prayer, penance, and almsgiving that prepares Catholics for the coming of Easter. For seminarians and priests at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Ash Wednesday begins the pilgrimages to the station churches in Rome.

Seminarians and priests gathered early in the morning at the Pontifical North American College to make their trek out to Santa Sabina. The sacristans, masters of ceremonies, choir, lectors, and acolytes arrived at the quiet church early to ensure that everything was set up and the Mass was prepared to be celebrated with due reverence. I joined a small group of seminarians and a priest and headed out toward Santa Sabina around 5:45AM. Walking along the Tiber in the cold, brisk darkness of the morning, we prayed the rosary and quietly made our way to the church. As I headed up the cobbled-stoned street that goes up the Aventine Hill, the sun began to rise.

The entire community from the Pontifical North American College and Casa Santa Maria gathered for Mass at Santa Sabina, the first of the station churches. Many other English speakers joined the College for the Mass. Students who are studying abroad in Rome and other people from around the city joined us for Mass. The 6:45AM Mass was somber, as the community entered into this holy penitential season.

Santa Sabina has been a place of worship since early in the second century. St. Sabina, a Roman matron from the second century, lived at or near the sight of this church. According to tradition, Sabina was a widow who was converted to the faith by her slave, Seraphia. The current church was built in the fifth century. The church was remodeled many times. The priests and servers sit in a choir section walled off with a marble rail. Pillars line the massive structure. Tombs from throughout the history of the Church line the walls and floors. Saints and martyrs since the time of the early Church have prayed at this holy sanctuary.

Santa Sabina is a particularly powerful church in which to begin the Lenten season not only because it is the traditional Ash Wednesday church, but because of the treasures that are found there. For example, one of the doors to the entrance has a panel with a carved wooden image that is one of the oldest crucifixion scenes in existence. Also, a small casket underneath the high altar contains the relics of various martyrs, including Santa Sabina herself. The image of Christ crucified and the presence of the martyrs are a fitting reminder that we should offer ourselves completely to God, inviting him into our lives and withholding nothing from him this Lent.

For “New Men” who are experiencing their first Lent in Rome, the Mass at Santa Sabina was a powerful introduction to the richness of the Lenten tradition in Rome. For those of us who have studied in Rome for a few years, Ash Wednesday and the church of Santa Sabina will be forever linked in our memories. After the Mass, we left Santa Sabina with ash on our foreheads, to go out and recommit ourselves to the Lord this Lenten season.

The First Martyrs of Rome and the Cost of Our Faith

Many martyrs suffered death under Emperor Nero. Owing to their executions during the reign of Emperor Nero, they are called the Neronian Martyrs, and they are also termed the Protomartyrs of Rome, being honored by the site in Vatican City called the Piazza of the Protomartyrs. These early Christians were disciples of the Apostles, and they endured hideous tortures and ghastly deaths following the burning of Rome in the infamous fire of 62 AD.Their dignity in suffering, and their fervor to the end, did not provide Nero or the Romans with the public diversion desired. Instead, the faith was firmly planted in the Eternal City. The Blood of Martyrs is the Seed of the Church.

Many people today think little of the faith that has been handed on to them. Only 27% of Catholics even go to Mass. Many too consider any suffering due to the faith intolerable. So, when reminded of basic moral norms against things like fornication, contraception, assisted suicide, or requirements such as weekly Mass attendance, frequent confession, occasional fasting etc, many consider such things too demanding or unreasonable. But all of us should consider how precious is the faith handed on to us. Many died for the faith because they would not compromise with the demands of the world or deny Christ. Many too were imprisoned and suffered loss of jobs and property because they witnessed to Christ. Others were rejected by family and friends. It is remarkable to consider that the martyrs even to this day were willing  to suffer death but many Christians today  are not even willing  to risk some one raising an eyebrow at them or any unpopularity. Pray for the courage of the martyrs! And never forget the cost of the faith handed on to us.

This video depicts the suffering of the First Martyrs of Rome. Careful! It is a graphic video which quite accurately depicts death by lions and the cruel and sadistic glee of the crowds who found it entertaining to see other humans torn apart and eaten. This clip is from the 2002 Movie “Quo Vadis” a Polish Production available at Amazon I added some music over the top that is a dramtic hymn: Once to Every Man and Nation. I listed the Words in the comments section.


Death to Life


 The second thing that struck me about Rome was death. Tombs, funerary monuments, dead bodies (corrupt and incorrupt), instruments of torture, catacombs, etc. I felt such gravity.

As I reflected on this, I realized something that I had known rationally before but perhaps not spiritually, that brutal murders, decaying bones, and marble coffins aren’t an end but a doorway.

A few weeks before my trip, a priest at my parish had reminded us that each time we hear the Mass we recall that we live this life in view of the next:

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil,
and grant us peace in our day.
In your mercy keep us free from sin
and protect us from all anxiety
as we wait in joyful hope
for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

I guess I was experiencing some anxiety about seeing all these physically dead people, but once I realized that they were spiritually alive and well in Heaven, the whole experience took on a new meaning.

It became like making new friends! Like, “Hey St. Catherine of Siena, how’s it going?” Or “Wow St. Monica, is that really you?” It was very moving saying “Thank you, St. Josémaria Escriva” as I was kneeling before his tomb.

My journey from the darkness of death to the hope of eternity with our Savior was yet another spiritual fruit of my trip to Rome. I’m sure other fruits will emerge, but I’m very grateful for the two I’ve written about here!

Update – L’Osservatore Romano and The Notre Dame Speech

Yesterday (see link to May 18 below) I featured excerpts from a Catholic News Service (CNS) article that summarized a rather upbeat review of the President’s speech at Notre Dame by the official paper of the Vatican L’Osservatore Romano. (MY ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE) Today CNS expanded on it’s coverage a bit and also pointed to another article more critcal of the speech, particularly in reference to Embryonic Stem Cell research. Here are a few excerpts from the CNS Article:

A few pages later, L’Osservatore Romano dedicates another, far more critical article of Obama’s stand on embryonic stem cell research, marking a clear departure from the somewhat positive evaluation the newspaper recently made of the President’s first 100 days. The article, titled “Campaign in the US against stem cells,” features the effort launched by the U.S. bishops, especially the web site of the USCCB, to oppose Obama’s new policy regarding the use of embryos for scientific research….[which]….reversed the decision of the Bush administration regarding the ban on (federal funding for) embryonic stem cell research, for the first time taxpayers’ money will be used to kill human beings in embryonic state to obtain stem cells.” In the article, L’Osservatore Romano extensively quotes Cardinal Justin Rigali and Archbishop Charles Chaput, one of the most vocal critics of Obama’s anti-life policies. “The Archbishop of Denver –the Vatican newspaper says- insists that ‘American public life cannot function if we keep our religious beliefs in the closet … the US does not need to be a Christian country, but it cannot survive if it is not open to solidarity and faith.” By expressing strong support to the U.S. bishops and quoting Archbishop Chaput’s recent conference at the Becket Fund dinner, L’Osservatore Romano has put to rest speculation that the Vatican was being “unsupportive” of the American Bishops’ strong criticism to Obama’s anti-life policies.

You can read the full CNS article here: CNS Full Article