On setting off for Rome I was sure in my mind that I was going to have a nice relaxing time, time to think about where I was in my pursuit in having God in my life and assured that I would find an understanding to some of the mysteries that he has set before us. Therefore confident in my own stupidity I set off on this journey of discovery
In my own mind I have a fair knowledge of what faith and Christianity is all about. After all I am a faithful member of the Church of England, I attend church twice a week on average, I regularly pay my tithes — and to ensure that it is up to date I have arranged a bankers order ensuring that it is paid ever month.
That was my mistake, for on the very first day I was humbled and brought face to face with reality. This became clear on entering our first Church at San Paolo, the overwhelming feeling of the presence of two of the great giants of Christianity Peter and Paul was unmistakeable.
As the reality of the lives of these two men unfold in front of me I could not help but wonder about the strength of their faith and asked Fr Brownsell the question "Paul was awesome and solid in his faith, yet he stood next to the rock Peter and accepted him without question" even as Fr Brownsell was answering the words were placed in my mind and my heart" He has come to serve and not to be served". Those words were the beginning of bring me down to earth.
My second encounter with the mysteries was at the Catacombs or to be more precise inside the Catacombs. As we surveyed the narrow tunnels of the catacombs and its history unfolded before us it became quite clear the depth of unstoppable living faith that these early Christians had and once again the overwhelming feeling of the presence of Peter and Paul was unmistakeable. I mention to Fr B that I felt very humbled, what I did not mention was the realisation of just how humble I felt (how could I explain my naivety).
As I said earlier I have a fair knowledge of what faith and Christianity is all about and regularly pays my tithes. What arrogance, what conceit; when these early Christian paid their tithes with their very lives (what planet am I on to even try to compare). And the first day had not yet come to an end.
The second day started with a service of beatification - the creation of new saints followed by a blessing from the Pope. Needless to say this was another moving occasion, followed by more breath taking revelation of early Christian life.
Day three we had a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, I was in my element — such talent, such beauty, such faith; makes me proud to be a Christian.
The fourth day like the first hit me with an awesome revelation of truth; nothing — and I mean nothing could have prepared me for our first visit. It was to a church; but a church with a beautiful relic. To be privilege to kneel at the foot of the original cross with tears in my eyes as those around me spontaneously song 'When I surveyed the wondrous cross...' will be a moment that I will treasure forever.
There were other wonderful and moving moments on the pilgrimage but those stories are for another time. I will leave you with two earth shattering moments that underpinned the Christian faith. On our last night, we went to dinner at a very beautiful restaurant run by the Carmelite nuns; the building was once a papal palace. If I was not present I would find it difficult to believe. First the Carmelite nuns are dressed in national costumes. As everyone was enjoying the meal and drinking their wine, some were enjoying there deserts. There is a pause and prayers are said followed by the signing of Ave Maria — everyone in the restaurant participated as if it was the norm. Could you imagine that happening here? I think not — but wouldn't it be lovely.
The other moment was when we visited what is believed to be the first Christian churches - where Christian openly celebrated their faith without fear of been persecuted. It was around 8 pm, as we looked around the church it slowly began to fill up with worshippers until there was standing room only; at 8:20 pm evening song started — this was a weekday. If only we could have this at All Saints.
I would truly recommend the trip to everyone and would urge you to go on the next pilgrimage and the added bonus is that we were able to follow the MASS even THOU it was said in Latin — it was as if we were home here at All Saints, Notting Hill.
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