Before coming to Italy, I had never met a Passionist and really did not know much about the order. I think the only one I had even heard of was New Testament scholar Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
In the nearly 300 year history of the order, however, they have clearly made an impact on Italy and other parts of the world. The monastery where the Lay Centre finds its home is certainly one of the largest in Rome. And one of the Passionist saints, the young St. Gabriele of Our Lady of Sorrows, is one of the most popular in Italy. It was to the shrine and pilgrimage center of St. Gabriele that the students of Rome were invited on Saturday.
This is the seventh annual pilgrimage of the students of Rome at the beginning of the academic year, and the first to go to the Santuario San Gabriele at Isola del Gran Sasso d’Italia, in the Abruzzo region – about two hours bus ride from Rome, and not far from L’Acquila, epicenter of the 5.8 tremor in April.
Of the 308 deaths in the earthquake, 50 were university students, who were remembered at the liturgy and throughout the day at the retreat.
This serious note was mixed with the World Youth Day style music and liturgy that seemed to mark the tradition for the weekend – it reminded me, in fact, of our Archdiocesan Youth Convention for high school students, which was celebrated the same weekend in Seattle. Except that there were a couple hundred priests (mostly graduate students) – so many, in fact, that the communion procession for the presbyterate took longer than for the rest of the assembly, which I do not think I have seen any other time.