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Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo con Padre Augusto Martrullo, CP

Even in Rome, one can fall prey to the common experience of not checking out the treasures in one’s own backyard (or underneath one’s feet, as the case may be). Underneath the Caelian hill, starting under the basilica of John and Paul, are a labyrinth of Roman houses, tunnels and other structures dating back to the first centuries after Christ.

The Lay Centre residents were lead on a tour of the church itself and the Roman houses beneath by Fr. Augusto Martrullo, the Passionist priest who serves as rector of the basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo. We concluded the day with Sunday Eucharist in the chapel of the Passionist founder, St. Paul of the Cross, in honor of the Passionist Saint Gabrielle of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast it was.

The Caelian hill was the site of the Temple of Claudius, which was raided for Nero’s Nymphaeum, which in turn was raided for the Flavian Amphitheater (Coliseum). On the edge of the hill were several houses known as insulae – blocks of apartments for artisans. At some point several of these were combined to create a single large domus – a house for the wealthy. This was thought to have belonged to the brothers John and Paul, who served as officers in the court of Constantine (c.312-337) and who became Christians, converting part of their house to serve as a domus ecclesiae – a house for the Church. During the reign of Julian [the Apostate]  (c.361-363) they were martyred.

Basilica of Sts. Giovanni e Paolo

The original church was built over the house by St. Pammachius, a Byzantine senator. It is a church, Padre Augusto says, whos history is one of constant renovation and reconstruction, having been damaged or destroyed during the sack of Alaric and the Visigoths in 410, an earthquake in 442, and the sacking by the Normans in 1084, among others. The most recent renovation was in the early 18th century when the entire church, which had been for almost 1400 years a great example of paleo-Christian architecture, was baroquified by the cardinal-titular Fabrizio Paolucci.

Clearly considered a tragedy, this baroque “renovation” destroyed some of the ancient frescoes when a contraption was inserted that would raise and lower the monstrance during the new “forty hours devotion” that was becoming popular. It also destroyed the original design of the nave, cutting off light from the 13 high windows and turning the traditional five-aisle basilica into a single nave. It removed the altar from the center of the church (over the tomb of the martyrs) to a position in the west transept.

Later, when Cardinal Spellman became the titular of the basilica after Pius XII was elected pope (thus vacating his previous titular church), he imported 33 chandeliers from the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to decorate the church (or so I was told by one Passionist; another disputes this origin of the chandeliers). Spellman also helped restore the façade of the church to the original Paleo-Christian look. It has remained the titular for the cardinal-archbishops of the “city that never sleeps” ever since, currently held by Cardinal Egan.

The houses underneath the basilica were discovered in 1887 by a Passionist Padre Germano. At the beginning of the 21st century, under Padre Augusto’s watchful eye, they have been restored and a new museum created, which opened in 2002.

The museum now includes displays of first century amphorae as well as 12th century Arabic plates and pottery that had been used to decorate the bell tower added at that time. The rooms are in many cases well preserved, including some third or fourth century frescoes, including one that will be instantly recognizable to almost any student of church liturgy and history, a figure in the Christian orans position in a room full of pagan representations.

Though currently off-limits, one can also see the entrances to various tunnels and other chambers which are thought to have served as training and barracks for gladiators, giving them access to the coliseum from underground.

The basilica does not serve as a parish, but is a popular wedding location. The Eucharist is celebrated on Sundays by one of the Passionists in the chapel of St. Paul of the cross, with music by some of the Passionist students. The piazza in front of the church remains one of the most well-kept examples in the city of medieval Rome, and has been used as a setting for several films and television spots. A small road along the side of the church, under the flying buttresses, is thought to be one of the oldest roads in Rome in continuous use as such. 

Lay Centre residents with Basilica rector Augusto Martrullo, CP


St. André Bessette and company

Saints banners on St. Peter's

Six new saints were declared by Pope Benedict XVI during the weekend of 17 October, but one in particular stands out. Brother Andre Bessetté, CSC has been a familiar name to me since Notre Dame, and his story I had known something about even before then. In fact, throughout my four years of service on the altar at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Litany of Saints always concluded with a robust “Blessed Brother André… Pray for Us!”

Those years of prayer are ‘paid off’ today, in the official recognition of the Congregation of Holy Cross’ first saint – though rumour is the cause of CSC founder, Father Basil Moreau may be ready as early as 2012. Brother Andre is also the first native-born male saint of North America, having been born and raised in Canada.

Notre Dame pilgrims for canonizations

He was a simple porter, a door-keeper, not educated enough for presbyteral ordination, but a man gifted with healing and a particular devotion to St. Joseph in a time when Marian piety defined Catholic spirituality. One man’s simple prayer to see a small shrine to Our Lord’s earthly father near the school where he served lead eventually to the impressive St. Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal, in Montreal, Quebec. The oratory offers a biography of the new saint here.

A delegation of Holy Cross brothers and priests, Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty converged on Rome along with thousands of Canadians and others devoted to Brother André. About two dozen of us participated in a program offered by ND’s Center for Social Concerns. On the eve of the canonization day, these pilgrims filled the church of St. Andrea della Valle to standing-room capacity, about five thousand by estimates I have seen.

One of the Domer alumns from the states was my friend and classmate Julie Fritsch, who i literally picked up from Leonardo DaVinci airport as i dropped off Simone. From pro-life marches in D.C. to canonizations in Rome, it is nice to know you can share the journey with friends over the course of decades!

We got to participate in the vigil at Sant’Andrea della Valle, the canonization mass at St. Peter’s, the premier of Salt and Light’s  documentary of his life, “God’s Doorkeeper”, and a presentation by ND Professor Kathleen Sprows Cummings on the process of canonization.

Julie and I on Ponte Sant'Angelo

Leading up to the weekend, the only names of the soon-to-be saints i knew were Brother André and Australia’s first saint, Sr. Mary MacKillop, founder of an order of women religious and contemporary of St. André.  The program on the morning of the liturgy described the six thus: One priest (Stanisław Kazimierczyk, Polish, 15th cent.), one religious (Br. Andre), and four “virgins”. IN addition to Mary MacKillop, there were two Italian sisters Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano and Spanish nun Candida Maria of Jesus.

Why the four women were not identified as religious, as sisters, or even the three as founders of orders, i do not know. While chaste virginity can be holy (as can chaste marriage or celibacy) it seems to mischaracterize their vocations. After all, none were consecrated virgins, so much as religious and founders. Giulia and Candida were educators and catechists, Camilla was a princess turned nun, an example of the wealthy giving up materialism for service to the poor. Mary has been championed by some as an example for those persecuted by ecclesiastical authority for remaining true to the Gospel rather than “obedience” to abusive leaders.

Four of the six were all born in the 1840’s: André, Mary, Giulia and Candida. The other two were born mid-15th century.

St. Catherine of Siena and Cardinal Cláudio Hummes

Tomb of St. Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast of one of the most popular saints around here, St. Catherine of Siena. Lay woman, Dominican tertiary, ecclesial reformer and gifted with a charism that allowed her to put popes and antipopes in their proper place and get away with it, she serves as the patron saint of the caribinieri, Italy, Europe, and was the first woman named a Doctor of the Church.

Cardinal Hummes presiding at the Solemnity of St. Catherine of Siena

It was only at the end of my class day, just before 6pm, that I was able to run over to the church where she died, and where most of her remains remain, Chiesa Santa Maria Sopra Minerve, near the Pantheon. On her feast day every year they open the small doors under the high altar to allow devotees to access her marble tomb directly. After the liturgy, we were also able to get into the chapel built from the rooms in which St. Catherine lived her last years. (I ran into a couple friends at the church, one of whom, John Paul, took the photos I used for this blog. More can be found at his, Orbis Catholicvs Secvndvs)

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Brazilian Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy presided at a solemn vespers and Eucharist to commemorate the saint, with about forty Dominican friars, an equal number of sisters, and a handful of tertiaries, in attendance. It was an interesting liturgical experience in the fact that we started with the procession, went into the first half of vespers, after the psalms came the Gloria and the penitential rite followed by the rest of the Eucharist, only to return to the vespers canticle and the rest of that liturgy following the final blessing of the mass.

Vimpere (left), Deacons (center)

Cardinal Hummes presents a good example of the way lines are drawn differently in Rome than it often seems in the States, and a reminder not to judge a book by its cover, or too quickly, if at all. Vested in scarlet, lace and a heavily embroidered Baroque “fiddleback” chasuble he was the very image of the popular style of the Tridentine era and the “extraordinary form” movement of today.  Dual deacons with matching Baroque dalmatics and vimpere donned in vimp veils embroidered with the cardinalatial coat of arms reinforced the image of a very Roman prince of the church.

Cardinal Hummes is not his predecessor, however. Ordained a presbyter before the Council, he finished a doctorate in philosophy, in Rome, just as Vatican II was getting interesting. A Franciscan, he continued studies at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey and has been known for his support of social justice, liberation theology, and being open about the theoretical possibility of doing away with mandatory clerical celibacy.

This is not the combination that comes easily to mind for most of my fellow North American Catholics, I think it is safe to say: “traditional” liturgical garb and “progressive” theological/ecclesiological tendencies!

The homily, I am sure, would be interesting… but I have not found a translation yet. In the mean time, blessed feast of Catherine to you!

Il Potere e la Grazia: I Santi Patroni d’Europa

Power and Grace: Patron Saints of Europe

Leonardo's John the Baptist

The Palazzo Venezia has had an art exhibit running this month displaying various art forms depicting various saints of Europe, including on loan from the Louvre Leonardo da Vinci’s John the Baptist. A small group of us from the Lay Centre decided to go on the penultimate night of the exhibit, which was free and open until midnight.

The display was organized into rooms depicting the progression of sainthood around the needs of the times and the kind of saints honored, starting with biblical figures, then martyrs, monastics, confessors, theologian-bishops, founders of orders, the ‘military saints’ (George, Michael, etc), royalty, and those martyred in the struggles of church (grace) and state (power), such as Jean d’Arc or Thomas More.

The art chosen focused on those who were patron saints of the nations of Europe, and from a variety of media: icons, stained glass, sculpture, carving, oil on canvas, illuminated manuscripts, even old black and white films.

Madonna with Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, and Agnes of Montepulciano (Giambattista Tiepolo)

Did you know that Europe, as a continent, has six patron saints? Three male and three female, three from the first millennium and three from the second: Benedict of Norcia, Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica, Birgitta of Sweden, Caterina of Siena, and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein). Each nation then has its own patron saint(s) – some with as many as 10!

Dimitrios and I finished some time before the others, so we had a chance to discuss the exhibit, the nature of Greece’s concerns with the name chosen by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and apophatic gelato – which prompted a debate about the distinction between that and kataphatic gelato, scholastic gelato, and postmodern gelato. Needless to say we took a detour to La Palma when Kassim, Greg and Karina joined us!  

As it turns out, we were not the only ones who waited till the last weekend to go: Pope Sneaks Out of Vatican to Visit Exhibit

St. Thomas Aquinas

Seal of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome

Today is the feast of San Tommaso d’Aquino, patron of my current university,  of academics and theologians everywhere. Unfortunately, as I was trying to beat a cold, I was unable to get to the celebration of our Patronal Feast at the Angelicum this morning, with Archbishop Agustin DiNoia, OP, but a friar friend has put some photos up on the university blog, so check them out!

I have never claimed to be a Thomist per se, for as one of my first university philosophy professors said, “If you are going to be a Thomist, you have to be a damn good one.” I am fascinated by the Angelic Doctor, but I see him as one (important) contributor to the Catholic, Christian theological tradition, rather than devoting all of my studies to him and his works, which is what it would take to be a “damn good” Thomist.

Truth be told, though, even that would not be enough – I am not convinced Thomas would approve of such narrowed focus! He was, after all, the Great Synthesizer, and did not hesitate to use a variety of Christian sources, as well as Jewish, Muslim and pagan ones.

When I was an undergraduate, I had a friend who was studying medieval philosophy, almost exclusively with the late Ralph McInerny – who is a Thomist. He and I would have many long debates some of which revolved around the maxim of the Papal Theologian: “Never mix philosophy and theology, because philosophy always wins!” My friend felt that, as a medieval philosophy with a particular focus, he was therefore an adept theologian. As a theologian with a much broader view of Tradition, I often had to remind him that this was not the case! No matter how profound and how great the tradition, no one theologian encompasses the whole of Catholic theology, much less the attendant pastoral, liturgical, historical and other issues that interact with theology in the lived experience of the Church.

I have always had a great affinity for Thomas, first as a theologian, and in more recent years as a patron for “new” vocations, such as lay ecclesial ministry.

As a theologian and student, his peers dubbed him the “Dumb Ox” – dumb as in mute – to which Albertus Magnus supposedly retorted, “That ‘dumb ox’ will one day fill the world with his bellowing!” Thomas was no quick wit. He would not have made it as official Catholic commentator on Fox News or CNN. He was big, slow to move and slow to speak, and as with any good introvert, would fix you with a stare in response to unexpected questions that probably left less astute contemporaries wondering if he really was all that bright. He is an inspiration to any systemitizing introvert who has been caught in the spotlight by “think out loud” extravert peers!

As a candidate for patron of “new” vocations, consider his story:

According to his father, the Count of Aquino, Thomas was going to be groomed as the Abbot of Montecassino, an old, established, and wealthy Benedictine Abbey not too far from Rome. This was the normal sort of ecclesial vocation of his era – monastic life. It was how you served the church successfully. It was expected. It was “just the way things were done”. You want to serve the church? Fine, join the monastery.

But he would have none of it. At 19 he ran off to join some newfangled wannabes who were kind of like monks, but not really monks – and I doubt the real monastics would have been too happy if you called these mendicant friars “monks”! They had only been around for 40 years. They did not spend their time at the monastery but wandered around the countryside preaching, teaching, and doing God-only-knows what else that was properly the ministry of monks and diocesan clergy.

This was not right!! How dare they? So, his family did the only respectable thing to do – they arranged for him to be rescued from this cult, threw him in a locked room and commenced a serious deprogramming effort.

A year later, he remained committed to his vocation. He was called to serve the church, clearly, just not in the way that his parents and grandparents generations took for granted. It looked a little different. The charism was a little different. New terminology had to be used to explain it. There were bishops who did not support it. People worried about the confusion of identity of traditional monastic life – of monks and nuns – with this itinerant innovation of mendicant life – these friars. Even a few years later, after being ordained in this “new order”, he spent time writing defense of the vocation he was living. Some critics argued that real ministers would be spending their time in prayer and sacramental service, not defending and defining a “new” vocation!

The parallels to the present age, to lay ecclesial ministry and even to the restoration of a real diaconate, are overwhelming! (Though, I admit I am not aware of any pastoral associate being kidnapped by family to consider the diocesan presbyterate or religious life instead.) We are 50 years into the present form of lay ecclesial ministry in the U.S., and it never ceases to amaze me how much suspicion, ignorance, misunderstanding and outright vitriol is out there. I completely understand this minister’s plea, “Don’t dis lay ecclesial ministry!”

St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of “new” vocations, pray for us!

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