Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Left My (old) Heart In Rome! (Part 2)

Mother Church
Basilica of St. John Lateran
Part 2: Walking in the footsteps of the Saints...This was the highlight of the pilgrimage for me. 
I'm sorry to digress for a moment but I'd like to preface this post by mentioning how much I was eagerly anticipating this part of the journey with the saints.  Since my reversion to the Catholic Church about 12 years ago, I have been obsessed with  immersed in reading the lives of the saints.  Their stories, especially the early Christians, really spoke to me loud and clear at a critical time in my life.  Not only were they real and imperfect people like you and me, they also endured suffering and trials, just like we do.  Yet they emerged triumphant, stronger than before, due to their Christian faith. 
I needed someone, a "real person" to relate to after witnessing my precious husband Chris' tragic murder.  I would continually ask myself..."Who in the world lives through these kinds of nightmares and actually survives?"  I really didn't think I would make it without Chris, single parenting, etc.  Not to mention that as I began to "survive," I had a close brush with cancer...On the heels of my remarriage, I was told I may never have any more children.  Just as I thought I could feel joy again, it slowly started being zapped out of me as I went on to endure a horrific child birth and miscarriage in those first years.  I'm not sure what was worse, the physical pain or the emotional pain. "What else, Lord?", I would cry.
Slowly, I discovered the answer as I read the lives of the saints...God's goodness and glory always prevailed with trust in Him.  When reading about their trials and tribulations, my troubles suddenly seemed pale in comparison. These early Christians gave me hope and strength...They were beacons of light pointing me to the Lord of love who I was convinced had abandoned me.  Their stories inspired me and strengthened me to survive, leading me to know the true Cross and the Savior who died there so I may live.  Through the suffering of the saints, united with my own suffering, came a tremendous opportunity to know the risen Lord.  The gift was LOVE, true love, that is only possible through His embrace and my surrender. By the end of this post, you will see why I couldn't keep this to myself!
So there you have it...The story behind my love affair for the liturgical calendar and the saint's feast days that I celebrate with my family and share here on this blog.  I will forever be indebted to the men and women who are the heroes of our church, modeling courage as we carry our crosses in this world to glorify God and lead us to heavenly triumph. 
+Mother Ship+
Much to my surprise, here is where I begin to leave my (old) heart behind...Right smack on the floor of a church that jump-starts a new heart beat within me.  Rolling along, we had no clue what an impact this, among many, of our stops would stir up. For me the journey begins with this Basilica...St. John Lateran. It's rather indiscreet from the outside.  Yes, it is very large in size but not much jumps out at you until you hear the history...WOW, then she leaps tall mountains!
This is Mother Church...It's the Mother Ship of all Christian churches since it was the first Christian church ever built in the world!  Up until this point, Christians met secretly underground (often in homes) to celebrate the Mass and other Sacraments.
 Kim and I...Pilgrim sisters and roomies... with Mother Church:)
Did I mention what a blessing it was to travel with a dear friend?
Our husbands are both firefighters and we have shared so much in our dozen years (or so) of friendship!
This first St. John Lateran church was built on this same site by Emperor Constantine in the 300's, mostly ending the Christian persecution of the time. Though it was rebuilt a few times, much of it has been preserved within the confines of the current baroque style that was restored in the 1700's. 
These 2 amazing theologian/historians were our guides...My brain was joyfully aching from the beautiful knowledge shared!
The Basilica of John Lateran is named after both St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist.  St. John the Baptist was included in the name because the original Christian Baptistry is attached to the Basilica, the baptismal home of many early Christians!  (The Lateran name comes from the Lateran family who were the original Roman donors of the property). 
The most amazing thing about the Baptistry building is that ALL people were baptized there in the same font...slaves, free, rich, and poor, under one Body of Christ.  It's the same today as yesterday...Love it!

In summary, this church marks the beginning of the practice of Christianity in public, inside the walls of Rome...Hence the title "Mother Church!" Isn't that awesome?
St. John Lateran was also the Papal church in the early years.  Not until later did the Pope move to St. Peter's.  To this day, John Lateran is still the Cathedral of Rome and diocesan headquarters.  It's the only church that holds it's own feast day in honor of it's dedication on November 9th.
  St. John Lateran is amazingly beautiful on the inside too, of course!  A few of us pilgrims (Katie, Jean, Kim and Tiffany) celebrated Mass here the first Sunday in Rome:)  What a blessing!  I remembered your prayers here at Mother Church;-)
The large size, we learned, was to hold large amounts of people...There were no seats in the early days!  Makes sense:) 
It is said that the heads of St. Peter and St. Paul are held in the large reliquary behind us.  There is also a piece of the Last Supper table on one of the side walls.
 It's hard to pick a favorite church but this one is tops on my list with soooo much meaning!
Saint Agnes
Here we were on the feast day of this beautiful saint who gave her life rather than denounce her faith during Diocletian persecution of Christians...At AGE 12!~
Her name, Agnes, means 'lamb' in Latin and also denotes 'the pure one' in Greek.
The St. Agnes' blessing of the lambs takes place on her feast day in the church that holds her bodily remains. We were beyond excited to be HERE for this amazing 500 year-old tradition:)
 These cute little lambs are blessed and further cared for by an order of nuns. (Sisters of St. Cecilia in Trastevere) Their wool is later used to weave the palliums worn by the newly appointed archbishops! There was an article written about it this year by Catholic News Agency...We were there!
Just love this photo I captured of Kim and the 2 precious lambs :)          

These young women carry the lambs to honor St. Agnes.  They wear white to represent the young purity of St. Agnes, along with red sashes marking the blood of her martyrdom. 
 St. Agnes Outside the Wall is a minor Basilica...The altar sits over the catacombs and the remains of St. Agnes.  The mosaic apse above the altar is an original beauty! It was packed but I happily and thankfully sat on the floor:)
We weren't 100% sure but it was speculated that these were the order of nuns, from St. Cecelia's, who care for the lambs:) 
 After Mass, we paid a visit downstairs to the tomb of St. Agnes.  No words can describe the impact of this visit after such an incredible celebration of her sacrificial life.
"Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve." ~St. Agnes 
Here I laid your prayer requests and prayed for the intercession of St. Agnes on your behalf...Again, such an honor to be entrusted with your desires of the heart.  
St. Sebastian
 A visit to the Catacombs outside the walls of Rome was another soul-stirring experience.  The early Christians referred to this particular burial place as the catacombs because the word meant "near the cave". This was the key word to describe the location where they placed the bodies of St. Peter and St. Paul after their executions..."near the cave."  The cave was an ancient pagan burial place that was used as a landmark to lead Christians to their beloved leaders to venerate and pray.
 *St. Peter and St. Paul's remains were later moved to their own Basilicas for protection, under the rule of Emporer Constantine.
  This building is now the Basilica of St. Sebastian...
 No photos were allowed down in the catacombs but you can imagine the impact of walking in the footsteps of the ancients here...Many Christian martyrs were originally buried here and we were actually able to view the stone walls where both St. Peter and St. Paul's names had been etched in Greek. Hallowed ground, to say the least! 
St. Sebastian's Basilica was erected on top of the Catacombs to honor his valiant efforts.  An elite Roman soldier, under the ruthless Emporer Diocletian, Sebastian  was also a secret Christian.  You can imagine that this didn't go over so well once the Emporer found out!
 Sebastian courageously helped many Christians as they faced their innocent and sacrificial deaths.
 Here over the altar, he is depicted in Diocletian's first attempt to kill him...Death by arrows.  Miraculously, he lived through that and eventually was beaten to death after he tried to convince Diocletian to stop the senseless killing.
 St. Sebastian's relics and remains are held here for veneration and prayer...Another awesome place to bring my pilgrimage prayer intentions:)  He is the patron saint of soldiers and athletes...My sons have long admired this Catholic super hero!
 We didn't visit on St. Sebastian's feast day but the neat thing is that we were actually traveling to Rome on his feast day, just a few days earlier. 
The emotions continued to run high in contemplation of the magnitude of sacrifice that went on in the shadows of our footsteps.  I found it difficult to escape the haunting question...Would I, Could I, do the same?
St. Peter
 The journey continued and the magnitude of grace errupted...My cup overflowed here in this place...Home of the tomb of St. Peter himself. The word Scavi means escavation and here is where the bones of St. Peter were excavated fairly recently to prove that he was actually there.  Several layers below the earth lies an ancient city of the dead that will knock your socks off!  Still in tact after thousands of years, all signs pointed to the treasure that they knew was there...The first leader, the first Pope, the keeper of the keys, St. Peter, himself.
I wept at the tomb...How could I not?
No photos were allowed but a door from the ancient burial place leads down into the Vatican crypt where our tour ended.  Here lies the tombs of many Popes and side chapels dedicated to the saints and martyrs.  Remember, this is all under the grounds of St. Peter's Basilica.  (St. Peter's tomb lies directly below the main altar in the Basilica). 
 This is what the hallways look like that hold the side chapels.
 We were able to come back another morning to celebrate a private Mass in one of the side chapels.  We arrived that particular day to witness the peace and quiet of a new day dawning on St. Peter's square...
 It was one of the most spectacular sites to be seen.  We nearly had the place to ourselves...The lights just glowed with magnificence.
 Only our group stood before the Vatican Creche, only to look over our shoulders at the most Divine sunrise...Simply glorious!
+I think this is one of my favorite photos from the trip+
 Once inside St. Peter's Basilica, only a handful of people silently moved about.  This huge 6 acre place-of-grandeur was quiet as a church mouse!
 I was most surprised that the size of Michelangelo's Pieta looked small compared to the surroundings of the basilica...Still breathtaking in its beauty of course!
Lo and behold, the tomb of (Blessed) Pope John Paul II lay before our eyes...There it was, no crowds flocking, pews nearly vacant, beckoning our knees to land.
The amount of breathtaking experiences had just about done me in by now!  My prayers here were flooded with thanksgiving...And pilgrimage prayer intentions too:)
 Here the beloved JPII awaits canonization this coming April on Divine Mercy Sunday. What a blessing to be here in the calm before the storm of people arrive!
This statue of St. Peter is one one of the original ancients and it has been touched for over 1000 years...Poor guy, his foot is definitely a little worn down after all that!
 As we moved downstairs to the crypt once again, the halls echoed with prayers being chanted in song...The melodious beauty captured my spirit and for a few enchanting moments, I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
What a blessing we had in Father Sal and Deacon Tom.  Their spiritual leadership was a gift that kept on giving the entire 2 weeks!
As I wrap up Part 2 of the journey, I am reflecting on one of my favorite homilies from Fr. Sal.  He talked about all of the beautiful outward signs of our faith that had inspired us all on the pilgrimage, up to this point.
Even more so for the early Christians, not having books to read and poor communication, visual/outward signs of our faith pointed the way for them.  Churches and relics called them together and unified them under one body of Christ.

  Fr. Sal reminded us that while we appreciate the outward signs of our faith on this journey that unite us to our past, present, and future, it is important to remember that they should always lead us back to Christ and our personal relationship with Him.  The relics and remnants of the saints are certainly not idols to worship but signs that direct us back to God.

This really became my ultimate prayer for the pilgrimage...To return home strengthened by all of the outward signs of our faith in order to be a better follower of Christ.  In turn, we can become a beacon of light for others...Pointing the way by who we are.

Ultimately this is the call for all Christians, not just those who go on pilgrimage.  Each one of us should be inspired to live our lives as outwards signs of love, remembering that Christ did not come for a few but He came for us all.  Hence the sharing of this journey.  It's not just mine to keep for myself...We travel together through the greatest love story of all time!
 Thank you, Lord, for giving us such firm roots to keep us sturdy and firmly planted.  Many years of weathering the storm of humanity has kept the foundation of our church strong.  Help us to continue to blossom, year after year, bearing the fruits of your labor. Amen
Part 3  and Part 4 coming soon are complete!
{They include another encounter with Pope Francis and our day trip to Assisi:}


  1. Oh my gosh! This is just mind boggling; so hard to wrap my brain around all the beauty and history you saw. Talk about an overload of the senses I'm sure! Thank you again, for bringing all of our prayers with you and for sharing your magnificent experience with us!

    1. You nailed it, Patty... It was absolutely mind boggling! So many of my journal entries said "no words can describe..." There are hardly words to express one, deep, and profound experience after another. I don't feel like I can do it justice but I'm trying my best to share it anyway. Rome is just way too amazing to keep to myself!

  2. Absolutely amazing, Tiffany!
    I cannot even put into words the joy and awe that reading your heartfelt words and seeing all of the spectacular photos brings me! I am so sorry to hear of your brush with cancer. I was not aware. I can see why living the liturgical year is so important to you and that is how I found you too, three years ago this Lent to be exact :-) I agree with you wholeheartedly about reading the lives of the saints. and how .God's goodness and glory always prevailed with trust in Him. I love and am fascinated about the lives of the saints and I am trying to make sure my boys grow up with a better understanding than I did of them. Keep those wonderful posts coming sweet friend. I owe you an email too!

    1. Thank you for sharing my amazement, Ann-Marie...It really WAS! Thank you so, so, much for your sweet encouragement. Thank you for the blessing of your friendship these past 3 years!

  3. Oh Tiffany, I'm speechless! I LOVE the saints, as well, and I can't imagine all that your , mind, soul, body was feeling being THERE with them with so much beauty, history and peace. And to be so close to Pope JPII tomb with NO crowd! Oh my! I am pinning all your Rome posts onto my Faith board and will be sharing these with my children and husband! Thank you for sharing your trip! I love being able to "travel" with you without leaving my home! (Although I'd much rather leave my home and experience all that you did first hand! :) ) Now onto Part 3...I can hardly wait to read more breathtaking experiences! :)


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