You can read about my experience praying for peace in Rome in September and see a sampling of the pictures I took of some of the thirty-six of the city’s 900 churches. Now that I’m home, I’m still praying.
I’m in Rome to pray for peace for six days. My plan was to light a candle for peace in at least 100 of Rome’s 900 churches. However, I’ve ditched that 100-church goal. Most likely it would be impossible to reach, and it would definitely be nonsensical. I’d just be rushing in and out, snapping a picture and adding the church name to my list. I’ve decided not to light a candle, but to pray for peace in some intentional, visual, way. Contributing to peace is my goal.
Yesterday morning I went to three churches, raising the count to ten. Sant’ Agnese fuori le Mura and Santa Costanza are in the same complex outside the walls. Outside the walls because Sant’ Agnese has as a catacomb, where early Christians were buried. Rome had a policy that no one could be buried inside the city. Then to gaze at Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa in Santa Maria della Vittoria. I’m glad I had my bus pass. In the afternoon I found myself praying for me in seven more churches. As of last night the count is up to twenty.
My intention to pray for peace in churches has me aware of all the people I pass along the streets. The sheer numbers, the multiple skin colors, body sizes, ages, languages. I am not other; I am one of them. Our uniqueness makes us one.
And then there are the obviously loving people, most likely parents, who accompany their children with special needs. At the altar at the Church of San Giovanni in Laterano a mom was supporting her adult son who was draped on her. As he drooled, she wiped his mouth. Then they walked on, arm in arm.
As I sit in this little park in the early morning it comes over me that regardless of what praying for peace means to each of us, when we think peace we become aware of the equanimity between all people. In wanting peace for myself, I have to want it for everyone.
A beautiful day yesterday for the half-marathon run throughout Rome. So many runners, so many groups, running for autism and cancer, supporting causes and individuals. I am called to the Christian story, but clearly the Christ was in every person I passed, in every runner and spectator, in every person selling bottles of water. God shows no partiality.
Rome is a city of many churches, most built in the 16th century as Rome responded to the Protestant Reformation. Baroque, baroque, baroque. Here are some I passed on my walk around the city. Sorry I can't give you the names.
Here is a link to my cottage by the sea blog where you can take a tour of the Vatican Museum with me.
On this prayer diary blog I offer some of the prayerful painting I saw. Yes, my favorite topic, the Annunciation and a few others.
My pilgrimage to Italy starts April 4th. I’ll spend four nights in Rome, three in Assisi, one in Cortona and six in Florence. Unlike my usual two week stay in an apartment in Florence, I’ll be staying in monasteries-turned-guesthouses run by nuns. The bedrooms are simple, but thankfully ensuite. The public rooms are quiet, but thankfully without TV. Thankfully, the nuns are servants of Christ.
I’ll still be writing and walking around with God, but this trip feels different. What can I anticipate? What can I plan so I don’t treat these convents as just an inexpensive place to stay?
Let me start with a theological question. What does God want me to hear on this pilgrimage and what might I do to listen? Asking what God wants me to hear is a big shift for me. I’d rather set the agenda and tell God the kinds of things I want God to tell me. To listen I need to be silent; to be silent I need to quiet my mind.
Of course the practical response never changes: pray and walk, pray and sit, pray and meditate, pray and gaze, pray and be in the moment. Nothing new here, just a reminder to practice, practice, practice listening to God no matter where I am.
How very grateful I am to be going on a pilgrimage in these places, at this time in my life. How very grateful for help with arrangements through www.monasterystays.
I’m on the train from Rome to Florence thinking about all the gratitudes I feel, and renewing my commitment to start they day expressing them and to continue to do so throughout the day. A good model is St. Paul, who began and ended his letters giving thanks. It’s a good habit, and habits come with practice. Another model comes from a friend of mine who, in emailing about some challenging changes in her life, started by expressing gratitude by naming specific things her friends had done for her.
Today I am thankful for a safe flight and early arrival in Rome: that my hotel room was ready; that I enjoyed taking the bus to Castel Sant’Angelo and the Pantheon: that I have the stamina to walk and a good digestive system to enjoy tagliatelle with shrimp and zucchini: that things work out well in my life so I can take these solitary trips. Hmm, those graitudes are all about me.
I desire to expand these beyond myself and into the wider world. As a start, I’m grateful that the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome has declared itself to be a sanctuary for refugees. Awareness comes with prayer.
My last morning in Italy. What better place to visit than the Church of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls, and the adjoining Mausoleum for Costanza, daughter of Constantine I. Because this church was outside the Roman walls, Roman law allowed Christians to bury their dead in catacombs. The church displays Christian artifacts from the earliest times (second century) to the present. What a prayerful place, both at the grotto in the garden as well as inside the church.
The Mausoleum for Constanza was build in the fourth century. On a previous visit I was the only one walking around and around. Today students were sketching. Different forms of prayer.
St. Agnes Outside the Walls
Mausoleum for Costanza
For grace received.
I want to share the slide show of Sant’Agnese and Santa Costanza that I put together, but alas I can’t seem publish it on this blog or even send it via email. Maybe it will happened one of these days when I figure it all out. Meanwhile, I’m including some pictures of the little altar of gratitude that is in the garden entrance to Sant’Agnese. As I sat there for a good hour several people came and said a prayer to Mary.
I remember stilling on that very same bench on another visit, but this time I was touched with memories of my mom’s last words, “Very grateful,” and overwhelmed by how present she still is through that those two simple words. My mom knew that gratitude was the way to peace, the way to God’s kingdom now and in the life to come.
She started her day with prayer and Bible reading, and thus was well versed in all the gratitude expressed in the Psalms. She read and reread Paul’s letters, which start with gratitude and thanksgiving. She embraced Jesus’ message in the Gospels through that same lens. Often, especially as she got older, she would give me specific examples of the gratitude she was feeling in her life.
Mom is still teaching me that fundamental Christian message. Here, at this prayerful sanctuary, away from the center of Rome, her message was palpable.
In Sant'Agnese fuori le mura
These are the four candles I lit for the friends who had requested a prayer.
Morning view from my apartment.
The sun is shining again. I’m off to visit two of my favorite churches in Rome, Santa Costanza and Sant’Agnese fuori le Mura. Santa Costanza is a church in the Round, just through the garden and up the hill from Sant’Angnese, which contains some catacombs.
This morning I received emails from two friends asking for prayers for difficult times they are experiencing. So off I go to light candles for them in these early Christian churches.
The Italian way is to stop by a bar and order a cafe or cappucchino on the way to wherever you’re going, so that’s what I’ve been doing. This gets me out up and out early. This morning I returned to S. Maria in Aracoeli (St. Mary of the Altar in the Sky), climbing the 124 marble steps and entering by 8. No one was in this magnificent church, and let me tell you how awesome that was. Just me, the angels and God—that kind of feeling. I love this baroque looking church, which dates back to the 6th century, although you’d never know it by looking. In spite of all the décor, and my, there is plenty of it, I wasn’t distracted. Maybe it’s the time of day, my best prayer time.
My www.acottagebythesea.net blog has a slide show of the rest of my morning at the Roman Forum and on the Palatine Hill.