On our last day in Rome, our group of 25 young adults were reminded of the journey Christians have taken through history, dating back to the day Jesus died on the Cross.
With Liz Lev, we toured the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the first legal Christian church built in Rome. After Constantine legalized Christianity in the 4th century, he permitted the building of the Basilica of St. John Lateran within the city walls. For the first thousand years of the legalized Christian Church, the Basilica of St. John Lateran was where the pope lived, worshiped and conducted papal business. It still remains the seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope, to this day.
St. John Lateran has a wonderful history of faith and endurance. Unlike the pagan temples that were made to be beautiful on the outside, this cathedral of Rome was built to be humble on the outside, but radiant on the inside to reflect Christ. People were not welcome in the interior of the temple, but the basilica’s interior was meant for the people to come inside, to receive the Lord, in this innovative Christian worship space.
Since its origin, the basilica has been damaged and rebuilt multiple times. It has been revived from three fires, two earthquakes and four ransacks. Each time it was damaged, the faithful stepped forward to restore the church to its original glory, while incorporating the flavor and style trends of the time. As a result, the basilica is filled with clashing designs, artwork that seems out of place and a nave that is far simpler than the grandeur of the apse where the papal chair sits.
The history of St. John Lateran has not been ideal or perfect in any way. But, Lev stated, neither are our own journeys. As the statue of St. Thomas the Apostle points down the aisle of St. John Lateran toward the main altar, we are reminded in a powerful way that Christ is at the center of our lives, the center of our Church, and that he is the redeemer of our world. He sustains us and through grace, sanctifies the messiness of our lives and our Church.
Next, we visited Santa Croce in Gerusalemme to venerate the relics of the Crucifixion. These relics are a tangible reminder of Jesus’ life and the gruesome death he endured for our salvation. We ended our journey through history by praying on the Holy Stairs as we ascended on our knees, reflecting on the Passion of Christ.
What a moving experience we had, entering into the earliest days of the Church’s brick and mortar history in Rome and ending on our knees where Jesus was persecuted in his final hours. We were able to see the important but messy journey that Christians have taken over the last 2000 years.
To culminate our trip, we had a wonderful dinner with the bishops, priests, and seminarians from our region. We reflected on the unique experience and connections this pilgrimage has provided us. The bishops encouraged us in our evangelization efforts and pushed us to think deeply about how we can be instruments of Christ in our communities. We are the future of the Church, and it is our job to continue the work of the early Christians by praying and proclaiming Christ’s word to the world.
Maggee Becker and Kelsey (Becker) Weinandt.
St. Wenceslaus in New Prague
(Editor’s note: Maggee and Kelsey are among young adults who blogged their experiences for The Catholic Spirit while in Rome. Find additional posts and stories in our Ad Limina Blog special section.)