Last week 32 pilgrims travelled to Rome and the experience was a wonderful one, at least from my perspective. Fast paced, and therefore tiring at times, but crammed with happy memories. The only down side being public transport- which failed us at every opportunity! Over the next two days I will retrace our journey and share the experiences. With thanks to Liz Blande for the better photographs which I have ripped from her Facebook account this morning!
We set off in the early hours of Monday morning arriving in good time to catch our flight…only to discover a two hour delay due to staffing problems. This delay would have a knock on effect as we had been scheduled to arrive in time for lunch before visiting St. John Lateran and Santa Maria Maggiore. Instead we had a very late lunch at an excellent little restaurant in Trastavere, where our hotel was located, and decided to omit the visit to St. John Lateran. Fortunately the late lunch was excellent!
After lunch we had to fly up the hill to Santa Maria Maggiore for Mass at 4pm. Father Nicholas set a bruising pace- you can take the man out of the military and all that- and we all just made it! But what a walk it was. We went over the top of the forum and viewed the statue of Romulus and Remus, we glimpsed the Colosseum and then hiked up the hill to the great Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows.
There in the sacristy, to our absolute delight, was Father Joseph Aduse; long time friend of our parish in Pembury due to our link with Ghana. He has recently moved to Rome to establish a chaplaincy for Ghanaians and took a few days leave to be a full part of our pilgrimage. And so three priests concelebrated our first Mass in the chapel of the Crucifixion according to Divine Worship- the Ordinariate rite. The rite we would exclusively use over the following week.
After Mass we sauntered home at a more leisurely pace. Some pilgrims diverting for instant refreshment and others returning to Trastavere to offer Evensong first. A nice Italian lady paused to take a photograph with my telephone of those leading the charge back to the hotel. She took at least 20 for some reason and none were terribly good!!
Morning prayer in the chapel was uplifting. An excellent acoustic supporting our impressive singing. We were joined by pilgrims from America and Ireland who were also resident in the hotel. Our morning and evening prayer were taken from the Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham and it was very fitting that we had a run of English saints, like St. Wilfrid, who had lived their lives in fierce fidelity to Rome. We then walked over the bridge to San Giorgio in Velabro for what would prove a truly mystical and uplifting experience.
San Giorgio in Velabro was the Titular Church of Blessed John Henry Newman. So offering Mass according to Divine Worship in this place (was it a first?) was always going to be very special. In the event it was not only a blessed experience but one charged with a sense of mystery and awe. Indeed I had a very powerful sense whilst celebrating at the altar that Newman was standing at my shoulder. This left me with a real sense of the Holy Spirit confirming the Ordinariate vision and it transpired, when speaking after Mass, that many of our pilgrims had shared a sense that something special was occurring. The Mass had reduced many to tears and people were absolutely buzzing about the experience for days afterwards. Praise God!
Understand that I am not the sentimental sort who is prone to experiential mysticism. Indeed charismatic claims tend to leave me cold. But there have been a handful of moments in my ministry where the veil between heaven and earth have become very thin indeed and the presence of God has been unmistakable. First when I felt called to the priesthood. Once on entering each church I have ever ministered in, especially strong at St. Anselm’s. And also here. It was an experience that has galvanised my resolve to do more for the Ordinariate. God needs us to build of that I am certain. And despite the many obstacles we will prevail.
After lunch we caught a coach to the Via Appia and visited the catacombs. The tour was very moving and our young female guide was very skilled at emphasising the Christian dimension. The weather wasn’t wonderful as we ascended so we adjourned to a small cafe on the main road for coffee and cake. Then it was a short walk to the wonderful tiny church of Domino Quo Vadis where we offered Evensong; reflecting on Peter’s courageous decision to return to Rome and die for the faith he professed. What are we willing to sacrifice for Christ? What are we running away from that needs restoring in Christ?
The more hardy pilgrims then walked back to the hotel with Father Nicholas, discovering in the process that his claimed distances were somewhat short of the truth! But it was a very worthwhile trek which took in some fabulous sites. Meanwhile I escorted the tired and lame on the coach and we waited in the nearest bar for them to return. Then it was time for people to travel to supper again. As you can see Hayley rather enjoyed the Aperol Spritzers. Don’t worry we stacked ours in front of her to incriminate- she did only drink one…at a time!
To be continued….