“A Most Fitting End” | Postcards from Rome 2019

July 5, 2019

Reflection on Week 6 (June 24-30):

“So your strength is failing you?…” St. Josemaria Escriva asks. His response: “Why don’t you tell your mother about it.” St. Josemaria continues, “She is listening to you; she sees you in danger, perhaps, and she—your holy mother Mary—offers you, along with the grace of her Son, the refuge of her arms, the tenderness of her embrace …and you will find yourself with added strength for the new battle.”

It is so important for priests and those preparing for the priesthood to seek the support and aid of the Blessed Virgin Mother, the one who raised and remained always close to our High Priest, Jesus. Thus, it was only fitting that we finished our Rome Experience pilgrimage with a special journey to some of Spain’s most prominent Marian sites.

We departed Rome—for the final time—arrived in Barcelona and immediately began by bus to Montserrat where is kept the Virgin of Montserrat, a 12th century statue of our Lady with the Child Jesus on her lap. As one of the priests in our group explained, the mountain of Montserrat was once the site of a pre-Christian pagan temple. It is now the site of a Benedictine monastery which houses the statue of our Lady and Jesus.

Many people visit Montserrat. Some come to venerate our Lady, others appear to come for the nice views from the mountain side. In this way, Montserrat is very much like St. Peter’s Square, the Major Basilica’s, and the Church’s of Rome: they attract both devout Catholics, non-Catholics, and non-religious. In one way, it can be challenging to keep a spirit of prayer and reflection in these holy sites when there is often much commotion and many people who seem mostly concerned with taking photos and selfies. At the same time, one is reminded of the fact that the Church’s beauty cannot be ignored by the world. Jesus—through the dignity and beauty of the Church—draws all people to Himself. We are not called to run from the world. We are called to be a sign of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty to the world, that the world might find salvation in Jesus. I found within myself, at these many holy sites, the call to enter deeper into relationship with our Lord and our Lady, and to, at the same time, ask our Lord for the courage to share Him and His Church with the people of the world who I may encounter in my life.

After Montserrat, we spent a day at Torreciudad, a shrine established by Josemaria Escriva and which is dedicated to our Lady. I found Torreciudad, along with the rest of the countryside of Spain, to contain some of the most beautiful views and landscapes on the entire Rome Experience trip.

From Torreciudad we traveled to Barbastro, the site where, during the Spanish civil war in the 1930’s, 51 men of the religious community the Claretian’s—the majority of whom were seminarians and the rest priests—were martyred. As seminarians ourselves, this was a special opportunity and place of encouragement for our group.

Finally, after Barbastro, we traveled to our final destination: Zaragoza, Spain. It is in Zaragoza where our Lady, in the year 40 AD, while she was still alive, appeared to the Apostle James to encourage him in his missionary efforts. Our group was able to visit and pray at this the site of the first Marian apparition, which was approved by the Church in 1723.

This was a most fitting end to our Rome Experience journey; for we, like St. James, are called to be witnesses for the Lord and, as St. Josemaria points out, when our strength is failing we can turn to our Mother Mary for her aid and encouragement. My hope for myself and for my brother seminarians who embarked on this Rome Experience pilgrimage is that with the companionship of Mary, Saint’s Peter, Paul, Josemaria, and all the Saint’s we’ve encountered and prayed with along the way, we will return home with a deeper relationship with Christ, with a greater sense of the family of Saints that surround us, and that we might venture out with courage into the great mission and adventures that lie ahead.

Thank you for your prayers and I hope you too have been encouraged for the mission and adventures that our Lord has prepared for you!

Jeff Stephens
The Rome Experience Class of 2019
Archdiocese of Cincinnati
The Athenaeum of Ohio