Bible of the Poor | Postcards from Rome 2021

June 14, 2021
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Bracciano to Rome

Highlights from Week 3 (June 7-13):

1. Mass in the crypt at St. Peters Basilica right in front of St. Peter’s tomb and relics
2. Touring St. Peter’s Basilica including the Scavi Tour and going up to Cupola
3. Sister Emanuela’s church tours
4. Praying with the relics of Calvary at Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
5. Free weekend in Nettuno

While we were all very excited to be heading to Rome, it was a sad day to be leaving the Dominican Sisters and their house in Bracciano. For many, the time spent in the peaceful countryside overlooking Lake Bracciano, and listening to Fr. Eric Nielsen and Fr. Jacques Philippe, will be a favorite memory of the Rome Experience. After the slow, peaceful atmosphere of Bracciano, our first week in Rome was packed full of classes and tours. Yet, it was a blessing to finally spend time in St. Peter’s Basilica, the heart of Christendom and seat of St. Peter’s successor. The Church is overwhelming in its size and beauty and inspires the heart and mind to heavenly contemplation. It was a great blessing to go on the Scavi tour beneath the church to see and experience the two-thousand-year history of Christians venerating the bones of St. Peter. To top it off, we had morning Mass in a chapel only forty feet from the tomb and relics of St. Peter. It was moving to contemplate our Lord in the Eucharist at the altar right in front of the remains of the man who not only ate and drank with our Lord, but also became the first leader of the church. Besides being far below the church, we were able to climb to the top of the cupola for a 360-degree birds eye view of the Eternal City with the bonus of a thunderstorm brewing in the background. Nature and art can lift of minds to God.

Speaking on beauty, art, and the new evangelization, Sr. Emanuela Edwards taught us about how the church has used art since the construction of the first church to teach the masses about their faith by depicting the important lessons of the Bible and lifting the hearts and minds of the faithful through beauty to praise God. After the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity, the Bible of the Poor was used in churches to narrate the Old and New Testaments and to teach spiritual lessons to the illiterate and poor faithful. Outside the classroom, Sr. Emanuela took us on a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. It is a great blessing to walk into a beautiful church full of history to find the relics of great saints and a testament to our forefathers in faith who now stand triumphant before Christ interceding for us who still fight a spiritual battle here on Earth. Holy Cross in Jerusalem was one such blessing, because the artwork tells the story of St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, whose devotion brought back to Rome the relics of the Passion of Christ such as thorns, nails, the cross, and the INRI inscription. Further, they have a replica of the Shroud of Turin, at which Sr. Emanuela enflamed our hearts with love for our Blessed Lord who not only humbled himself to become one of us, but was brutally tortured, as seen by the blood stains on the Shroud, and killed all for love of us. It was incredibly humbling and moving to pray at the church during Exposition, looking at our Lord really present in front of me, with the testaments to his Passion and love behind the sanctuary.

On the first free weekend of the trip, myself and a few others headed off to Nettuno on the East coast of Italy. The beauty of the sea and the refreshing cool of the ocean was a blessing, but the true treasure of Nettuno was the relics of St. Maria Goretti. After attending Mass, we venerated her relics in the crypt. Afterwards, we headed back to Rome to start off a new week in the Eternal City.

John Grusenmeyer
Archdiocese of Cincinnati