My Brothers in Faith | Postcards from Rome 2023

June 29, 2023
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It has been a whirlwind of a week! But here were some highlights:

Mass at the Vatican Tombs and the Grave of St. Peter
We celebrated Mass Monday morning in the crypts of St. Peter. Around us were the graves of several popes, cardinals, and even a king or two. Less than fifty feet in front of our altar was the grave of St. Peter and to the right of it was the burial place of the late Benedict XVI. Kneeling in prayer and adoring the Eucharist as it was consecrated so close to these two leaders of our Church, one the beginning and the other the latest to receive his eternal reward, brought together how important this city is to Christendom. We were able to receive Our Lord surrounded by Peter and his successors themselves. Here was the unbroken line of Christian unity, and we could see it by simply turning our heads. It was, truly, an amazing moment.

The Vatican Gardens
Later on Monday, we were able to visit the Vatican Gardens located up the hill behind St. Peter’s. The Gardens, which occupy over half of the entire country of Vatican City, have only been open to the public since 2014 when Pope Francis allowed visitors to walk through the same gardens that have served as a spiritual retreat for pontiffs since the Middle Ages. It was truly a holy place with some amazing views of Rome and a calming refuge from the hectic city below.

Visiting the Pantheon in the Rain
The line to enter the Pantheon crisscrossed through the piazza, and it seemed more like a line in Disneyland rather than people waiting to enter a church. To make matters worse, it was pouring down rain, and I had forgotten my umbrella. So, standing in the downpour to rival Noah’s flood, I was really questioning whether this church was going to be worth the hassle. But the Pantheon is not just any church: it was, at one point, an ancient pagan temple that was converted into a church. As we entered, drenched to the bone, we all were astonished by it. The building is huge, stretching over a football field across and over 40 meters high. Altars lined the walls and monuments to two Italian kings were placed on either side of the main nave. We were even treated with a rare sight: rain indoors. The very center of this building has a large circular opening in the roof to allow light in, but it doesn’t have any sort of cover. This allows rain to pour from the opening, falling over 120 feet to the floor below where it slowly drained away. It was an amazing sight!

Trip to Assisi
During the weekend, several of us traveled to Assisi to see the resting places of St. Francis and St. Clare. I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful this ancient city on a hill was. Every view was picturesque and each city street covered in flowers and holy images. It was awe-inspiring to pray before each tomb of these great witnesses.

A Race Around the Vatican
This is a Rome Experience tradition! We were able to cheer on some of our brothers who ran around the entirety of Vatican City. The race began at the great obelisk and each runner ran out, around the city walls, and then finished back at the obelisk. There was cheering, jokes, and laughter echoing off the great colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica as the setting sun provided a beautiful backdrop for the race. For me, moments like this encapsulate The Rome Experience. Most of us are from different dioceses, different seminaries, and never would have interacted with one another had it not been for this experience. While the evening was about the race around the smallest country in the world, in reality it was about brotherhood. It is one of those moments that will stay with me long after the memories of these grand churches and gorgeous views fade. Being in the heart of the Church, laughing and praying with men I have the pleasure to call “brothers”. That will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Tylor Starkey
Diocese of Nashville