October 16, 2006


By Sean Gallagher

(See a photo gallery for this post)

Mass at St. Paul's in RomeA Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Paul Outside the Walls

The archdiocesan pilgrimage spent its morning on Oct. 16 at the majestic Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Although St. Peter’s Basilica, in my opinion, is in a class by itself, St. Paul Outside the Walls has to be my favorite church among the rest in Rome.  Yes, it is only a 19th century reconstruction of the original basilica that burned to the ground in 1823, but it just seems to have a solid, confident, yet quiet grandeur to it.

Perhaps this is so because of its “forest of great columns” as described by The Companion’s Guide to Rome, the giant paschal candle that stands guard in front of the main altar, the portraits of all the popes that look down upon its visitors or the grand mosaics of Christ, four of his apostles, and other saints found in the apse, or the cloister courtyard attached to the church, with its many columns covered in mosaics.

All these elements by themselves would lead the sensitive visitor into an attitude of prayerful contemplation. But the presence of the tomb of the great mystic apostle St. Paul binds all of them together and adds even profundity to the meaning of the great basilica.

This day, it was the occasion for prayer but of a more strictly joyous than meditative nature.  Most of the church’s transept was filled with worshippers who came together for a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was the primary celebrant.  He was joined by all of the other bishops of Indiana, the bishop of the diocese of St. Theodora’s hometown in France, and several priests.

As they did in liturgies related to the canonization over the previous two days, a choir made up of members of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods provided much beautiful music for the liturgy, including a beautiful rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oh Taste and See.

More details about the Mass of Thanksgiving can be found in the Oct. 27 edition of The Criterion.

The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel

A late exit from St. Paul Outside the Walls forced the pilgrimage group basically to skip lunch and proceed directly to the Vatican Museum.  While we waited in line for more than an hour, I had the chance to do some more exploration in my search for the best gelato in Italy when I spied the Old Bridge Gelato Shop across the street.

I had read about it on a Web site that described it as the best place to get gelato in Rome.  While both my wife and I thought it was good, I wouldn’t go so far to say that it stood out dramatically from our other trials.  So the search will go on…

I’ve visited the Vatican Museum in my previous two visits to Rome in 1988 and 1993.  In neither visit did I experience the literal crush of visitors that swept me along from one stuffed room or hall after another.

Yet despite this tiresome trial, I was able to see many great treats that I hadn’t caught in the past and that so many of the others visitors around me passed by without a glance.  For example, on the ceiling of the Hall of Maps, most visitors take time to view the portrayals of the various regions of Italy.

I, on the other hand, craned my neck to look at the ceiling and all its many portrayals of scenes from the Bible and Church history that can be found on its ceiling.

This visit to the Sistine Chapel is my first to it after its restoration was completed and after it was the location for a papal election.  Although it was probably the most crowded and noisy part of the museum (despite the untiring efforts of its guards to keep people moving and to maintain an atmosphere of quiet prayerfulness), Cindy and I took time to offer a prayer for Pope Benedict, who was in this chapel chosen to succeed Pope John Paul II.

St. Peter’s Basilica

From the Sistine Chapel we made our way to the church that we had been stalking ever since we had come to Rome but had not yet entered—St. Peter’s Basilica itself.

It was as crowded as the museum and as noisy.  Yet going there in the late afternoon afforded us the opportunity to see sunlight pouring in through windows in its apse and dome, a light that dramatically highlighted the immensity of its interior.

Before making our way to the Bernini’s grand baldachino over the main altar, Cindy and I paid a visit in the one oasis of quiet in the whole church—it’s Blessed Sacrament chapel where Jesus in the Eucharist is adored perpetually.

Access to the transept and apse were restricted because a Mass was being celebrated in the chapel in the apse.  I learned later that it was the funeral of a retired priest from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Penn. who had died in an auto accident last week while he was on vacation in Italy with Cardinal Keeler.

Although not the most pleasant visit to St. Peter’s imaginable, what with the massive crowd around me always on the go and making lots of noise, it was a pleasure for me to visit with my wife, for whom this was her initial exploration of the church that Pope Julius II began 500 years ago.

And, in keeping with the pilgrimage nature of our trip, we tried to make it as prayerful a visit as possible.

Because our arrival to St. Peter’s was late in the day, we arrived at the entrance to the crypt shortly after it closed.

Will another visit to the shrine built over the tomb of the prince of the apostles be on the horizon so we can pay our respects at the tomb of our beloved Pope John Paul?  Perhaps.

But not tomorrow.  It has us visiting Assisi, and appropriate destination, considering our earlier trip to Siena.  These two towns were the home to Italy’s co-patron saints:  St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena.

Posted by Sean Gallagher at 7:20 p.m. on Monday, October 16, 2006


Local site Links: