Vincent travelled to Rome during Holy Week last year on an annual school trip organized by Brebeuf College School. Photo courtesy of Vincent Mastromatteo

Reflecting on my Rome trip

By  Vincent Mastromatteo, Youth Speak News
  • March 27, 2015

PHOTO GALLERY: YSN reporter Vincent Mastromatteo shares what he saw at the Vatican when he visited last year.

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Of all the places a Catholic can be during Holy Week, few can beat Rome. The bustling capital of Italy is awash with pilgrims that week, and last year, 21 classmates and I were among them.

There is a stark difference between a pilgrimage and a vacation, as our teachers reminded us of often. We were told not to expect luxury accommodations or any other traveller comforts. Our time in Rome was meant to be one of reflection and reverence, especially as Easter drew near.

We stayed in a dorm-styled room at the seminary of the Legion of Christ. Although the city of Rome was bustling, the seminary gave us pilgrims a chance to slow down and reflect.

The seminary was serene, a place of calm and devotion. Seminarians walked in prayer through scenic grounds. Every morning and evening, they gathered in the chapel for prayer. Their life of discipline and piety was interesting to see. The Masses we celebrated together in the chapel were reverent, uplifted by the singing of the Legionnaires’ choir.

Our pilgrimage was led by three members of the Legionaries of Christ. They were brilliant tour guides.

At one of our first visits to the Vatican we attended Pope Francis’ general audience for the Easter season. As the Pope drove by and greeted the crowd, I felt drawn closer to my faith. Everyone was overjoyed to be near this one man. We saw the Pope again at the Coliseum where he reflected on each station of the cross.

Then we celebrated Easter Mass with the Pope and about 150,000 other worshippers. The readings were done in several different languages, reflecting the international reach of the Church. At all these events, pilgrims came from every corner of Earth to share in this season of worship.

The pinnacle of our pilgrimage came during one of our visits to the Vatican. Our group was taken underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to view the bones of St. Peter, a display normally off-limits to the public. We felt exceptionally lucky to see the relics of the first Pope and be right at the heart of the Vatican. It made me appreciate the endurance of our Church. St. Peter bore witness to God by suffering, something we all reflect on over the Lenten season.

So many moments of this pilgrimage were awe-inspiring. We visited 12 churches in Rome and other parts of Italy. We saw firsthand the work of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Pietà sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica. Even smaller details, like the intricate design of the ceilings of churches, were inspirational.

We visited a church dedicated to St. Rita in the nearby town of Cascia. Its cavernous ceiling was adorned with beautiful images depicting St. Rita’s life. All of these works were created out of devotion. That fact touched all of us pilgrims.

Our visit to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus particularly stood out for me. We witnessed a small stone altar in one section of the catacombs. Early Christians celebrated Mass there in the age of Roman persecution. Despite the many lavish altars I saw in the other churches, this one said the most to me about Christianity. It was a sign of our faith’s perseverance in spite of persecution. In a dark, underground corridor, I was as moved by my faith as I would be in a grand church.

At times, however, churches like the Sistine Chapel felt more like a tourist attraction than places of worship. Large groups were shepherded through the chapel quickly, leaving little time to contemplate the artwork. Nevertheless, this made me realize that I shouldn’t have to be standing in a historic church to show reverence.

We took a side trip to Assisi, visiting the Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare. Completely by chance, we met a wandering Franciscan hermit whom the Legionaries knew. The hermit told us of his life of poverty in the image of St. Francis. Even without material wealth, he seemed so fulfilled. This chance encounter showed me how happiness can be attained without wealth, something St. Francis lived by.

On our last night in Rome, a seminarian who led our group compared the Vatican to the Kingdom of Heaven, a place where the faithful flocked to worship God. Even as we prepared to leave Rome, the seminarian’s message stayed with us.

When I returned home, I felt a sense of disappointment. My local parish seemed bland without any renaissance art to admire. Even now, I feel a yearning to go back to Rome.

But as this time passed, I realized that Easter celebrations do not have to take place on a pilgrimage. I must celebrate the risen Lord with the same passion back home. Being on a pilgrimage certainly helps, but no matter our place on Earth we can rejoice in the celebration of Easter.

(Mastromatteo, 17, is a Grade 12 student at Brebeuf College School in Toronto, Ont.)

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