"Rome is like throwing an apple and having an orchard bounce back at you"

July 5, 2022

I was lucky enough to be part of a group of eleven young adults who took part in the Jesuit Young Adult Ministries pilgrimage to Rome. We were following in the footsteps of St Ignatius of Loyola and his early Jesuit companions.

It was a week of many high points. An explosion of the high Renaissance and the Baroque. Rome is not like other cities.

What I appreciated most was having some of the layers of our church history peeled back and exposed, creating several powerful juxtapositions.

We had an illuminating tour of the Jesuit Church of the Gesu - the stones proudly promoting the Counter-Reformation, with one particularly zealous stone angel "doing the foxtrot" on John Calvin and Martin Luther. We also found time for prayer in the Chapel of the Madonna Della Strada, with its medieval icon - a survivor of an earlier church which once stood on a part of the site - in front of which Ignatius had prayed.

And then there were all the places we visited which were, in spiritual terms at least, the equivalent of the "upper rooms" found in the Gospels. Places where worship was more private.

We all found particularly moving our Masses in the private rooms of St Ignatius; in the grottoes beneath St Peter's Basilica (metres from the resting places of so many Popes); in the church attached to the rooms of St Stanislaus Kostka; and especially in the subterranean chamber at the Catacombs of St Callixtus where 500,000 of the early Christians were laid to rest outside the city walls of Rome, including many of the early saints, such as St Cecilia.

Mass in the catacombs

Other highlights included a visit to the Vatican museums, a tour of the Venerable English College and its Jesuit History from its Rector Fr. Stephen Wang, and a visit to the archives of the Jesuit Curia where Fr Andre had picked out some fascinating artefacts - handwritten letters by Pope Francis professing his final vows, as well as Fr Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson's character in Silence) and, soberingly, applications to join the Society which had been written in blood by those young men eager to prove that they were prepared for martyrdom.

On our last evening we had an audience with the global leader of the Jesuits, Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, who generously gave his time to answer our questions on the direction of the Society of Jesus and the main challenges facing the church, before joining us on the terrace of the Curia for a photo-opportunity backdropped by St Peter's.

And it was at St Peter's that our trip culminated for Papal Mass on the Feast of St Peter and Paul, and well; it doesn't get much better than that!

The group meets Fr Arturo Sosa SJ, global leader of the Jesuits

Blog written by Carl Welch, a member of Jesuit Young Adult Ministries.

To find out more about Jesuit Young Adult Ministries and get involved, click here.

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