Visiting the Stational Churches in Rome a moving experience
One of my roles as vocation director is to make annual visits to our seminarians during the school year as a way to see how they are doing in seminary formation. It gives me a chance to pray with them, to take part in the liturgies at the seminary, to visit with their formation advisors and share a meal or two with them. I always find these seminary visits to be a grace-filled time. Usually, these visits coincide with a seminary live-in weekend, in which we take young men, who are discerning and praying about priesthood, to experience seminary life firsthand.
The first part of March, I did a seminarian visit to the Pontifical North American College in Rome to see Max Vetch. Max is in his first year of his theological studies and is doing well and adjusting to his studies in Rome. There are a few challenges that he faced as he began his studies this past fall, learning the Italian language, the European system of education, especially the oral exams, walking and biking to school at the Angelicum through the crowded and hectic streets of Rome, and yet the graces seemed to outnumber the challenges for him.
I was blessed one day to walk with Max to school, through the streets of Rome as we prayed the rosary and to see him preparing for his apostolic ministry, which will be to give tours to English-speaking tourists at Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Several times I was able to enjoy some great pasta with Max and some of his classmates, from the dioceses of Duluth, Lincoln, and Sioux City. And of course, sampling the assorted flavors of gelato ice cream was a real treat.
Another great blessing for me was to experience the beautiful and rich tradition during the Lenten Season of praying at some of the Station Churches in Rome, which dates to the fourth century. Mountain Butorac, in his blog “The Catholic Traveler,” gives a brief history of the Station Churches in Rome, “It’s a custom that began as a way to strengthen the sense of community in the city while honoring the holy martyrs of Rome. The faithful would end their daily lenten fast by gathering at a church, called the collect. From here they would be met by the bishop of Rome, the Holy Father. Together they would process through the streets while praying the Litany of Saints. Once they arrived at that day’s station church, the pope would celebrate Mass for the local community. Though this practice was around for years, Pope Saint Gregory the Great established the order of the churches to be visited, the prayers to be recited, and designated this as a Lenten practice. The tradition continued until 1309, when the papacy moved to Avignon. Pope Leo XIII revived the tradition and it was fully restored by John XXIII in 1959.”
The Pontifical North America College has reestablished this powerful tradition of the Rome Station Liturgy, for the American and English-speaking pilgrims visiting Rome during Lent. I was blessed to experience the first four days of the Lenten Stational Liturgies of Rome. It was moving to join so many seminarians praying the rosary as we processed through the streets of Rome early in the morning in silence to the Stational Church. Some of the seminarians made their procession on bicycles and as we would approach the Stational Church, we would hear bicycle bells ringing, greeting us as they zoomed past us. I was told that the seminarians from the diocese of Bismarck made the processions on scooters.
On Ash Wednesday, we started the stational pilgrimage to St. Sabina, followed San Giorgio in Velabro on Thursday, Santi Giovannie e Paolo on Friday and Sant’ Agostino on Saturday.
After Mass, at St. Sabina, I was invited by two seminarians, Deacon Daniel Hammer from the diocese of Duluth and Deacon Samuel Gilbertson from the diocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, to visit the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Santi Sergio e Bacco delgi Ucranini, for our Holy Hour. During that hour, several Ukrainian Catholics came in pouring their hearts out to Jesus, weeping, the crying, lighting candles, and asking for Jesus and Mary’s intercession for the Russian invasion of Ukraine to cease. The passage from 1 Corinthians 12:26 was placed on my heart. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” I felt the suffering of the Ukrainian people that day as my own heart broke at this devastation and the great evil, the Russian government is inflicting on the people of Ukraine.
Here are some resources on the Stational Churches in Rome. If the spirit moves you, I encourage you to pray with the pilgrims that are visiting these Stational Churches this Lent.
Resources: Procedamus In Pace: A Guide to the Lenten Station Churches of Rome Pontifical North American College The Catholic Traveler — Lenten Station Churches of Rome — https://the catholictraveler.com/lenten-station-churches-of-rome/.