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Come Along to Rome!

Come along and set your feet in the footsteps of the Fathers.

Once again, I’m helping to lead a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. It would be awesome if you could join us. I do think this is our best lineup ever:

Scott and Kimberly Hahn

Steve and Janet Ray

Elizabeth Lev

Rob Corzine and Matt Leonard

and Yours Truly

My hope is that — if you want to join us and you can afford to go — you and I can enjoy a grace-filled week together, celebrating Mass at the tombs of the Apostles and Fathers, visiting the holy sites, and enjoying the visual, cultural, and culinary delights that the Eternal City has to offer.

The pilgrimage takes place May 23 to June 1, 2010, and the days and evenings will be full. The trip will be sponsored by the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.

We’ll spend time in the Catacombs of St. Callistus; the Basilicas of St. Peter, the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major; the churches of St. Clement, the Pantheon, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, St. Augustine, St. Peter in Chains, St. Agnes, and Saints Praxedes and Pudentiana. In these holy places rest the relics of so many of the ancients: Saints Peter and Paul, Saints Simon and Jude, St. Lawrence, St. Gregory the Great, St. Leo, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Monica, and many martyrs whose names have been lost to history. (St. Jerome, too, if you accept that much-disputed tradition.)

We’ll tour the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. We’ll climb the Holy Stairs. We’ll pray the Stations of the Cross in the Colosseum. We’ll wander the Roman Forum, see the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus that depicts the emperor’s return to Rome with the plunder of Jerusalem. We’ll visit the tombs of many Jesuit saints at the Church of St. Ignatius. We’ll stroll through dazzling Piazza Navona, and we’ll even leave a little time for gelato or shopping.

Each day will include brief seminars on aspects of history, archeology, and theology related to Christian Rome. We’ll take meals together, celebrate daily Mass together, pray a daily Rosary together, and walk and talk together.

In Rome you’ll gather memories you’ll treasure for the rest of your life — memories you’ll draw from as you guide children or grandchildren, teach CCD, or otherwise witness to the faith. You’ll gather memories that will feed your prayer and help you to feed the prayer of others.

Please pray about whether you might join me and these good friends of mine.

St. Paul Center pilgrimages tend to fill up, once they’re announced. So, if you’re interested, it’s better to register sooner rather than later.

You’ll find an itinerary and registration details here.

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Good Sam’s Museum

Israel has opened a “mosaic museum” in the West Bank, reports The Art Newspaper.

The $2.5m Museum of the Good Samaritan, housing nearly 50 mosaics and a collection of antiquities, was opened at the Christian pilgrimage site where the Bible’s “Parable of the Good Samaritan” is believed to be set. The site also comprises the restored Good Samaritan Inn, a reconstructed Byzantine church, and Second Temple-era dwelling caves.

The museum’s preserved and restored mosaics and other relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries originate from Christian, Jewish and Samaritan historic sites, based on themes in the parable, Dr Magen said. He also said that excavations at the site show it to be the location where King Herod’s palace once stood.

There’s a good chance the St. Paul Center will return, with Steve Ray, to the Holy Land in 2011. Maybe we can see this museum together.
Hat tip: Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica.
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Next Post – in Jerusalem!

We at the St. Paul Center will be leaving for Tel Aviv this morning with a hundred of our closest friends. The pilgrimage will be led by my friends Scott and Kimberly Hahn and Steve and Janet Ray. Steve’s known as the best guide around, so I’m very excited. I’ve never been to the Holy Land. He says you should feel free to join us, at least virtually:
We will—Lord-willing and technology-willing—be uploading about 5-10 minutes of video clips each day to my blog …  You can check out my Blog here.
Pray for us, please!
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The Virtue of Wanderlust

Now that all that New Year’s stuff is behind you, you’re probably getting around to planning your pilgrimages for the year. It’s a practice I’ve heartily recommended, for individuals, families, and friends. If you’re willing to travel within these United States, Happy Catholic has a deal for you. (More on that in the days to come.)

All this faithful tourism has deep roots in the age of the Fathers, and receives fascinating treatment in some recent books.

Pilgrimage in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Antiquity: Seeing the Gods includes essays by seventeen scholars, and a little over a third of the book deals with Jewish and Christian notions of pilgrimage. The book breaks Christian pilgrimage down according to a very helpful typology: (1) scriptural pilgrimage; (2) pilgrimage to living saints; (3) relics; and (4) icons and images. (I think I’ve done all four. I’m waiting for magisterial confirmation on number 2.) For Christians, pilgrimage “is not a sacrament, has no doctrine, and unlike the Hebrew Bible and the Qur’an, the New Testament does not make it obligatory.” Yet we’ve always done it, as this book beautifully attests. The patristic quotations and citations are many and generously unabridged. Quite fascinating is the long discussion, late in the book, on pilgrimage as a metaphor for Christian life.

Also very helpful is The Trophies of the Martyrs: An Art Historical Study of Early Christian Silver Reliquaries, by Galit Noga-Banai of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Some of these reliquaries were, of course, the very destination for ancient pilgrims. In addition to the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, these reliquaries — the book includes photos of almost a hundred — are material evidence for the very early presence of the cult of the saints and the cult of relics.

Though neither of these books were composed as works of apologetics, they do serve to help Christians make their case.

And the beat goes on. Diana von Glahn’s The Faithful Traveler videos are an excellent way to plan for pilgrimages here on my little continent. Her first installment takes us to Philadelphia’s Miraculous Medal Shrine. Many years ago, I walked many miles on pilgrimage to visit there with my good friend and colleague David Scott.

Which brings us back to Happy Catholic and her pilgrimage, which includes David and me and Chris Bailey and others. Check it out.

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Join Us in Rome in 2009

Here’s the word from the St. Paul Center:

The Year of St. Paul is about celebrating the life of one of history’s most remarkable figures, one of the Church’s most remarkable saints. It’s about discovering how we, too, can imitate him in giving the Gospel to a culture that desperately needs it. And it’s about asking for his intercession for the Church life and mission today.

From March 14-22, 2009, you’re invited to join Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Mike Aquilina, and Father James Farnan, as they make pilgrimage to Rome in the footsteps of St. Paul. We’ll visit the port in Ostia where he may have entered Rome, the prison where he was held captive, the site of his execution, and the basilica built to house his relics. We’ll visit other holy sites of early Christianity as well—the basilicas built over the first house churches, the catacombs, the arenas of martyrdom, the haunts of St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Hippolytus, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Leo. We’ll also visit the Vatican, attend a general audience with the Pope, and browse the cobblestone streets and ruins of ancient Rome.

Father Farnan will offer Mass daily in Rome’s most beautiful churches. We’ll devote time each day to brief seminars, led by our hosts, on St. Paul and the early Church in Rome.

The cost of this eight-day pilgrimage, which roundtrip airfare from New York, lodging, breakfast, dinner, and all entrance fees is $3550 for adults and $3199 for children.

We hope you can join us for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk in St. Paul’s footsteps during the year of St. Paul.

Click here for the full itinerary.

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Last Call for Holy Land Pilgrims

I’m told that there are just a few seats left on the Year of St. Paul pilgrimage I’m making with Dr. Scott Hahn and Kimberly Hahn and Steve and Janet Ray. It takes place May 16-25, 2009.

We’ll be celebrating the Year of St. Paul and visiting the sites of Jesus: the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Transfiguration, Capernaum, Peter’s House, the Church of the Visitation, the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem, the Church of the Dormition, the Church of the Nativity, the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa … and many more unforgettable places. We’ll also have optional side trips to Qumran, Masada, Jericho, and the Dead Sea for swimming.

See here for more details. Hope you can make the trip with us!

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Join Me in the Holy Land?

I’ll be there May 16-25, 2009, with Dr. Scott and Kimberly Hahn and Steve and Janet Ray.

We’ll be celebrating the Year of St. Paul and visiting the sites of Jesus: the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Transfiguration, Capernaum, Peter’s House, the Church of the Visitation, the Holy Sepulchre, Bethlehem, the Church of the Dormition, the Church of the Nativity, the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Via Dolorosa … and many more unforgettable places. We’ll also have optional side trips to Qumran, Masada, Jericho, and the Dead Sea for swimming.

See here for more details.

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Time Travel Agency

Via Catholic News Service: Syrian monastery gives visitors taste of ancient spiritual life

AL-NEBEK, Syria (CNS) — A sixth-century monastery in the desert of western Syria is giving today’s visitors the experience of ancient spiritual life.

Named after St. Moses, an Ethiopian monk, the Mar Musa monastery is about 20 miles from the nearest town, Al-Nebek. The monastery and its church are staffed with Catholic and Orthodox nuns and priests, and the compound has become a center for Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue. With its vegetable garden and goat herd, the desert monastery is a model of sustainability.

“I felt like I had a calling to come here, and I felt at home in Mar Musa even before I started living here,” said Father Michel Toma, a Syrian Catholic priest from Homs, Syria, who moved to the monastery several months ago after having visited the remote spiritual oasis several times over the last 10 years. “I love nature. It’s a relaxing and calm place.”

Everyone who visits works to help keep the monastery running. Some tend to the goats and make cheese. Father Toma’s specialty is making candles, something he is teaching the other residents.

He is particularly proud of the monastery’s hospitality to all who visit regardless of race, religion or nationality.

“We welcome everyone,” Father Toma said. “It’s not important that someone prays the same way, but that we all live together. We eat and pray together. That’s the way we live.”

This is what Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio envisioned when he founded the community about 20 years ago.

After celebrating an energetic Mass in Arabic, Father Dall’Oglio was quick to greet a tour group from Italy.

“Come and see the new church,” he said, leading the group across a bridge and up a cliff to a nearly completed stone church.

When Father Dall’Oglio stumbled upon Mar Musa’s ancient ruins in the early 1980s, the monastery was in severe decay. The site had been long forgotten, known only to a few local goat herders. The ancient monastery is reminiscent of an era when rocky landscapes provided shelters for self-sustaining religious communities.

With the help of volunteers, the Syrian government and international sponsors, the church roof has been rebuilt and medieval frescoes have been restored. More than 340 steps have been added almost seamlessly into the mountain, easing the climb to the monastery for visitors.

According to legend, the son of a wealthy Ethiopian king named Musa founded the monastery. Preferring the monastic life to the throne, he traveled to Egypt, then to the Holy Land, settling in Syria where he became a monk in Qara, southern Syria.

He lived as a hermit in the valley where the monastery is now situated until he died a martyr at the hands of a Byzantine soldier. As the story goes, the king’s family took his body but his right thumb was separated from his body and remains a relic in the Syrian church in Al-Nebek.

Mar Musa once belonged to the Syrian Antiochene rite. It was more than 500 years — in 1058 — before the church was built. The church’s frescoes, which date from the 11th and 12th centuries and depict biblical scenes, are the monastery’s pride.

Restoration work has revealed three layers of artwork: Two are from the 11th century and the other is from the end of the 12th century or the beginning of the 13th century, according to restorers.

The nave of the church is decorated with images of saints, with females on the arches and males on the pillars. A representation of the Last Judgment is depicted on the wall of the nave.

Each evening, there is about an hour of quiet time, followed by a prayer service. The liturgy usually is celebrated in Arabic, French or English.

Recently, the Jameel family made the eight-hour trip to Mur Masa from their home in northeastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, to have their 6-month-old daughter baptized.

During the baptism the priests sang and prayed while a group of about 50 people observed the ceremony. Once the child was dipped in the water, the priests immediately sang a joyful Arabic hymn to the beat of a large drum.

As the Jameel family and other visitors left, a group of French tourists who spent five days at Mar Musa took one last moment to rest under the tent on the monastery’s terrace before returning to Damascus.

Claire-Lise Henge of Alsace, France, said she was pleased with her visit.

“It’s not too strict, not what you’d think a monastery would be like,” she said. “It’s very open here. They joke around and people feel comfortable.”

She welcomed the mandatory participation in daily life, jokingly saying, “It means we’re not just squatters here.”

Carole Perez-Pinard, also from the French group, acknowledged that life at Mar Musa was somewhat of an acquired taste.

“Communal living was a big change for me,” she said. “The first day, I couldn’t imagine staying four nights.”

Like the French visitors, Jane Bornemeier, a tourist from New York, decided to visit Mar Musa out of curiosity.

“I didn’t know what it would be like. But it seemed adventurous, so we did it,” she said.

She admitted it was not what she expected.

“When we arrived, we were dropped off at the bottom of a cliff. When I saw how far up it was that we had to climb, I said, ‘No way.’ It’s much more remote and roughing it than I expected, much more like camping out than I thought it would be.”

But after one night of sleeping under the stars on the monastery’s roof, she quickly warmed to the surroundings.

“It’s an extraordinary place,” she said while helping with a meal for other visitors. “This modern version of an ancient tradition is really something.”

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Sound and Vision

Well, our pilgrims are emerging from their jet-lag and their “while you were out” messages, and they’re beginning to post mementos of our trip to Rome and Assisi. Susie from Omaha posted almost a thousand photos — everything from Rome’s streetcorner Marian shrines to Assisi’s, um, interesting plumbing.

If there were an audio track, you’d recognize the mellifluous voice of Kris McGregor of KVSS Radio. Kris joined us for the pilgrimage, and she managed our live and taped broadcasts from the streets, sites, and truck stops of Italy. KVSS has now posted much of that audio. So you can listen as I struggle to be heard over the roar of Roman crowds and the horns of Roman traffic. Scott and Kimberly Hahn were far more successful — as indeed Kris was — but these people are professionals. (Junior says he’ll post video of some of their presentations as soon as he finds the right cable.)
I’m still giddy from the experience. We remembered Clement and Ignatius along the streets they walked themselves. We venerated their relics. We prayed at the tombs of Peter and Paul, Simon and Jude, Philip and James, Francis and Clare. In those days between Ascension and Pentecost, we made an earnest novena to the Holy Spirit. We joined daily for the Holy Eucharist. Our chaplain (joined by four clergy pilgrims) was Father Pablo Gadenz of Trenton, New Jersey, a brilliant young Scripture scholar, and he preached up a storm.

There were some funny moments, like when a bystander berated Scott Hahn for “proselytizing” in his mini-lecture at the Arch of Titus — a lecture addressed, in English, only to our little flock. But the defining moment (for me) came when a Spanish Salesian Brother took one of our pilgrims aside in the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus and observed: “This group is very special. You all have Jesus in your heart.”

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Photos from Rome

Junior has posted his still photos from last week’s Rome-Assisi pilgrimage. Yes, he has a way of catching me at my least photogenic. Other photographers make me look like Cary Grant; he makes me look like Mr. Lunt from “Veggie Tales.” But, then again, other photographers have PhotoShop, and Junior doesn’t.

Here’s my Charles Dickens moment at the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.

Say hello to St. Gregory the Illuminator, statuesque at St. Peter’s. (I still think that, with a name like that, he should be the title role in a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

And, yes, Junior was that close to the Pope.

Video is still to come.

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Back from Rome

I’m sorry if I haven’t been my usual loquacious self these last ten days. I just got back from the tour of Rome and Assisi with a hundred pilgrims. The itinerary kept us very busy, with no internet access. I didn’t even check email. Junior and I are very jet-lagged. We’ll try to post some photos, video, and reports as soon as we wake up a little.

Yes, we were just a few feet from the pope as he blessed us. We’ll be sure to post that video!

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Catacomb Fever

Several people kindly sent me the link to The Archaeology Channel, where the current featured video is “The Witnesses of Silence: Discovering Rome’s Catacombs.” I haven’t seen the documentary yet; but here’s TAC’s description of the half-hour show:

This film retraces the rediscovery of the catacombs, subterranean burial places and hideouts beneath the streets of ancient Rome. It finds in the dark galleries the traces of early explorers and the signatures, graffiti and inscriptions they left. These early underground explorers include legendary figures such as Antonio Bosio and Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the scholar who laid the scientific basis of modern Italian archaeology. This film sheds new light on an underground world where silence dominates but images retell stories voiced many centuries ago.

I’ve been planning a post on Bosio for some time, so I can’t wait to see what the documentary does with him. I hope I have time to see it before it vanishes. The Roman catacombs are a particular fascination of mine. I’ve posted on them before (here and here). I’m counting the days till I get to “go down in history” again. If you can join me then, please do. There are just a few spaces open on our May pilgrimage to Rome.

In the meantime, here comes a brand new book on the catacombs that arrives with a high recommendation from Lea Marie Ravotti, the artist whose opinion I trust more than any other. The book is The Christian Catacombs of Rome: History, Decoration, Inscriptions, a collaborative effort by three of the world’s leading experts on the subject. All are members of the Pontifical Commission on Sacred Archeology. I’ve put the book on my list of titles to review in the coming months. So order your copy today, and read along with me — even if you can’t join Scott Hahn and me in Rome. (This time.)