Just three sites into our pilgrimage and I am already overwhelmed by sensations. Faith, history and art combine here in Rome to flood the heart, mind and eye, bringing the stories from the New Testament to life, many of these stories rendered by the most talented artists ever to live.
Today we went to St. Paul Outside the Walls, where the body of the apostle was buried after he was beheaded. This is the man responsible for carrying the Catholic faith to the Gentiles, who wrote much of the New Testament, the man famous for having poured out his life for Christ.
Standing in his basilica, and later, visiting Tre Fontane, where he was beheaded, brings that history to life more than any reading of the Scripture.
If the religious aspect wasn't enough, there were the dazzling 5th-century mosaics, the Easter candlestick by Vassalletto, the 13th-century tabernacle by Arnolfo do Cambio.
Our guide at the basilica was Sister Emanuela Edwards, a Missionary of the Divine Revelation, who said that nothing you see in Rome is incidental, and at the basilica, seeing detail upon stunning detail, made me realize just how much care and craftsmanship has gone on for centuries to provide what we now hurry past.
For example, Sister Emanuela said the garden there is one of her favorites. "It's quite restful on the eyes, isn't it?" She asked, and indeed it is, a beautiful swath of green dotted with colorful flowers and dominated by a statue of St. Paul, but we didn't have time to stroll through it because we were headed to the the holy door.
As we passed through that portal into the basilica, I touched the carving on the door of the Crucified Christ and as I did so I was overwhelmed with the feeling that he was taking on all of the concerns I have brought with me to pray for on this pilgrimage.
Details upon details in the Basilica - there are all of the portraits of the popes surrounding the wall, artworks too numerous to mention. I could have stayed for hours, but we headed to the shrine of Our Lady of Revelation, where Mary is said to have appeared to a Protestant man and converted him even as he was preparing to assassinate the pope.
The Virgin appeared dressed in green, which is why the missionary sisters of Sister Emanuela's order now have wear green habits.
Many miracles are attributed to that shrine, which I had never before heard of. It is not one of the seven Vatican approved Marian apparitions, and yet the pope approved a religious order based on the events that occurred there, and the shrine is full of mementos from those who attribute miracles to our Lady of Revelation.
From there we went to Tre Fontane, which is just across the street and down a bit from the shrine. We were unable to see the cell where Saint Paul was held the night before his execution, but we were able to walk down the road that the Apostle would have taken from the cell to the site of his beheading.
A portion of the old Roman road is still visible, and it chilled me to think that I was walking in the footsteps of St. Paul. Sister Emanuela said that today we think that we should have an easy life but she said to be a Christian is to be a witness the road to Heaven is it difficult path and we should continue on it despite the difficulties. These are words for me to pray over as we continue our pilgrimage tomorrow.