A Roman Reflection

Dear friends in Christ,

Welcome to this week’s Bishop’s Blog!

I have spent the last week in Rome with two of my brother bishops on our yearly Visitation of the Venerable English College and the Pontifical Beda College, both of which train students for the priesthood in the English speaking world.

We do this work on behalf of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, the body of bishops ultimately responsible for these two colleges.

The deeply historic English College is quite central to the city of Rome, while the Beda lies more in the suburbs, opposite in fact to the wonderful basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

Each one of us has his or her own favourite church which speaks to us in a unique way. For me, the annual Visitation of the Roman Colleges would be incomplete if I did not succeed in a visit to the basilica of St. Pauls-outside-the Walls.

What a most inspiring basilica and house of God!  What strikes the visitor to St. Pauls is the grandeur and spaciousness of the building. It has the effect of stopping the human spirit as you gaze around and, certainly for me, evoking a sense of wonder, even awe.  An excellent Virtual Reality Tour of the Basilica can be found here.

The atmosphere of stillness and silence, undisturbed by few visitors, leads a person to ponder, albeit briefly, on the grandeur and majesty of almighty God. The human achievement in the construction of such a measured and well-ordered building to the glory of God stands as a wonderful expression of what humanity is capable of.

In addition to the Papal Basilica, the complex includes a very ancient Benedictine Abbey, restored by Odon of Cluny in 936.  This Abbey remains active today.  The Benedictine Monks of the ancient Abbey, founded near the tomb of the Apostle by Pope Gregory II (715-731), attend to the ministry of Reconciliation (or Penance) and the promotion of special ecumenical events.

The basilica stands on the site of the martyrdom of the apostle Paul and therefore marks a precious link with the apostolic age and the beginnings of our faith. Unlike the other major Roman basilicas, or so it seems to me, St. Pauls-outside-the-Walls does not have the same volume of visitors and tourists, and consequently retains a particularly prayerful atmosphere.

A notable feature is the depiction in art form of all the Popes, going back to St. Peter himself. Yet the basilica is restrained in terms of art and statuary, and this allows the mind to wander, wonder, and glimpse in some small way a sense of the mystery of God enshrined in this most noble of earthly constructions.

Here I seem to find a rare peace and serenity for the short time I spend there. The dimensions of the basilica do make a person seem small, but at the same time ushers us into the presence of the One infinitely greater than we can imagine and causes the passing pilgrim to stand and silently wonder.

Before I departed, I lit a candle for everyone in the Diocese of Lancaster, and I left the basilica satisfied and at peace. A worthwhile visit indeed!

Until next week!

May God bless you all,

+Michael G Campbell OSA

Bishop of Lancaster