Pilgrims explore God’s mercy in Rome

By A.J. Boyd

ROME — Characteristic of The Lay Centre’s international programming, the centre’s 30th-anniversary pilgrimage, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever,” engaged Rome as a classroom and as a font for spiritual growth and renewal.

The 10-15 July pilgrimage came on the heels of two other anniversary events: The Lay Centre’s Alumni Reunion, 3-5 July, and an academic seminar on lay involvement in the Church, 6-9 July.

“God’s Mercy Endures Forever” echoes Psalm 136, and mercy is the theme of the this extraordinary Holy Year marking the end of the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the Second Vatican Council. 

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The group in the Jews museum

Organized by Lay Centre director Donna Orsuto, resident experts Hansol Goo (art history/cultural heritage of the church) and A.J. Boyd (ecclesiology, papacy, ecumenism) led most of the site visits. Their work is in continuity with the spirit of service and ecumenical hospitality fostered by the Ladies of Bethany and Foyer Unitas, who would lead specialised tours of the holy places in Rome for ecumenical and interfaith guests during their tenure from 1952-1992.

Regular guest guide Christiaan Santini gave the tour of the Coliseum and Roman Forum, while Abbot Edmund Power, OSB, gave a guided visit to the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, offering a reflection on the Apostle Paul and mercy. The first night of the program included an opera at the Baths of Caracalla, a modern costume adaptation of Verdi’s Nabucco.

Rebecca Cohen, a Lay Centre resident and a student of Jewish-Christian dialogue, led a tour of the Great Synagogue of Rome and the neighboring Jewish Ghetto. Goo and Boyd led visits to San Clemente and to Santa Maria in Trastevere, after which the group dined at the Trattoria degli Amici, run by the Sant’Egidio Community, a lay movement that seeks to serve the poor.

The fifth day of the pilgrimage, themed “Mercy in Art and Architecture,” included an introduction to Saint Peter’s Basilica, followed by a visit to the Vatican Museums, which includes the Sistine Chapel. From depiction of the virtues to the motivation of the Jesuit baroque as treasures of humanity. That the poor have access to the same grandeur reveals that they, not the art and architecture, are the “treasures of the Church”.

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The group in front of the Synagogue of Rome

The cathedral of Rome, the Archbasilica of St John in the Lateran, its baptistery, and the nearby basilicas of St Mary Major and St Prassede topped off the week, connecting the church that is “head and mother” of all churches of Rome, with the largest church dedicated to the Mother of God.

As the pope opened the holy door at Santa Maria Maggiore, on January 1, the Solemnity of the Theotokos, he reflected, “She is the Mother of Mercy, because she bore in her womb the very Face of divine mercy, Jesus, …The Son of God, made incarnate for our salvation, has given us his Mother, who joins us on our pilgrimage through this life, so that we may never be left alone, especially at times of trouble and uncertainty.”

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