To read this week’s L’Osservatore Romano in English:
VATICAN INSIDER GOES BACK UNDERGROUND: THE CATACOMBS
I hope you are finding some way to stay cool on what seems to be a very hot weekend everywhere but I guess that’s no surprise as it is July and that’s traditionally a very hot time of year!
One way to stay cool would be to come with me this weekend when, in the interview segment of “Vatican Insider,” I take you on a visit of Rome’s catacombs, often some of the coolest places to be in summer (maybe a little humid, however). The Roman catacombs are among the most venerated places of Christianity and a premiere attraction for both pilgrims and tourists. Not only do they represent positively remarkable engineering feats, they are, as well, rich repositories of material that, notwithstanding centuries of sacking, have provided us with valuable insights into Christian life, death, worship and art of the first centuries.
Literally hundreds of miles of these underground cemeteries were built on the perimeter of Imperial Rome, because it was forbidden by Roman Law to bury the dead within city limits.
Following are some of the photos I took on a visit several years ago to the catacombs of St. Tecla on a mini-pilgrimage organized for the media.
We first attended a press conference in a room that is part of the St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls complex. The history of the two-year renovations on these catacombs, located smack dab in the middle of a Roman neighborhood of high-rise apartments and office buildings, was explained to us, accompanied by a slide presentation of the restoration work, the newly revealed images, etc.
The story behind the catacombs: There was a Roman noble lady, a Christian, named Tecla (also written Thecla) to whom these catacombs are dedicated. Although there was a Christian woman named Tecla in Iconium (modern day Konya, Turkey, which I’ve visited on pilgrimage) who was a dedicated follower of St. Paul, it is the Roman Tecla for whom these catacombs, that contain images of St. Paul, are named. We were told they have had this name since the sixth century.
To be honest, because it is not known exactly how or where the Iconium Tecla finished her earthly life, some believe it may have been Rome and these catacombs are dedicated to her. Thus, for some scholars, there was only one Tecla.
In June 2009, Vatican archaeologists announced that, in restoration work done on the catacombs of St. Tecla in Rome, they had discovered what they believed to be the oldest image in existence of St Paul the Apostle, dating from the late 4th century, on the walls of the catacomb beneath Rome. An article in the Vatican newspaper revealed the stunning discovery in 2009 after almost a year of work on the calcium-encrusted catacomb walls.
Using laser technology, technicians were able to remove the clay and calcium carbonate from walls that seemed as if covered by snow and the results showed the colors long lost beneath the calcium. At the time, experts of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology described the discovery as the “oldest icon in history dedicated to the cult of the Apostle.” (Wish I had my current camera at the time)
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“THE ANGUISH OF AN ABSENCE”
Last night before going to bed, I took one of my favorite prayer books, “Prayers for the Moment” by Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP and opened it to a random page. Both the title, “Prayer for Light in Times of Darkness” and the actual prayer that followed left me speechless.
The prayer was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (to become Benedict XVI). I was moved because the Pope emeritus just lost his beloved brother Georg, and the first lines seemed to be a preview of that moment. They also seemed as if they had been written only two days ago for his brother’s funeral.
I could only think that these are the reflections of Benedict XVI as he mourns his great loss and can be ours if we mourn a loss or experience “hours of darkness, of abandonment, when all seems difficult.”
I was also moved because we are living in times when, for many, many reasons, we need the spiritual insight given in these profound and heartfelt words:
“Lord Jesus Christ, in the darkness of death You made a light shine; in the abyss of the deepest solitude the powerful protection of Your love now lives for ever; in the throes of Your concealment we now can sing the hallelujah of the saved. Grant us the humble simplicity of faith, which does not let us stray when You call us in the hours of darkness, of abandonment, when all seems difficult; grant us, at this time when a mortal struggle is being waged around You, light enough that we will not lose You; light enough for us to give to all those who still have need of it. Make the mystery of Your Easter joy shine, like the aurora of the dawn, on these days of ours; grant that we may truly be men of Easter in the midst of history’s Holy Saturday. Grant that in the course of the days of light and dark of this age we may always with happy hearts find ourselves on the pathway to Your future glory.
As a source of this reflection, I found the following online: MEDITATIONS ON HOLY SATURDAY – “The anguish of an absence” by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (http://www.30giorni.it/articoli_id_10282_l3.htm