Rome Diaries - Week 71

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

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February 26, 2009

Due to the rerouting of buses to accommodate a public demonstration about the economic crisis, I am a few minutes late for my appointment to see the rooms of St. Philip Neri (1515-1595). When I arrive at the sacristy of Chiesa Nuova, I a priest, who will be my translator, and the tour guide are patiently waiting for me. The three of us ascend a nearby spiral staircase, suitable also for pack animals. A short corridor, glowing with baroque embellishments, opens onto a room with an altar flanked by two showcases. The one on the right contains the worn wooden confessional in which Neri heard the sins of the famous and the unknown of Rome; the case on the left displays the saint’s slippers, shoes and a little warming box he would fill with coals to warm his hands and feet. A life-sized cutout of the saint, dressed in an apron, his arms extended wide, stands next to the room’s altar. It recalls the time he received esteemed visitors in the kitchen while he was washing the pots. Another image, painted on the ceiling, shows him levitating while at Mass. On the far wall stands the rickety wooden pulpit Neri used when giving his fervent orations, later he would include music and responses from the congregation at his gatherings. One night while praying at his favorite spot, deep inside the catacombs of San Sebastiano, he felt a globe of light enter his mouth and sink into his heart. After this experience, he became both more prayerful and more fervent about helping others. Neri was a man divided but not in conflict; deeply mystical, he would retreat often to the quiet of his room in the old friary of San Girolamo della Carita, but could also be found wandering the streets of Rome, good-naturedly talking to everyone and playing practical jokes. His unique gifts transformed many of the impressionable young men of Rome. As we make our way down the stairs, the priest who has been translating for me says he is in Rome to help with the cause for canonization of the 24-year-old Pier Giorgio Frassati, who cared for the sick and shared his faith with friends while mountain climbing. As we walk down to Largo Argentina, the priest points to the surrounding buildings saying, “And this is where Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati defied a mob of Fascists as he led a demonstration of Catholic students into the square. Philip Neri’s street-wise spirit lives on.


March 3, 2009

I make my way to the Gesu church, where Ignatius of Loyola lived and worked. Before going to his rooms, I stop near the main altar to visit the Madonna della Strada. This image was a favorite of Ignatius and the massive Gesu was built on the spot where its little chapel stood. The rooms, used by Ignatius during the last twelve years of his busy life, exist as tasteful suggestions since lack their original ceilings and floors. But the paintings that inspired him, the furniture he used and the spot where he died (not surrounded by followers, but alone, in the night) are all here.

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