When you go to Rome on a spiritual journey of some sort, a must-do thing to formally complete the pilgrimage is to visit The Four Basilicas throughout the ancient city. To visit some of the oldest basilicas in the world, built centuries ago by important figures in the Catholic Church and leaders of the Roman Empire, and to see and pray to the holy relics inside is a vital part of the pilgrimage experience. Each church is different, from the Italian Renaissance architecture to every piece of important artwork inside, and all of the restorations made since then. Walking into some of the churches I felt like I had stepped into a dreamlike world, a holy place where thousands of people have stepped in to pray, worship, and admire. I was taken back by the amount of detail put into every corner, door handle, and ceiling. I couldn’t believe the age of some of these places, as well as just thinking about who has been within its ancient walls: popes, emperors, future saints and world leaders. Of course, with the respect and high importance of these churches they are a must-see. The four major basilicas in Rome include St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, which remains the largest church in the world, St. Paul’s Basilica (also called St. Paul’s Outside the Walls), the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran (San Giovanni), and the Basilica of Saint Maria Maggiore. Each of the basilicas have their own importance to the Catholic tradition, and in 1300 Pope Boniface VIII renewed certain “great remissions and indulgences for sins” which are to be obtained “by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles”. (source) That’s why thousands of pilgrims visit Rome every year, to witness these ancient holy sites and pray for their intentions.
When we arrived back in Rome after a few days in the Florence countryside, it was almost a culture shock to see so many tall buildings and ancient ruins, wider boulevards, hundreds of little cars lining the streets. We stayed in a small but comfortable little hostel this time, right in the middle of the city. On Thursday our driver, Danilo, picked us up in our little van with Fr. Memeng Salonga from the Colegio Pilipino (Filipino College) of Rome, who was to be our guide that day and show us around all of the different basilicas. Since we visited St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on our first day, we just visited the other three major ones. Father Memeng is a Filipino priest working at the Filipino College whose family is spread out all over, and whose sister lives back at home in Los Angeles and knows my Lolo Pete and his family. He was more than happy to show us around that day, and to pray with us at each of the basilicas. It was great getting to know him and asking him many questions about the different sites, as well as the history of each and every place we went to. Rome has such a long history with the Catholic faith and so many churches/religious sites to see; by the end of it all we were exhausted and all Renaissance-d out but ultimately feeling blessed.
Walking into the Chiesa del Gesu, the final resting place of St. Ignatius, I was overcome with great peace and comfort, like I was walking into a house I’ve always known. It was a different feeling from the one I had in the four great basilicas – it was like I was back at my college, Loyola Marymount, entering the Sacred Heart Chapel where I’d spent so many years. Even though the architecture, language, and setting was totally different, it was the same sense of comfort and love that is so common for the Jesuits. I was really excited and humbled just to be there, as well as my Lolo Pete, who also went to a Jesuit university back in the Philippines. I kept thinking of all the songs I heard during mass back at school and singing them in my head. Seeing the tomb and altar of St. Ignatius, who is by far one of my favorite saints, I felt so much peace and joy. After four years at a Jesuit university, it was only fitting to end my college career by giving thanks to the saint who made it all happen. St. Ignatius has inspired me with his devotion and humility, his Spiritual Exercises, his motto “ad majorem dei gloriam!,” and his words/actions of great love. As a person and saint he has taught me so many things, especially while at this school having a “Jesuit-infused” education of the whole person. I was so thankful to have been in his presence and to pray at his tomb. Thank you, St. Ignatius of Loyola, for always watching over & interceding for me, my family and my friends!
Visiting the major basilicas and the Chiesa del Gesu all in one day was a beautiful, humbling moment of great prayer and reverence. I am really glad that my family and I were able to experience it and complete our religious pilgrimage. Now it’s time for all of the cultural, adventure-y, exploring the city stuff! Roma, it’s so good to see you again.