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We have returned from a stop in Rome and a visit to twelve churches there, including St. Peter's Basilica and three of the other papal basilicas, praying for our intentions and those of Spirit Daily viewers precisely from where Pope Francis has recently prayed (at the church of Saint Anna in Vatican City and Saint Mary Maggiore across town) and near the remains of four Apostles, the tomb of John Paul II, wood relics of the manger, and nails that according to tradition were used in the Crucifixion.

Every trip to Rome is different and this one brought forth the distinct difference between the stones of the Church (which are very much alive) and those of paganism (which are long dead, at least at famous archeological sites in this city). One guide told us that the number of visitors to the Vatican has swelled -- almost exploded -- since the elevation of Pope Francis, the largest crowds guides have witnessed at the start of a pontificate. Even secular Rome has taken notice. The colonnade is filled with swarming pilgrims. Believers and non-believers have been galvanized by this direct-speaking Pontiff with a common touch who has broken through the ice of theological abstraction.  (Did a dove really land on his hand as he was blessing?)

Rome is about stone and the Vatican is built on the Rock of Peter (his ossified bones are below, archeologists have shown) and there are the stone walls, columns, and statues.

Tufa. Granite. Stone everywhere. August. Towering. They are ancient stones but very, very alive (crowds are also large at places like Scala Sancta) and the lesson on this trip was how they stand in stunning contrast to the smashed, fallen, and eroded stone and marble at places like the Coliseum, the Forum, and Caesar's Palace, which form a lifeless archeological dig. In fact if not for the Church, which decided it should be maintained as a monument to the countless Christians martyred there, the Coliseum would be totally picked apart and unidentifiable. If not for excavations, they would be buried by wind-driven earth. It is as if a nuclear bomb struck -- as a spiritual one did in the form of Christ, Who came to destroy precisely what those pagan monuments represented. It is good to recall that the Coliseum was greatly damaged by an earthquake. It is also a prayer: that such seismic activity, once so prevalent, not return.

A remaining building near the Coliseum has been turned into a church -- as have certain other pagan sites (the Vatican itself was once the site of pagan ritual). Every Good Friday, the Pope does some of the Stations of the Cross inside the former amphitheatre in commemoration of the martyrs so brutally killed there. Catholicism has taken back pagan territory. The Pantheon (Rome's great hall of gods) is now a Catholic church with Crucifix. 

Stone and more stone. There is always the need to clean exteriors in this city of diesel motors and one is struck by how a single generous Catholic multi-millionaire (or billionaire) could  make a real difference (particularly with the tile floors of the colonnade).

But it thrives, the Vatican; its stones are alive. Its stones speak volumes upon volumes. So does the incredible, towering, intricate and priceless art -- miles of it. There is no place in the world with nearly the wealth of craftsmanship and artistry, which speak of inspiration. A gem in the museum: that encasement for the dogma of the Immaculate Conception [right]. Also, the simple but powerful Crucifix on the equally simple altar in the Sistine Chapel. There is the grace that comes in waves in front of John Paul II's tomb or in the Blessed Sacrament chapel in Saint Peter's Basilica. Some say that earth from Golgotha was brought to Rome by Saint Helena and spread on the Vatican Gardens. One is struck by how difficult it would be for those who disparage Catholicism to do so amid this place that does justice to the otherwise overused word "awesome."

At the Vatican itself remain vestiges paganism. The museum contains sarcophagi, nude busts, gargoyles, and paintings by artists such as Salvador Dali (along with a small wing of modern art) that might best be reconsidered. We forget how such artifacts can have spirits attached to them. We also forget that the Vatican -- so tiny, just 110 acres -- could use the space for other things. (Perhaps the secular art and relics could be sent to a Church-owned museum elsewhere.)

But this is minor, alongside the splendor of God and Christ and eternity as conveyed at the Vatican. It is all precisely and dramatically what Our Lord was speaking about when he founded the Church on the "rock" of Peter. Visit Saint Peter's. Visit a dozen of the most august churches. Visit these places that in size and intricacy and artistic quality and stonework are astounding. Know that there are nine hundred Catholic churches in Rome.

They can attack this Church all they want, the Pentecostals, the evangelicals, the  countless others. But no one can visit here without feeling the Truth of Catholicism, and without walking on the foundation alluded to by Jesus.

--Michael H. Brown, 6/10/13

[resources: A Life of Blessings

[Print article]

[Footnote: steel globe art, above left, that resembles the earth splitting apart near the Vatican Gardens was fashioned in 1990; also on the prophetic side, those many who long have besmirched the Church as the seat of anti-christ because Revelation mentions the seven hills of Rome should note that the Vatican does not sit on any of those seven hills and is northwest of the Tiber, outside of what was then the city.]

[Our special thanks to the extremely proficient and dedicated founder of 206 Tours, Milanka Lachman, of New York, and our guide in Rome, Gaia Meuti, for making this our most fruitful visit to the city.]


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