By Ann Schneible
ROME, APRIL 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- As the world begins its entry into the Easter Triduum, a group of English-speaking pilgrims prepared themselves for the Paschal Mystery with a day-long pilgrimage to each of the seven major basilicas of Rome, a tradition first realized in the 16th century by St. Philip Neri.
Organized by the Pontifical North American College, the eleven-hour pilgrimage began at 7 this morning with Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the station church of today and the final one in which the priests and seminarians will participate. Since the beginning of Lent, the PNAC had organized a daily station church pilgrimage (except on Sundays), a tradition which began in the early Church when the bishop of Rome would make pastoral visits to the parishes in the city.
Following the visit to St. Mary Major, the pilgrimage moved on to St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, St. John Lateran, St. Sebastian, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and concluded with St. Peter’s Basilica after approximately 12 hours and 23 kilometers (14 miles).
St. Philip Neri – the “apostle of joy” who established the pilgrimage of the seven churches in the 16thcentury – had a particular love for the youth, and a vocation to serve the pilgrims of Rome. The PNAC’s Institute for Continuing Education Director and adjunct spiritual advisor Rev. Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, who participated in today’s pilgrimage, spoke to ZENIT about how St. Philip instituted the seven church walk to “remind us that our life is a pilgrimage.”
It is moreover fitting, Msgr. Figueiredo explains, that the pilgrimage concludes with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, where the arms of the colonnade encompassing the square open like “the arms of a mother… who gathers her children like a mother hen, who mothers her children with open arms, who welcomes us. Entering into that piazza and seeing the greatness of St. Peter’s really gives joy to our hearts.”
“There’s a joy also in the suffering,” he goes on to say, speaking of the many kilometers of walking entailed in the seven churches pilgrimage. “We can really be joyful in suffering. What has helped me along the way is that we stop at each of these churches and pray, and really seek the Lord’s help, the blessed Virgin Mary’s help, and the help of the saints at each of them.”
He also spoke about the importance of community in all pilgrimages. “It’s a pilgrimage one can do individually,” he explained, “but here today we’ve done it really as a body. And that’s a really key part of this journey, because God didn’t create us to be alone. We need to be supported, helped and sustained by others along this journey. So, that too is a very important aspect of this pilgrimage; to learn how to be with God, but also to be with one another.”
ZENIT also spoke with Simon Carian, a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, California, and third year theology student in Rome, who was one of the organizers of today’s pilgrimage. He spoke about the fittingness of completing this pilgrimage just before the Easter Triduum.
“It helps to set the tone spiritually,” Carian explained. “It is a whole day’s event, visiting all the seven major basilicas. It does require a certain exertion, a certain courage to get through them all. You’re setting out on a good note, a good tone. It’s also spiritually fruitful just by visiting the great churches of Rome, to pray with the great martyrs, venerate relics of the passion, and also, of course, to make a good confession – that’s part of it too, because confession is offered in all of the major basilicas. With all of these different elements – praying, making a good confession – it really does help to set the tone, and to get one into the spirit of the sacred Triduum.”
“I’m especially moved,” he concluded, “by the joy and devotion of all the people that are around me [on this pilgrimage]. This year, we had a really great turn-out, a couple hundred people were there to make the whole seven-church walk. Just to see the devotion of the people around is inspiring to us.”