By Ann Schneible
ROME, Nov. 12, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Nearly 100 young people from around the world gathered together to celebrate Mass in the crypt of Saint Peter's Basilica early last Saturday morning, beginning a 12 hour walking pilgrimage that would take them to each of the seven major basilicas of Rome.
Beginning with Saint Peter's Basilica, those taking part in the pilgrimage went on foot to Saint Paul's outside the walls, Saint Sebastian's, Saint John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Saint Lawrence outside the walls, and finally to Saint Mary Major.
The pilgrimage is organized each year by the Centro San Lorenzo (CSL) international youth center, although the practice of visiting these seven basilicas – also known as the seven pilgrim Churches of Rome – was started in the 16thcentury by Saint Philip Neri.
CSL director Marta Nardin from Slovenia explained how the day was an interior pilgrimage for those participating, as well as a physical one.
"At each basilica you could really see them entering more and more into the mercy and the graces of the footsteps of the saints," she said.
CSL volunteer Claire Poirrier from France spoke about the sense of unity in journeying together to the different Churches. "We are all from different nationalities," she said, "and here it is a special way to see how great the Church is because we can pray together, we can be linked by something which is [greater than our differences]."
Peter Maka of Toronto, a philosophy student of the Pontifical University of Thomas Aquinas here in Rome, joined the pilgrimage in part for its historical significance, and in part because of the sense of community gained in making the journey through Rome with like-minded people of faith. "I've received a sense of the presence of the saints in the Churches we visited."
"There is a spiritual benefit of the indulgence that we receive from doing this pilgrimage," he said.
Father Fredrick Gruber, a priest for the diocese of Pittsburg and participant in Saturday's pilgrimage, spoke with ZENIT about the "great lessons of faith" that can be obtained from each of the seven Churches. Making the effort to visit these Churches, he said, excites the "desire to discover these truths. If we made the effort just to come here, we feel like we ought to be able to get something out of it. We're going to be open to paying attention to the beautiful works of art, to the lessons in faith, to the relics of the martyrs, to the relics of our Lord in these Churches."
From a spiritual perspective, Father Gruber continued, the idea of pilgrimage " is significant for stepping out of everyday life, and being open to experiencing beauty, reflecting on truth, and being inspired by the good example of the saints and martyrs who have come before us."
For young people in particular, he said, "it is especially a great occasion for catechesis, for deepening the faith, and encouraging this kind of connection and fellowship with the saints, and with each other, on the way."