By Ann Schneible
ROME, MARCH 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- All seminarians who are called to receive their seminary training in Rome have the unique opportunity to reflect upon the universality of the Church, and the unity of Christians throughout the ages.
Nearly every morning of Lent, seminarians and priests from the Pontifical North American College visit one of the Lenten station churches, following a tradition which goes back to the early Church.
This week, seminarians and priests visited churches dedicated to the early martyrs. John Connaughton, a seminarian of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in his third year of theology at the PNAC, offered his reflections about this week’s station church pilgrimage.
ZENIT: This week you have been visiting churches which are, in a way, monuments to the early Church and the persecutions against it. What have you received by visiting these Churches in particular?
Connaughton: This week we visited the churches dedicated to St. Clement of Rome, St. Balbina, and St. Cecilia, three early Christian martyrs. When you go to these churches for Mass you can’t help but think of how high the cost of discipleship was for these men and women who were martyred for the faith. Being faithful to Christ literally cost them their lives. And it reminds you that the situation isn’t much different for people today in countries like Egypt, Syria and Iraq, where Christians are marginalized and persecuted, even to death, because they worship Christ. When you consider that they, like the early Church martyrs we visit at the station churches, are willing to risk their lives for the faith, it challenges you to consider your own commitment as a disciple of Christ, and it inspires you to be bolder in your Christian witness in the face of the softer social pressures against the faith in our Western societies, pressures which lately seem to be on the rise.
ZENIT: What are the benefits of visiting these station churches throughout the season of Lent?
Connaughton: Visiting the station churches in Lent is a great way to participate in a pilgrimage experience that spans back to the early Church in Rome. People have been doing this for centuries, and we get to be part of this great spiritual tradition during our time of formation for the priesthood. It’s a powerful way of experiencing the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ.
ZENIT: By visiting these station churches throughout Lent, you have the opportunity to experience the history and culture of the Church in a particular way. How do these, and all your experiences in Rome, contribute to your formation as you prepare to eventually return to America as a priest?
Connaughton: I think the whole experience of being in Rome as a seminarian opens your eyes to the Catholicity, the universality, of the Church. We encounter so many different kinds of people here from all over the world who bring their experiences of being Catholic with them. It broadens our perspective on the faith and reminds us that the Church transcends things like culture, language, nationality, etc. Being in Rome also connects us to those Christians who came before us, going all the way back to Peter and Paul, whose tombs we will visit during the station church pilgrimage. All Christians, past and present, are united by our faith in Christ. You really get a sense of that here, and I hope to be able to share that experience with the people back home.