Through a travel enrichment grant I was able to travel to Rome, Italy during Easter to explore the origins of Christianity in Spring 2018.
Our tour of Rome began on Good Friday, the day Christians believe Jesus was crucified and died. I explored the city, walked by Roman ruins on my way to get gelato and took in all of the sights. That night, I attended Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis present. This event took place outside the Colosseum. The leaders went through the stages that led to Jesus’ crucifixion and included hymns and readings from Scripture. Although the event was somber, it was interesting to see the enthusiasm for a public religious event in a traditionally Catholic city -- different from anything we have experienced in the U.S.
The following day I spent more time in Rome and toured the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It was important to me to learn about Rome and its history as fully as possible during my visit. Throughout the tours I learned about the changes in Rome after it became the center of Christianity in the Roman Empire. It was fascinating to see the way a city changed over time and is shaped by its ancient and modern history.
The relationship between the different branches of Christianity is something that has always fascinated me. Though I come from the Protestant tradition, I am involved in Newman (Catholic) Club and Agape Christian Fellowship. It is my passion to learn about different churches, while at the same time seeing the power of unity within Christianity. With this grant, I was able to experience a pilgrimage to the Vatican for Easter mass.
The day before Easter, I received the tickets to the mass, and went through a brief orientation about the organization and meaning of Easter Sunday. I learned about the significance of the mass in the Catholic Church. I was told that even though I had tickets, I would have to wake up early the next day (4:30 A.M.!) to get seats. I waited in a line for five hours before entering the seating area outside of Saint Peter’s Basilica, but it was worth it once we were allowed to enter! Before mass a priest led the praying of the rosary in Italian. However, the whole mass was in different languages. There were priests leading the readings and prayers in their native language. I saw the global aspect to the Catholic Church right in front of us. Afterward, the pope gave the Urbi et Orbi blessing, which is only given twice a year. The blessing extended to our families, too, since we were present. After the blessing we followed the huge crowds into Saint Peter’s Basilica to tour the beautiful church before we left the Vatican.
Catholics present were also eligible to receive a plenary indulgence, which essentially lessens the punishment you could receive for sins left unmended. I learned about many different beliefs and practices in the Catholic faith just by spending this weekend in Rome. This service was important to me because I believe it is important to learn about different beliefs within Christianity in order to understand the religion as a whole. The importance placed on the pope is something unique to this denomination of Christianity. I began to understand the importance of the pope in Catholicism as a result of attending this mass.
I have used my experience in Rome on Easter weekend to better understand my own faiths, as well as share it with others. I experienced a sacred tradition first hand by going on this pilgrimage. It is important to me to not only grow in my own faith, but to gain a better understanding of the faiths of others. Now, I am better able to communicate with people of different religious traditions and see the differences, but most importantly the similarities in Christianity.