Study and Pilgrimage to Rome: Encounter with the Universal Church

From August 23rd to 29th 2020, 15 KAAD scholars from 11 different countries took part in the pilgrimage trip to Rome, the centre of the Universal Church, historically guided by Dr. Hermann Weber and spiritually accompanied by P. Prof. Dr. Ulrich Engel OP. The restrictions imposed by the pandemic required much discipline and responsibility from the pilgrims, but in the end, they have also allowed the common spiritual experience to become more concentrated and intense in the absence of masses of tourists. The programme was largely carried out although some churches were completely closed.

The motivation letters required for participation clearly reflected not only the students’ expectations and importance of the pilgrimage, especially in view of their own faith, but also their professional and interdisciplinary interest in Roman architecture, art and general history in a European context, especially in view of the role of the church and papacy. As it has always been the case in the previous years, the motivations of this year’s pilgrims lied also in the desire to search for the “truth” of what they had learnt and dreamt of in their home countries and to make those immediate spiritual experiences at the very source of their own faith. Once again, the trip offered the unique opportunity to take a look together at the European history at one of its places of origin from the perspective of a stranger. The group stayed at a guesthouse of the Pallottine Sisters, close to the St. Peter’s Square, from where long walks were taken to discover the city.

Consequently, the encounter with Rome as the focal point of world history, and especially prayer and Eucharist at the sites of early Christendom and the great Roman saints were an unforgettable experience for the students. This is in particular true for those who come from local churches and countries where Christians have to face discrimination or even persecution; these students usually perceive the trip as a pilgrimage, which they make not only for themselves but also on behalf of their community. This year, the group could follow the Wednesday audience of Pope Francis only virtually.

A vivid spirituality that had grown from small urban Rome beginnings into one of universal church dimensions could be experienced by the group through prayer and conversations with the community of Sant’ Egidio in Trastevere. Important impulses for reconciliation in political conflict situations and between the major religions are given from here, a topic which is of particular concern to KAAD’s educational work. This time we talked mainly about social services in Rome itself in the face of the pandemic.

On the one hand, the guided tours through individual historical quarters were intended to convey a clear and vivid picture of the living conditions in certain eras and on the other hand to enable encounters with great personalities of the ancient world and with the church and secular history. Within the scope of KAAD’s work, special attention was paid to Rome as city of science and wisdom. 12 scholars contributed short presentations on different topics or biographies. P. Philipp Wagner OP, Rector of the Church Sa. Sabina on the Aventine Hill, guided us through his church.

The following is a short overview of the trip’s course:

Sunday, 23rd August

Arrival and introduction in Trastvere, with a first tour of the Gianicolo.

Monday, 24th August

Mornings: Visit to the Basilica di San Pietro with crypt and dome

Afternoon: Guided tour of the centro storico on the theme: Roman everyday life in the Renaissance. Stations: Castel Sant’Angelo and Angel’s Bridge, oldest inscription on a Tiber flood (1277), Monte Giordano, Piazza Navona, Sapienza, Pantheon, S. Maria sopra Minerva. The guide was the city map of Bufalini (1551).

Evenings: Rome from the perspective of a stranger: images of the city and our first experiences with it

Tuesday, 25th August

Mornings: Guided tour of the Lateran district with emphasis on the relationship between the Pope and the Emperor in the Middle Ages; stops: Triclinium Leos III, Scala Santa, visit to the Lateran Basilica, New Year’s Eve legend and Constantinian donation after the fresco cycle in SS. Quattro Coronati (the chapel was closed, as was the church of S. Clemente)

Afternoon: Piazza Venezia and Imperial Forums, S. Pietro in vincoli, S. Maria Maggiore, Diocletian Baths, Piazza Barberini, Spanish Steps, Fontana di Trevi

Wednesday, 26th August

Mornings: (Virtual) General Audience of Pope Francis

Afternoon: Visit to the ancient centre of Rome (Capitol, Roman Forum, Colosseum)

Thursday, 27th August

All-day: Bus trip to the Catacombs of Calixtus, guided tour and church service, followed by Lido di Ostia, Ostia Antica excavations, return via San Paolo fuori le mura

Evenings: Prayer and conversations with the community of Sant’ Egidio

Friday, 28th August

Mornings: Tour of the Vatican Museums

Afternoon: via the Tiber Island, S. Bartolomeo, the Forum Boarium and S. Maria in Cosmedin on the Aventine, mass in S. Sabina

Saturday, 29th August

Mornings: The Jesuit Order and the Counter-Reformation in Rome (via Via Giulia to Palazzo Farnese, Campo dei Fiori, Il Gesù, S. Ignazio).

Here you can find a personal statement (in German) from one of the pilgrims.