Study and Pilgrimage to Rome: Encounter with the Universal Church

From August 25th to 31st 2019, 18 KAAD scholars from 13 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. Thomas Eggensperger OP.

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 at the European history together at one of its places of origin from the perspective of a stranger. The group stayed at a hotel of an Italian secular institute in Trastevere from where long walks were taken to discover the city. In a metropolis overcrowded with tourists, to some extent, the participants also had to first find their own spiritual places. Also in view of some non-Catholic participants, the thematic emphasis was among other things on Rome as a city of also interdenominational and interreligious conflicts and encounters reflected both in its history and current situation.

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. The group also took part in the Wednesday audience of Pope Francis during which he spoke in his catechesis on the biblical book of Acts about the nearness of Christ to the sick through the church and recalled the beginning of the Second World War. 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.

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. 13 scholars contributed short presentations on different topics or biographies. P. Thomas Eggensperger OP introduced us to the history of the Dominican Order at the seat of its leadership.

This is how a participant from Eastern Europe experienced the pilgrimage:
“For me, the pilgrimage to Rome was an enriching experience which will remain unforgettable from a spiritual, emotional and intellectual point of view. I was aware that the programme was demanding, but in the end it exceeded all my expectations. I experienced our whole group as wonderful people whose encounter was very enriching.”

Dr. Hermann Weber wrote an essay on Rome in a historical commemorative publication which is based on the experiences of the KAAD pilgrimages, which have been offered as a seminar for some 30 years now. Here you find the link.