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Retreading Rome's Appian Way

Interview With Member of Pontifical Martyr's Academy

ROME, JUNE 17, 2006 (Zenit) - The Appian Way is historically the road that connects the two principal cities of Christianity: Jerusalem and Rome.

Monsignor Pasquale Iacobone, officer of the Pontifical Academy "Cultorum Martyrum," which promotes historical accuracy and devotion to the martyrs, contends that the "the rediscovery of pilgrimage on the paths of the martyrs is imperative to rediscover the roots and reinforce Christian identity."

In the interview with us, Monsignor Iacobone, author of "La Via Appia. Regina viarum, via peregrinorum," speaks about the Appian Way, which he described as the "first path of Christian pilgrimage."

The book was published by the Regional Park of Appia and "Cultorum Martyrum."

Q: What is the significance of the Appian Way?

Monsignor Iacobone: In addition to having the apostolic tombs of the Vatican and of the Via Ostiense, the Appian Way is the place where the first Christian pilgrimage physically took place.

Precisely on the Appian Way, the first Christian testimonies were condensed, not only monumental but also literary and epigraphic.

Think of the graffiti of St. Sebastian, of the very beautiful texts of Paulinus of Nola, of Prudentius or the first ancient writers that, from the fifth century onward, speak to us of these pilgrimages undertaken annually on June 29, on the occasion of the memorial of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Q: Has all this been lost today?

Monsignor Iacobone: All this seems to be lost but I believe it can be recovered following the lines of what has been done with the road of Santiago de Compostela, of what is being done on the Via Francigena, on which precisely in these days young people are walking to arrive in Rome on June 29, for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

We are working on a similar project, which will give value to the Appian Way not only for archaeologists or tourists, but above all as a path of pilgrimage to again connect Jerusalem and Rome.

Q: What was the pilgrimage like and what can we recover from that experience?

Monsignor Iacobone: A pilgrimage is to go to the sources of one's experience of faith and life: to Jerusalem, to places of the Holy Land, of Christ's historical presence, of the first Christian community in Rome, and, especially, to follow in the footsteps of Peter and Paul and of the first martyrs.

To redo his path means to actualize what Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been repeating to us, that is, to rediscover the living roots of Europe and therefore of our identity as Italians, Europeans and above all as Christians.

This pilgrimage to the roots of faith is not inspired in an "archaeological" interest, and much less is it or should remain, a phenomenon for a few devotees; it is, rather, a living experience, of contact with the roots that, through the signs, continue to speak to us and question us.

It is to reflect again on the roots through physical contact with the numerous memorials which are not only on the first stretch, at the doors of Rome, but throughout the Appian Way, with so many and, perhaps lamentably, forgotten martyrs' shrines, memorials and monuments that have marked the Christian path for centuries.

Q: How do you hope to relaunch the Christian pilgrimage?

Monsignor Iacobone: What must be reappraised and rediscovered are all those Christian memorials situated in the course of the pilgrimage, and for this reason it is necessary to act on three levels of participation.

At the religious level, that is, of dioceses and Christian communities, which are called to rediscover their roots; at the academic level, that is, the universities, which are already concerned with archaeology, art history, literature, etc. The third level refers to immediate enjoyment, hospitality, tourism and all that is connected with the plan of the route of the Appian Way.

In this regard, it is significant that on Sunday, June 18, the first pilgrimage on foot will leave from Rome for the Holy Land. There is a pilgrim association, "The Pilgrims of Francigena," which, after taking part in holy Mass, will cover the first stretch of the Appian Way to Capua.

Next year the association will go to Brindisi, and the third year to Jerusalem.

Q: Which is the most important meeting that the Pontifical Academy "Cultorum Martyrum" holds to remember the martyrs?

Monsignor Iacobone: It is, undoubtedly, the celebration and Eucharistic procession within the Vatican, which takes place on June 30 in the afternoon, feast of the Roman proto-martyrs.

This year, the celebration will be presided over by Archbishop Angelo Comastri, and the procession will be organized inside the Vatican, crisscrossing the places where the first Roman martyrs shed their blood.


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