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Synod on Synodality Delegates Embark on Spiritual Journey to Rome's Ancient Catacombs

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In a remarkable display of unity and reflection, delegates of the Synod on Synodality embarked on a spiritual pilgrimage to Rome's catacombs, where they paid homage to the early Christian martyrs. This unique journey allowed hundreds of participants to temporarily set aside their discussions on synodality, offering them a profound opportunity to connect with their faith and the Church's rich history.

Photo credit: Travis Grossen

Photo credit: Travis Grossen

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
10/13/2023 (8 months ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: Synod on Synodality, Rome's catacombs, Early Christian martyrs, Pact of the Catacombs, Spiritual pilgrimage, Christian history, Vatican, Synod delegates

On October 12, the delegates gathered at the Basilica of Saint Sebastian Outside of the Walls, where they received a translated copy of the "Pact of the Catacombs." This pact, originally signed by 42 bishops during the Second Vatican Council in 1965, served as a source of meditation rather than a topic of discussion during the synod pilgrimage. Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified this distinction.

Before venturing into the catacombs, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the Synod on Synodality, led the delegates in spiritual reflection and a communal recitation of the Apostles' Creed inside the basilica. Hollerich emphasized the catacombs' significance, pointing out that they remind us of the profound commitment early Christians held and strengthen the connection with those who sacrificed their lives for their faith.

Traditionally, it is believed that the catacombs of St. Sebastian housed the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul during the third century, a period when the Roman Empire was persecuting Christians. The Church commemorates this event on June 29 during the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.

The underground passages of the catacombs served as burial sites for early Christians who adorned the stone walls with Christian symbols, including the fish, the dove, and the Chi Rho symbol. Additionally, more than 600 ancient graffiti inscriptions invoking Sts. Peter and Paul have been discovered within the catacombs of St. Sebastian.

After the initial prayer, the delegates were divided into three groups, some taking a bus to explore the nearby catacombs of Domitilla and St. Callistus. During these visits, an archaeological guide provided historical insights and answered questions. It became evident that early Christians gathered in the catacombs not to hide, but to conduct funeral rites and honor the martyrs, as Roman authorities were well aware of their activities.

The catacombs of St. Callistus hold a special place in Christian history, as they were the final resting place for several of the Church's earliest popes, including Saint Anterus, Saint Lucius, Saint Sixtus II, and Saint Eutychian. Over time, the catacombs fell into disuse, with all relics transferred to different churches in Rome. They remained hidden until the mid-19th century when an Italian archaeologist rediscovered them.

The catacombs of Domitilla, with almost nine miles of tunnels and over 26,000 tombs, played host to the signing of the Pact of the Catacombs in 1965. In this 12-point text, the bishops committed themselves to renouncing symbols of power and avoiding wealth, a commitment that had a significant impact on the development of liberation theology, a movement subsequently criticized by the Church.

Notably, during the Synod on the Amazon in 2019, Cardinal Claudio Hummes and several bishops visited the Catacombs of Domitilla and signed the "Pact of the Catacombs for the Common Home," advocating for a Church that is humble, prophetic, and compassionate.

This year, unlike in 2019, the pilgrimage to the catacombs was not optional but mandatory for synod delegates. The spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs closely aligned with that of the Synod, reinforcing the significance of this pilgrimage in the context of the ongoing synodal discussions.

As Cardinal Hollerich humorously stated, "It is not good to get lost in the catacombs, and it is not good to get lost in the Synod." The delegates' journey to the catacombs underscored the profound connection between the Church's past and the ongoing process of synodality.

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