On Good Friday, I walked the Sette Chiese (Seven churches) pilgrimage with Theo Overberg, an Australian Province Jesuit who is the Secretary for the Jesuit Conference of Asia-Pacific of the Society of Jesus at the Jesuit Curia in Rome.
We started from the Jesuit Curia and walked the Seven Churches of Rome in this order:
- Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls
- Saint Sebastian outside the walls
- Saint John Lateran
- Holy Cross in Jerusalem
- Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls
- Saint Mary Major
- Saint Peter’s.
Officially, the Sette Chiese is 22.5 km long, but my iPhone told me that I walked 27.6 km and took 40, 590 steps during the day.
The History of the Seven Churches Pilgrimage
The tradition of visiting all seven churches was started by Saint Philip Neri, around 1553 in order to help pilgrims share a common religious experience through discovering the heritage of the early Saints. He drew up an itinerary that included visits to Saint Peter’s Basilica, then Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, Saint Sebastian’s, Saint John Lateran, Holy Cross-in-Jerusalem, Saint Lawrence-Outside-the Walls and finally Saint Mary Major. He and a few friends and acquaintances would gather before dawn and set out on their walk. At each church, there would be prayer, hymn singing and a brief sermon by Neri.
Saint Philip Neri
Neri is called “the Apostle of Rome” and is a patron of that city. He was known for his cheerfulness and sense of humor. A mystic, his sainthood was centered on his complete surrender to the Providence of God, to whom he referred every matter, saying, “Lord, don’t trust Philip.” Here are some of his maxims:
- He who continues in anger, strife and a bitter spirit has a taste of the air of hell.
- One of the most efficient ways of keeping ourselves sinless is to have compassion for those who fall due to frailty, and never to boast of our rightness, but with real humility acknowledge that if we are in a state of grace, it is by the mercy of God.
- There is nothing more dangerous to the spiritual life than to wish to rule ourselves after our own way of thinking.
- There is a generosity in creation, and it shows the goodness of the Creator: the sun scatters its light; the fire spreads its heat; the tree throws out its arms, which are its branches, and reaches to us the fruit it bears; water, and air, and all nature express the generosity of the creator.
- Hate no one. God never comes where there is no love for our neighbors.
- If you really wish to become a saint, never be defensive and always acknowledge yourself in your fault, even when what is alleged is untrue.
- Force yourself to be obedient, even in the smallest things that appear so inconsequential; this will make it easier to be obedient in the larger things.
- Often read the lives of saints for inspiration and instruction.
- In order to persevere in the life of faith, learn discretion; we cannot do everything at once nor become saints in four days.
- Cheerfulness strengthens the heart and helps us to persevere. A servant of God ought always to be in good spirits. Charity and cheerfulness should be our motto.
- Obtain humility through sincere and frequent confession.
- A most excellent means of learning how to pray? Acknowledge that we are unworthy to pray, and so place our efforts entirely in the hands of the Lord.
- That we are generally the carpenters of our own crosses is a truth sadly easier to recognize in others than in ourselves.
- All of God’s purposes are to the good. Although we may not always understand this we can trust in it.
- Scripture is better learned through prayer than through study.
- If you are ill and cannot fast, be more generous in alms-giving.
- To petition Our Blessed Lady in our most urgent need, repeat, after the fashion of the Rosary, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me.”
- God takes special delight in the humility of those who believe that they have not yet begun to do good.
Saint Philip Neri (1515-1595) was canonized on March 12, 1622 by Pope Gregory XV, and his canonization took place on the same day as that of three Spanish saints. All three were contemporaries of Saint Philip: Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552), and Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). Although he never met Saint Teresa, who spent her life in cloistered Carmelite communities in Spain, when he moved to Rome Saint Philip did become friends with both Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis.
Saint Philip Neri and Saint Ignatius Loyola probably met for the first time at the Hospital San Giacomo for incurables just outside of Rome, where they and their respective companions were both ministering to the sick and dying. Over time they became good friends, and Saint Philip encouraged a number of his own disciples who had a more missionary bent to become Jesuits. Indeed, Ignatius for quite some time had hoped that Philip himself would become a Jesuit, and this very well could have happened given Philip’s missionary zeal.
In fact, Philip was particularly taken with the plans of Saint Francis Xavier, whom he had likewise befriended before the latter set off on his missionary journeys. He wanted to take Francis’ example and go out to India to preach the Gospel. Ignatius used to pass along the letters of Francis reporting back to Rome, which Philip and his companions would read and discuss together in community. However, the idea of going to far-off lands to spread God’s Word was ultimately abandoned when Philip sought the counsel of Prior Vincenzo Ghettini, at the Trappist Cistercian monastery in Rome, who told him that “Your India is to be Rome.”
Some photos from the Sette Chiese pilgrimage and brief histories of the churches
Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls
Basilica of San Paolo fuori le Mura (Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls), is one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, and the second largest after Saint Peter’s. The Basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the place where Saint Paul is said to have been buried. It was said that, after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial there. The Basilica which was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. The basilica was destroyed in a fire in 1823 and was rebuilt starting in 1826.
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls is a special place for Jesuits. Here Saint Ignatius of Loyola and five of his first companions, Diego Lainez, Alphsono Salmeron, Paschase Broet, Claude Jay, Jean Codure — who were part of the group that co-founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) — professed their vows on 22 April, 1541 before the 13th century mosaic icon which can be seen to the left of the altar in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. When they reached St. Paul’s, all six went to confession, one to another. It was decided that Ignatius would say Mass in the church, and that the others would make their vows and then receive the Blessed Sacrament from him. Just before Communion Ignatius, holding in one hand the paper on which the vow formula was written, turned toward his kneeling companions, and said the words of the vows. After saying them, he took Communion, receiving the Body of Christ. When he had finished consuming the chalice, he placed the five consecrated hosts on the paten and turned to his companions. Each one took the page of vows and said the words aloud. When the first had finished, he received the Body of Christ. Then the second did the same; so too the third, fourth, fifth. When Mass was over, they went to the high altar, where Ignatius gave each one a sign of peace. This brought to an end the vow ceremony and marked the beginning of their shared vocation.
Basilica of Saint Sebastian outside the walls
The Basilica of Saint Sebastian outside the walls is located along the Via Appia Antica, between the Park of the Caffarella and the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian and is the second church that we visited on Seven Churches Pilgrimage. The basilica stands where on the spot where, according to legend, the remains of Saint Peter and Paul were taken during the Christian persecution. That is why the original name of this church was the Basilica Apostolorum. Later it was dedicated to Saint Sebastian, who was buried in late third century in the catacombs located underneath the basilica. In 826 AD, fearing a Saracen assault, the remains of the saint were transferred to St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a wise decision, since the assault took place and the church was destroyed.
Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano — the Cathedral of Rome — is often referred to as the “The Mother of all Catholic churches all over the world”. It represents a union between the Pagan and Christian eras. It was originally conceived as a building for public meetings and for the administration of justice. With the spreading of the Christian faith in the Roman empire, it was turned into a Basilica, which could hold a large congregation. The magnificent interior was designed by Francesco Borromini, (25 September 1599 – 2 August 1667).
Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is another of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. The area where the church is set was previously an imperial building known as Sessorium, residence of Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine I. Around the mid 4th century, the Emperor ordered a church to be built in the atrium of the palace to keep the Relics of the Passion of the Lord which, according to legend, were miraculously found at Calvary by his mother.
Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls, is one of the churches visited during the Sette Chiese pilgrimage. Inside is the Tomb of Saint Lawrence, who was martyred in 258 AD, under the Emperor Valerian and the relics of Saint Stephen, together with other famous personalities like Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi and well five Popes: Saint Zosimo, Saint Sixtus III, Sant Hilarius, Damasus II and Pope Pius IX.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the four Papal basilicas of Rome, together with Saint Peter’s, Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls. The legend is that on the night of the 5th of August 352 A.D., Saint Mary appeared in dreams to the Pope Liberius and asked him to build a church where he would find snow. The next morning, in the midst of a scorching Roman summer day, the Pope found snow on the Esquiline Hill. So, he commanded a church to be built there called “Saint Mary of the Snows”. The commemoration of the “miracle of the snow” takes place on the 5th August every year when the faithful are covered by a cascade of white petals falling down from the ceiling of the Chapel.
The Basilica of Saint Peter
The Basilica of Saint Peter was designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, Saint Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom“. Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Saint Peter, chief among Jesus‘s Apostles and also the first Bishop of Rome. Saint Peter’s tomb is supposedly directly below the high altar of the Basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St. Peter’s since the Early Christian period, and there has been a church on this site since the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, which would replace Old St. Peter’s Basilica from the 4th century AD, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.