What an amazing three days in Rome it has been! We have seen many historical and religious sites, some dating back before Jesus' time.
We arrived in Rome late Wednesday afternoon and spent the evening settling in. The following morning we woke up at 5am to arrive early at St Peter's square. At this time of the morning it was quite surreal to see the square without crowds and have time to appreciate it's beauty. Not only were we able to visit and tour St. Peter's Basilica but also celebrate mass here with Cardinal Pell (former archbishop of Sydney). We then met our local tour guide, Simon, who showed us sites around Rome for the next two days. We walked to the Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre ever built. It was once used for gladiator contests and public spectacles. After lunch we returned to St. Peter's square and visited the Vatican museum which holds many famous sculptures, artworks and masterpieces built up by Popes over many years. Our time in the Vatican museum ended in the Sistine Chapel where we spent some time admiring the incredible work of Michelangelo. Words can not describe the beauty and serenity of the Sistine Chapel.
Friday began with a another exciting visit to St. Paul Outside the Walls. It is called this because it is situated outside the old city of Rome which is enclosed by a wall. Every twenty five years a jubilee year is declared, this year being the year of mercy. Because of this, the holy door of Mercy at St. Paul Outside the Walls was open. We were fortunate to be able to walk through these holy doors in which we prayed for God's mercy upon entering.
Then we visited Domitillia's Catacombs which were used as places of refuge for the celebration of the Eucharist for early Christian communities. The catacombs were also used as underground cemeteries for Christians. As we entered the dark, small and cold tunnels of the catacombs, we were overwhelmed by what we saw and how they were able to build this so long ago. We celebrated mass in the Basilica of St John in Lateran( First Papal Residence), our first mass with only bus 12. This was very special as our Chaplain Father Mark led a heartfelt service. After mass, we walked to the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs). Before entering Father Mark spoke about the importance of these stairs, explaining indulgences and how climbing the stairs on our knees, along with passing through a Holy Door of Mercy and partaking in the sacrament of reconciliation would prepare us for heaven. This was extremely challenging, physically, mentally and spiritually, taking roughly 40 minutes to climb the stairs. After a short break we walked to our home away from home, the Domus Australia. This is a place owned by the Archdiocese of Sydney where Australian pilgrims can stay and celebrate mass in the very Aussie embellished church. Here adoration took place and we were able to partake in the sacrament of reconciliation with Father Mark. As a bus group, we were quite emotional yet this day strengthened our bond as bus 12.
Our final day in Rome began with mass in Domus Australia. As Father Mark lived in Rome for a few years, he took us on a walking tour. We made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, stood in awe in the middle of the Pantheon, visited the oldest bridge in Rome, walked through the Jewish ghetto and said an emotional goodbye to our Italian tour guide Pasquale.