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St. Philip Neri’s 7 Churches Pilgrimage returns after pandemic break

Pilgrims pray in front of St. Peter's Basilica / Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Rome, Italy, May 26, 2022 / 08:37 am (CNA).

When St. Philip Neri came to Rome from Florence in 1533, he encountered a city in upheaval. The Sack of Rome six years prior had left famine and plague in its wake. The Protestant Reformation was in full swing and the Church was rife with corruption.

The young Philip, who would spend around 16 years in Rome as a layman before becoming a priest, soon dedicated himself to caring for the city’s sick and poor.

The saint, whose feast day falls on May 26, also realized that Rome’s people were suffering from a spiritual sickness and tiredness as well, and so he set out to reinvigorate Catholics with the joy of the faith through song and dance — and jokes.

A historic illustration of the seven churches. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A historic illustration of the seven churches. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Part of St. Philip’s outreach was the revival of the Seven Churches visit. He may not be the originator of the idea of the pilgrimage to some of Rome’s most important churches, but he is credited with renewing its popularity.

After it fell out of use once again, St. Philip’s congregation of secular priests, the Oratory, revived it in the 1960s, including holding the walk one night each year, as close as possible to the way the saint would have done it.

Fr. Maurizio Botta, who led the pilgrimage, speaks at the start in front of Chiesa Nuova. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Fr. Maurizio Botta, who led the pilgrimage, speaks at the start in front of Chiesa Nuova. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

After a two-year pause, on the evening of May 13 into the morning of May 14, around 800 people walked 15 and a half miles in the footsteps of the saint and his followers.

Police officers in cruisers drove ahead of the urban pilgrimage to block traffic as a sea of Catholics from around Italy crossed busy intersections and passed Friday night diners while praying the rosary in unison and singing the Taizé chant “Laudate Dominum,” whose words say in Latin, “Praise the Lord, all people, Alleluia.”

Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The rosary was prayed four times during the pilgrimage, which took almost 10 hours to complete, including stops for a sack dinner at midnight and short lessons on the virtues led by priests of the Oratory.

Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus
Pilgrims, including scouts, walk through Rome's Ostiense neighborhood. Hannah Brockhaus

The seven basilicas were chosen by the saint for their importance to Christianity, and the walk on May 13-14 followed the path laid out in a 16th-century document almost certainly seen and used by St. Philip — and likely even written by him.

This document, recreated and printed into a booklet for use on the annual pilgrimage today, gives St. Philip’s guidance for those making the Seven Churches visit.

Eating a sack dinner in the courtyard of a church. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Eating a sack dinner in the courtyard of a church. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

“Before setting out to make this holy Pilgrimage, each of the Brethren must lift up his mind to God, offering him the sincerity of his heart, with the purpose of desiring the sole glory of his divine Majesty in all actions, and especially in this one,” it says.

Those participating can also earn an indulgence under the usual conditions, and are asked to pray for specific intentions. These include praying for the penance of sins, the amendment of lukewarmness and negligence in the service of God, in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins, for the pope and the Church, for sinners still in the darkness of an evil life, for the conversion of heretics, schismatics, and infidels, and for the holy souls in purgatory.

Pilgrims stop to pray on the way to St. Peter's Basilica. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims stop to pray on the way to St. Peter's Basilica. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The pilgrimage began at Chiesa Nuova, the church built by St. Philip for the Oratory, and proceeded to St. Peter’s Basilica, reaching the site of St. Peter’s martyrdom at sunset.

From there, the group of 800 people followed a path along the Tiber River to stop at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Island (not one of the official seven churches) on the way to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Pilgrims walk on a path next to the Tiber River. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk on a path next to the Tiber River. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Each of the seven churches is associated with a moment of Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion. At each stop, an Oratory priest preached on a virtue and its opposing vice, before everyone joined in a prayer for an increase in that virtue and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The virtues and vices were abstinence against gluttony, patience against ire, chastity against lust, generosity against avarice, fervor of spirit against acedia, charity against envy, and humility against pride.

A street sign marking Seven Churches Way. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A street sign marking Seven Churches Way. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

After the Basilica of St. Paul, the pilgrimage followed an ancient street still called Seven Churches Way to arrive at the catacombs and the Basilica of St. Sebastian, a third-century Christian martyr.

As a layman in Rome, St. Philip Neri used to visit the catacombs of St. Sebastian to pray. One night in the catacombs, about 10 years after moving to Rome, as he prayed, a mystical ball of fire entered his mouth and went down into his chest, exploding his ribs and doubling the size of his heart with love of God.

St. Philip was changed, both physically and spiritually, by this event, which he only revealed shortly before his death.

Pilgrims outside the catacombs of St. Sebastian. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims outside the catacombs of St. Sebastian. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

Pilgrims next arrived at the Domine Quo Vadis Church after a silent, moonlit walk through the ancient Appian Way Park, flanked by the silhouettes of Italian cypress trees.

The small church of medieval origin marks the spot where, according to tradition, Jesus appeared to St. Peter as he was fleeing Rome to avoid martyrdom.

Peter asked Jesus, “Domine quo vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”), to which Christ said, “Venio Romam iterum crucifigi,” (“I am coming to Rome to be crucified again.”) This rebuke caused Peter to turn around and face his own martyrdom.

Pilgrims walk along the ancient Aurelian Wall on their way to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk along the ancient Aurelian Wall on their way to the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The next official pilgrimage church was the Basilica of St. John Lateran, followed by a 10-minute walk to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.

The Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls was the penultimate stop. The church, which has the tomb of St. Lawrence, is located next to Rome’s Verano Monumental Cemetery, and was included among the Seven Churches by St. Philip Neri, Father Botta said, as a reminder of mortality.

The final stretch of the walk passed through Rome’s main train station, Termini, where pilgrims sang the Marian antiphon “Salve Regina.”

Pilgrims walk through Termini train station singing the "Salve Regina". Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims walk through Termini train station singing the "Salve Regina". Hannah Brockhaus/CNA

The pilgrimage finished shortly before 6:00 a.m. at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the traditional end of the walk, where the “Salve Regina” hymn was sung again in honor of the Virgin Mary.

Pilgrims sing the "Salve Regina" outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
Pilgrims sing the "Salve Regina" outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A baby and his mom enjoy a moment with a new friend at the end of the pilgrimage. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A baby and his mom enjoy a moment with a new friend at the end of the pilgrimage. Hannah Brockhaus/CNA
A statue of Mary on a column outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus
A statue of Mary on a column outside the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Hannah Brockhaus

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Ukraine war: Catholics invited to join Pope Francis in praying rosary for peace

Pope Francis prays before Our Lady of Fatima May 13, 2015. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Vatican City, May 26, 2022 / 06:42 am (CNA).

The Vatican is inviting Catholics to join Pope Francis in praying the rosary for peace in Ukraine and around the world at the end of the Marian month of May.

The pope will pray the rosary before the statue of Mary Regina Pacis (Queen of Peace) at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major at 6 p.m. local time on May 31.

“At the conclusion of the Marian month, Pope Francis wishes to offer a sign of hope to the world, suffering from the conflict in Ukraine and deeply wounded by the violence of the many wars still active,” the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization said on May 26.

It added: “All the faithful in every part of the world are invited to support Pope Francis in his prayer to the Queen of Peace.”

The pope will pray the rosary in union with Marian shrines around the world, including the Shrine of the Mother of God in Zarvanytsia, western Ukraine. They will be connected via video link to the live broadcast from Rome.

Pope Francis is expected to lay flowers at the foot of the Marian statue before reciting the rosary. The statue of Mary Regina Pacis, in the basilica’s left aisle, was commissioned by Pope Benedict XV to ask for the Virgin Mary’s intercession to end the First World War.

The sculptor Guido Galli depicted Mary with her left arm raised, commanding the war to end. In her right arm, she holds the Child Jesus, who is poised to drop an olive branch symbolizing peace.

Visitors often leave handwritten notes with prayers intentions at the base of the statue.

The statue of Mary Regina Pacis at Rome’s Basilica of St. Mary Major. Fczarnowski via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).
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The Pontifical Council said that the pope will be accompanied at the basilica by children who have recently made their First Communions or received the Sacrament of Confirmation, as well as families from Rome’s Ukrainian community.

A Ukrainian family is expected to pray one of the decades of the rosary.

Pope Francis consecrated Russia and Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on March 25.

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Gunmen kidnap 2 Catholic priests in Nigeria

Father Stephen Ojapah and Father Oliver Okpara, who were abducted in Nigeria’s Sokoto diocese on May 25, 2022. / Father Chris Omotosho.

Rome Newsroom, May 26, 2022 / 06:00 am (CNA).

Gunmen attacked a Catholic rectory and kidnapped two priests in northwest Nigeria on Wednesday.

Father Stephen Ojapah and Father Oliver Okpara were abducted after gunmen broke into the rectory of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Gidan Maikambo, in the middle of the night on May 25, according to a statement from the Diocese of Sokoto.

Two boys were also kidnapped along with the priests, according to Father Chris Omotosho, a spokesman for the diocese, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

Omotosho, a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul of Nigeria, of which one of the abducted priests is also a member, appealed for prayers “for their safety and release.”

The kidnapping is the latest incident in a series of attacks that have reportedly targeted Church institutions in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

ACI Africa reported on May 14 that Muslim youths vandalized multiple Catholic churches in the area, including the Sokoto diocese’s Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, St. Kevin’s Catholic Church, and the St. Bakhita Center.

The young people vandalized the churches in protest at the arrest of suspects in the stoning to death of Deborah Yakubu on May 12.

Yakubu, a young Christian woman who was studying economics at a college in Sokoto, was stoned to death and then burned by male students at the college who accused her of blasphemy.

She had reportedly testified that Jesus Christ helped her pass exams, and was then accused of making blasphemous statements about the Prophet Muhammad.

Bishop Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe of Makurdi, Benue State, issued a statement on May 20 questioning why the Nigerian government continued to remain silent amid persistent attacks in the West African nation.

Anagbe said that widespread terrorism by Islamist Fulani herdsmen in Benue State had made it nearly impossible to conduct pastoral visits in the area.

The bishop decried the silence of the international community amid the suffering of Christians in Nigeria.

“Sadly, we continue to draw the attention of the outside world to the plan by Islamists to Islamize Christian territories countless times with little or no attention paid to our cry and call for help,” he said.

“Sometimes it appears we have been abandoned to the mercy of the jihadists.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner. It has been adapted by CNA.

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