The words of Psalm 27 end with the verse, “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”We read these words in a chapel, deep in the San Callisto Catacombs in Rome. We were finishing a tour with the guide explaining to us that we were in the place where the early Christians buried their dead. It had been the Roman practice to cremate the deceased but the Christians preferred to bury their dead in niches underground, where they could carry out their rituals in relative safety. The hope was that the body would resurrect at the time of the Second Coming. Frescoes in the tombs depict bread and fish, the raising of Lazarus, the Last Supper and other symbols of the faith of the Christians. Eternal symbols that we see today. Our guide had reminded us that the underground cemetery belongs to the Vatican. I was impressed that he said the underground chapels were for all people, no matter which denomination. We are all one!
Our last stop was to a space that had been, and still is a sacred place of worship. In fact, a number of popes had been buried in the area. We proceeded with our worship in this most ancient of places, 30 feet underground that had been used by Christians since the second century, AD. I experienced a strong connection to the communion of saints who have gone before us and a sense of the hope that was held by those early people of faith who had been so terribly persecuted. Singing John Bell’s hymn, Praise God forThis Holy Ground and the singing of the Sanctus gelled the experience of worshiping with the saints in their sacred space.
Of course, we visited the Colosseum, the site of cruel entertainment and vicious murders of Christians and pagans, alike. Architecturally, the structure is a wonder and has been restored over time after being left to crumble after the Empire collapsed in the fifth Century. At this point, only about 30% of the building remains from antiquity. It has an aura of gloom, despite the glorious weather. So many Christians were martyred on that site for just being a Christian.