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‘Providential’ Rome Pilgrimage Inspires, Energizes

Pope Francis gives us an Angeles blessing Pope Francis gives us an Angeles blessing

During a week of visiting and praying where early Christian women leaders lived and prayed, thirty- five FutureChurch pilgrims saw an excited Italian Church welcome their smiling, pastoral new “Bishop of Rome” -- as he prefers to call himself.  With providential timing, FutureChurch’s third pilgrimage to Rome sites of women leaders in the early Church occurred in the midst of Pope Francis’s installation as the 265th successor of St. Peter.  Like every good bishop, Francis was intent on helping everyone remember that their baptismal calling is as important as his own. 

The six informative lectures by Dr. Carolyn Osiek RSCJ were enlightening.  Osiek is a widely recognized expert on women’s roles in late antiquity.  Her lectures accompanied visits to relevant sites such as the Pio Cristiano museum featuring third and fourth century sarcophagi friezes depicting women teaching various Gospel stories. At the catacomb of Domitilla pilgrims examined a fresco of two women with Gospel scrolls and codices, while the catacomb of Priscilla contains a fresco of women sharing an early eucharistic meal.   Each site provides its own mute testimony to the all-but-forgotten women leaders in the Church’s first five centuries.

Special prayer services created by Sr. Chris Schenk and led by selected women from the group kept everyone mindful of the needs of our Church today even as we celebrated women leaders of the past. In Ostia, pilgrims honored Monica’s mothering, persevering love that eventually brought her son Augustine to belief.  Especially meaningful was a bread-breaking ritual at the catacombs of Priscilla, thought by scholars to be a gathering place for women’s prayer and eucharistic table-sharing.

If a new Pope were not enough, the pilgrimage was enriched by some unique contemporary women leaders. Sr. Kate Kuenstler, the canon lawyer who helped reverse Vatican policy on parish closings, regaled listeners with stories of church politics past and present.  A terrific documentary crew, Rebecca Parish and Shuling Yong, from InterChange Productions shot footage for a new film about Catholic sisters. Sylvia Poggioli and U.S. producers from National Public Radio arrived to cover the Ostia tour.  Sylvia’s three minute story aired on April 1, and is available on the website.

But let’s hear some “favorite parts” from the pilgrims themselves!

Walking the very streets the early women leaders walked. Seeing the physical proof of their leadership. Doing this with the most wonderful women on this pilgrimage.

I loved our pilgrimage. It was rigorous at times (difficult walking and long days).... Thank you for the work and effort to make this an informative walk back into history BUT with the ultimate goal of moving us forward with leadership skills and the certainty of what needs to be restored in our church. 

My favorite aspect of the pilgrimage was learning from scholars like Dr. Osiek and Sr. Chris and sharing my faith and passion with the women on the tour. I loved every minute of this experience.

The lectures, sights and logistics were what I expected with the exception of the Pio Cristiano museum where I was stunned to see the number of sarcophagi showing leadership roles of women... The prayer services in the catacombs of Priscilla and in Ostia were awesome.

The added bonus of the election of Pope Francis was something I will never forget. I was impressed by the ability of all to make schedule changes as a result.

Next year’s Pilgrimage to Rome and Ostia is set for March 20-27...but book early. We sold out last time. Visit www.futurechurch.org for details.

Board member Barbara Guerin and program coordinator Liz England, break for pranza Pope Francis gives us an Angeles blessing
We celebrate anonymous women leaders at Santa Sabina We celebrate anonymous women leaders at Santa Sabina
Agape at Catacombs of Priscilla Agape at Catacombs of Priscilla
Sr. Lyn Osiek, (L) and Jonathon Blakley and Sylvia Poggioli from NPR Sr. Lyn Osiek, (L) and Jonathon Blakley and Sylvia Poggioli from NPR

Focus on FutureChurch

Summer 2013


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