Highlights from Rome, Day One

Yesterday (Wednesday), journalists were given a sneak peak at the Verbum Domini exhibit at the Braccio di Carlo Magno Museum just next to St. Peter’s Basilica in St. Peter’s Square, by its director, Dr. Scott Carroll. Dr. Carroll took us through the exhibit’s many galleries pointing out some of the earliest Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts. One highly interesting exhibit featured essentially recycled papyrus taken from ancient mummy cartonnage. Dr. Carroll explained that papyrus that had been written on was sometimes used for mummy cartonnage. Through a process of dismantling the cartonnage, they’ve been able to discover some of the earliest texts, including several which were on exhibit, including Psalms, 1 Samuel, and an undocumented work by Aristotle.

Other exhibit highlights include the first time that the Vatican has exhibited material related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a working replica of a Gutenberg Press. Someone dressed in period costume operated the press, handing out samples of print produced by the press. Another highlight was a manuscript purportedly written by St. Thomas more on the Eucharist, along with an indulgence that was concealed in the cover, and a sermon from St. John Fisher.

As one travels through the various galleries and periods of time they represent, one comes to a greater understanding of how the Bible is a living book, which has been translated, fought over, and protected by peoples of all cultures, languages, and nations from the earliest times until today.

“The exhibit offers a rare view of a living Bible history. It celebrates not what divides us, but what brings us together - our Holy Scriptures,” said Lamar Vest, at a reception held at the Pope Paul VI Auditorium. Vest is President of the American Bible Society, which is helping sponsor the exhibit.

Following the behind-the-scenes tour, I took some time to visit St. Peter’s Basilica. A couple of things had changed since my last visit, 17 years ago. No longer can visitors walk right up the front steps to enter the Basilica. Instead they are routed along the right side colonnade to first pass through a metal detector. I was also struck by two other things. The first was the fact that the busiest and most popular place appears to be the Tomb of Pope John Paul II, located in the St. Sebastian Chapel, just to the left of the Pieta. The chapel was filled with people sitting and kneeling in prayer before his tomb. I knelt there, offering prayers for my family and work.

The second thing I noticed, which I must have bypassed during my first visit, was the Eucharistic Adoration chapel. A significant number of people were taking time to pray before the Lord in that chapel as well - a chapel which was instituted by Pope John Paul II. That chapel contains the Basilica’s only painting - a painting of the Trinity. Amazingly, all of the other artwork in the Basilica are mosaics.

As often happens on such trips, a personal highlight was running into someone unexpectedly. Just after entering St. Peter’s, I walked toward Michelangelo’s Pieta. When I turned around, there was Diocese of St. Cloud seminarian Joseph Koczur leading a small group of pilgrims from California on a tour of the Basilica. I tagged along for the tour, as he described the many tombs, monuments, and the artwork. In the end we were all treated to a spectacular view of St. Peter’s from the roof of the North American College, where Joseph is residing. It was a real treat to see all of Rome from such a unique vantage point.