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Hallowe’en in Rome, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and All Saints

I nearly forgot it was Halloween yesterday without all the candy and pumpkins in the stores; barely any orange or brown to be found in the city.

Apparently, it has not been a big holiday for Romans, or Italians in general. The big costume holidays are Epiphany, where they tend to dress up as La Befana, a gift-delivering witch who visits on January 6, and Carneval.

A small group of us went out for an evening passagata around the Pantheon and Piazza Navona, stopping for gelato en route, and finishing with a nice bottle of wine at a little wine bar/café. We saw a few Befana hats out early, but really it was only as we were heading home for the night, about midnight, that we saw more people in costume.

For the morning of All Saints, I opted for the Basilica San Paolo fuori la mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls). Rezart, one of my Muslim housemates, is working on a paper about the Eucharist, and he decided to join me so he could compare his first mass experience from Wednesday night here in the Lay Centre to a more formal experience at the Basilica. An added bonus is that Abbot Edmund was presiding at both liturgies, so the difference in personal presider styles could be taken out of the equation. Matthew joined us on location, in exchange for a visit to his parish next week, to which I am looking forward.

St. Paul’s is the huge basilica built over the tomb of St. Paul, outside the old city walls (hence the name), one of the four major basilicas. Until the new St. Peter’s was built (1506-1625), St. Paul’s was the largest church in the world. Along the walls are the images of the bishops of Rome going back to Peter – the source for those posters one finds all over the place.

St. Paul’s has also become significant in Rome’s ecumenical efforts, including being the location of the culminating liturgy for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity each year. In fact, it was from the steps of St. Paul’s that John XIII announced Vatican II at the end of the celebration for Christian Unity 50 years ago.

Afterwards, Abbot Edmund was generous enough to meet with Rezart and me to answer questions and show us around a little. It is a gift to share the liturgy with someone experiencing it for the first time, especially someone so interested in learning about our worship. The questions remind us of the theology and symbolism we take for granted, and push for better understanding of what we might do out of habit. His first question was like this, he wanted to know why, if the Eucharist itself was a sacrifice made for the forgiveness of sins, why we had a penitential rite just a little while before celebrating the once-and-for-all penitential act! From there we ventured into the symbolism of serving only one species or both, the meaning of incense, and expansion from the homily and so on. It was a blessing for me to just listen!

After returning to the Lay Centre for lunch and a little homework, we ventured out again to All Saints Anglican, to celebrate their patronal feast, and to cheer on Stian who had his acolyting debut. Nine of us in total joined the small English community fro Evensong, then ventured to a pizzeria founded in 1753 (according to the waitress’ t-shirt anyway) and located just down the road, near San Clemente. Donna assured us in advance it was the best pizza in Rome, and we were not disappointed!

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