Reformation Day in Rome

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Yesterday morning we woke up extremely early, though not because we aren’t craving excessive amount of sleep—only because Daylight Savings Time ended in Europe today. For all that, we still managed to be a few minutes late to church.

The German-speaking “Chiesa Luterana” in Rome was packed with extra chairs lined up around the edges. I spotted a friar in the back rows. We came in halfway through “A Mighty Fortress” but were particularly delighted to sing “Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice,” the Luther hymn that we posted a week ago on the site. The preacher was a Catholic prelate, Max Eugen Kemper. The confession of faith was selections from the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, read alternately by the Lutheran and Catholic clergy, each section punctuated by a one-verse antiphonal hymn from the congregation—that was, for us after this ecumenical pilgrimage, the most moving part of the service.

The church itself is very beautiful, the walls and ceiling covered with an enormous mosaic of Christ and some angels, gold being the dominant color. We also spotted a plaque in the back of the church indicating its historical importance: in that very place, on Dec. 11, 1983 (the 500th anniversary year of Luther’s birth), Pope John Paul II visited and preached, the first pope ever to visit and preach at a Lutheran church!

The pastor invited us up to say a word or two to the congregation about our trip, which we did (in German addled and compromised by 35 days in Italy, alas), and afterwards we stayed awhile to talk to interested parties about the trek.

After a bite to eat we made our very final sightseeing visits in Rome, first to the Scala Santa and then to St. John Lateran right next door (the “mother church” in Rome and the seat of the bishop of Rome, i.e. the pope, not St. Peter’s). All along we have been saying that there is no real indication of the eventual reformer in the Luther of 1510; the notion that he went to Rome and decided there and then that something had to be done about the papacy is more legend than fact. But at Scala Santa we have one little glimpse of the future. Luther climbed the stairs praying on his knees along with other pilgrims, but when he got to the top he couldn’t suppress a doubt in his mind: who knows if it is true? Despite that doubt, he was very disappointed that he never got an opportunity to say mass at St. John Lateran, since it afforded a plenary indulgence for the priest’s mother. Altogether Luther made very good use of his four weeks in Rome to acquire as many indulgences as he could for himself and his family members.

Then we had our one last (or is the last? I probably shouldn’t speak too soon) annoying excitement on our way to our destination. We caught the Metro at Porta San Giovanni, made it to the Termini Station, found our train and got seats without trouble, arrived in the suburb of Ciampino… and then made the critical mistake of believing Google Maps. What?! Google, make a mistake? They wouldn’t put it on the internet if it wasn’t true! Alas. The search engine confused “Via del Ciampino” with “Via della Stazione del Ciampino,” and located our hotel in absolutely the wrong place. It even said our hotel was where it wasn’t. And that place it wasn’t was 2 km from the train station. Of course, being tough and weathered pilgrims, we thought nothing of walking that distance to avoid paying for a taxi, even in the early dark of normal time and blowing wind of an impending storm. It was when we arrived there and found a bar, rather than a hotel, that we finally got suspicious. Fortunately the friendly barmaid, amidst many a cluck of sympathy, directed us to a bus that drove pretty much forever till it took us to the terminal of a Metro station (which we should’ve done in the first place instead of taking the train), at which point we asked for the next bus to get us to the hotel… and nobody knew. At last we had the good sense to call the hotel and ask for help, and for a modest fee they sent a shuttle for us to pick us up at a gas station—we only had to cross the parking lot, go under a superstrada underpass, and cross a busy road to get there. This world is not made for pedestrians.

I’m sure I’ve never been so happy to see the inside of an airport hotel in my life.

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