By John Paul Lichon
Founder, Verso Ministries
I shuffle through the dark corridor, squeezing past those who are trying to get out. Five Brigidine sisters are seated along the back wall of the candlelit chapel as I snake my way in. This tiny chapel is barely large enough to fit the sisters, let alone other pilgrims coming to join them in prayer. I find a small sliver of open marble, just wide enough to squeeze my legs together and kneel down. I quiet myself, take a deep breath, and close my eyes. I pray. A minute passes. I stand, smile at the sisters, and slip out.
Every Holy Thursday, each Catholic Church around the world celebrates the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the beginning of the Triduum liturgy. This celebration commemorates the last supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet. At the conclusion of this liturgy, the priest takes Jesus from the altar and, rather than putting Jesus back into the tabernacle as is typical, leads Jesus to a side altar for exposition. Typically, each church will stay open for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament late into the night, usually about midnight.
As I step into Piazza Farnese, I hear laughter emanating from the nearby café. A brash motorcycle driver cuts me off as I turn to my right, trying to find my way by the moon’s light. It’s cool compared to the stuffiness of the Brigidine chapel, so I zip up my jacket and look for the next church.
You can hear the choir singing from about 50 yards away. The doors are open, but the entrance is cloaked by a velvet curtain hanging from about 15 feet above. I push aside the curtain and make my in. Again, I find my spot and kneel. I pray. A minute passes. As the choir begins their next song, I stand and leave.
There are only a few places in the world where you can find a church on every corner, and Rome is certainly one of those places. Every Holy Thursday evening, from about 6 p.m. until midnight, you can find all of the Catholic churches in Rome open for Adoration. Some churches are quaint and simple, like the Brigidine chapel. Some are ornate, with hundreds of candles and floral bouquets. Other have monks chanting or choirs singing. But they all present Jesus on the night before his Passion and death.
Walking from church to church – searching, kneeling, praying – I fall into a reverent rhythm. I visit about 15 churches in a couple hours’ time. Along the way I encounter St. Monica, St. Catherine of Siena, and several Caravaggios. I am joined by hundreds, if not thousands, of other pilgrims walking the same streets – ducking into churches, praying, contemplating, remembering and celebrating the greatest mystery of our faith – the Paschal Mystery.
Overall, despite all of the constant movement and commotion – the shuffling from church to church, the dodging of Italian traffic, the busyness of the city – I’m struck by the tranquility of the whole thing. There was a peacefulness, a serenity, to this walking pilgrimage through the streets of Rome – this walking pilgrimage to visit Jesus face-to-face in Adoration, over and over again.
It was a simple reminder that we need not wait to visit Jesus more often. For as St. Augustine wrote in The Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”
John Paul Lichon is the Founder of Verso Ministries. He’s done the Holy Thursday walking pilgrimage in Rome about five times, and it never, ever gets old.