Ash Wednesday

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We embraced the Lenten season in earnest with mass at 6:45 AM at Santa Sabina on the Aveline Hill. “The Basilica of Saint Sabina is the mother church of the Dominicans perched high above the Tiber to the North and the Circus Maximus to the East. It is a short distance to the headquarters of the Knights of Malta. The church is the oldest extant Roman basilica that preserves its original colonnaded rectangular plan and architectural style. Its decorations have been restored to their original restrained design. Together with the light pouring in from the windows, this makes the Santa Sabina an airy and roomy place. Because of its simplicity, Santa Sabina represents the crossover from a roofed Roman forum to the churches of Christendom. It is the stational church for Ash Wednesday.” (wikipedia)

The people of Rome have this tradition of celebrating mass at a different church/basilica each day of the Lenten season. This mass of the station churches takes place in the late afternoon/early evening. The English-speaking community, with the help of the students of the Pontifical North American College have organized mass in English early in the morning. Many of the seminarians participate, making the trek to each church on foot in the cool of the early morning. Since the men on the sabbatical program were not all equally able to make the journey on foot, we were taken to the basilica by bus that first day of Lent. We are all encouraged to participate as we are able during the season, traveling on foot or by bus as we see fit. Some of the seminarians even ride their bike to mass. And those who go to class go directly from mass.

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After morning class, we were informed that the evening mass at the station church of Santa Sabina, traditionally celebrated by the Holy Father, had been moved to St. Peter’s. The Vatican was anticipating a larger crowd, as this would be Pope Benedict XVI’s last public liturgy before stepping down on the 28th. Since this announcement came on short notice, we did not need tickets to attend mass. And when we headed down to the piazza with the hope of getting a good seat, we got in line an hour and a half before the doors were scheduled to open, and the line snaked down the center of the piazza toward the Vatican Post Office and back out toward the Via della Conciliazione. Lucky for us, we found seats in no time. From where I was sitting, I was able to take a few good photos using my zoom lens. These would be the last photos of the pope I would take.

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Rolo B. Castillo © 2013