This past semester, my brother seminarian Sam Rosko and I had the incredible opportunity to study at the heart of the Church in Rome. After reflecting on my time in Rome, I have learned in a particular way what it means to be a Roman Catholic. I think it was no accident that Peter died in Rome and that the chair of Peter was established there.
During the time of the apostles, Rome was the center of the known world. Much of the Mediterranean world was conquered by the Roman empire which led to a vast road network and the common language of Latin throughout the empire. This allowed the Christian message of salvation to spread like wildfire across the known world.
Not only was there a practical aspect that God in his infinite wisdom chose Rome to be heart of the Church, but there is a very human aspect to it as well. The best way to describe it is Romanitas, a sort of Roman-ness. Even to this day, Romans view life, the world, and human relationships in a very unique way compared to the rest of the world.
One example of this is their meals. It is not unheard of for an Italian lunch to go on for a couple of hours and then for the participants to rest afterwards before going back to work. Italians value human relationships more than “being productive.” For Romans, they live in a city that is more than 2,800 years old. There is no rush. Things will get done as they get done.
By living in a city with a vast history, both secular and ecclesial, there is a great sense of pride and patrimony in their place in history. For them, the colosseum, the art, and the beautiful churches don’t belong to them but rather the whole world.
The Roman way of life is a very beautiful thing. And because the chair of St. Peter is based in Rome, there is a sense of Romanitas in our Church. In the eyes of the world, the Church can be seen as inefficient, out of touch, and ineffective. However, the Church is not a company or simply a social service provider. It is so much more than that. It is the Mystical Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, Mother Church etc. Notice how all of these titles involve human relationships. It would be absurd to call the church “The factory of Christ” or “The Catholic Church incorporated.”
In the same way that Romans have a sense of duty in preserving and promoting the beauty of Rome, we too have been commissioned by Christ in guarding the faith and evangelizing the beauty of the Church to the whole world.
After spending some time in Rome and reflecting on it, I really do think it was no accident that St. Peter died in Rome.
St. Peter, pray for us
Liam Hosty is a seminarian studying for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and is a member of the Class of 2020.