The Passionists in Rome

Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

The Passionists have a monastery in Rome named SS. John and Paul.  It sits on the Celian Hill, one of the seven hills on which the ancients built the city of Rome.  Deep in the depths of this hill, beneath the current monastery, are great stones that were the foundations of the palace of one of the ancient Roman emperors.

Across the street from this monastery is the equally famous Colosseum, the place where gladiators of old tested their skills against one another, with the fate of the loser of any given combat totally dependent on the humors of the emperor on that day, who sat in the place of honor at these combats, and whose thumb downward after a duel spelled bad news for the loser.  Also, in the era of the persecutions of the early Christians, their martyrdom often took place as food for hungry animals (lions, tigers), within the Colosseum, to the delight of the spectators.  The Colosseum lies atop the Celian Hill, atop which sits the monastery of SS. John and Paul.  And deep down, beneath this conglomerate of structures, is a set of tunnels connecting the center of the Celian Hill with the Colosseum.  It is possible that the wild animals were kept in the depths of the Celian Hill, and led through these tunnels into the Colisseum, to prey upon the helpless and hapless Christians awaiting them there.

This is perhaps needless background for what is to follow—but perhaps not completely.  For in modern Rome (i.e., the last 100 years) a multi-lane road system was built, completely encircling the Colosseum, so that it is possible for Roman natives as well as tourists to drive completely around the imposing  structure.  In recent years (the last 50 years or so) this road system consisted of 10-12 lanes, on which travelled at relatively high speed the speedy little Fiats, circling the Colosseum as if it were a sports stadium featuring a modern speedway.   A few years ago there were no bridges over these lanes, not any tunnels beneath them, nor any traffic control system (red and green lights) to regulate traffic flow.  It too often became simply a speedway for Roman drivers.

There, Passionist university students, from around the world, living in the monastery of Sts. John and Paul found their daily trips to the various universities, more conveniently arranged by walking across this roadway to reach their destinations.  This entailed getting to the other side of the street on which the Colosseum stands.  Certain foreign students used to some type of traffic control (the Americans, the English, the Germans) were somewhat taken aback about the prospects of safely crossing these multiple lanes to get to the other side, whereas the students from the Romance countries like Spain, France and, of course, Italy, took it all in stride.  This required that one resolutely and unflinchingly proceeded to cross the multiple lanes of traffic moving at high speed with no apparent rules of the road to hamper one’s driving skills.  Pedestrians crossed at their own risk, totally at the mercy and skill of the oncoming drivers.  The drivers clearly had the upper hand in this war of nerves, with relying on their vaunted skills at dodging the pedestrians, as long as these latter kept the one rule, designed exclusively for them: walk quickly without looking to left or right but only and always straight ahead on the route you began.  The only danger of a mishap occurred when a pedestrian tried to save him or herself, by stopping, moving to the left or right, or retreating.  Such foolish behavior throws the whole system, such as it is, into disarray.

Unfortunately, some foolish Americans have frozen halfway across this roadway, throwing the speeding Fiats into complete disarray, for the drivers count on resolute pedestrians moving steadily, even stubbornly onward, looking neither to the left or the right.  To do otherwise is an insult to the skill of the driver at dodging you at the very last moment, and such a maneuver completely fouls up the entire system of based on the dodging skill of the driver and the resolute, fearless  pedestrian moving onward.

This is an example of trust, skill and determination, at interplay with one another.  To an American viewing this Italian mode of traffic control, the universal opinion is that it is a disaster in the making.  But an Italian driver or pedestrian knows otherwise: it certainly does work, and it works well.  It is a school where bravery and fortitude is learned by the pedestrian, as well as skill and maneuverability by the driver.  A mutual trust develops  on the part of the pedestrian that he or she will not be killed or seriously maimed, while, on the part of the driver, confidence is developed that the pedestrian will keep his/her part of the bargain while the driver’s self-esteem is enhanced.  So this becomes a collaborative effort dismissing the need of traffic controls, and building a civic-mindedness based on mutual trust.

In the words of Satchel Paige: “Never look back; they might be gaining on you”.

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Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

1 thought on “The Passionists in Rome”

  1. Very interesting. I traveled on a tourist bus when I visited Rome so I didn’t experience driving or walking on any of that highway – glad I didn’t have to! Thanks for your post Father.

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