Today the Church celebrates what for many is an unusual feast, the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome. This basilica holds a special place in Church history, Franciscan history and in my own heart. Back in 1999 our Minister General, Fr. Giacomo Bini, OFM sent a latter to the friars of the order asking for volunteers to serve as confessors for the Jubilee Year 2000. The Roman basilicas are staffed by the diocesan clergy of Rome, but each one has a staff from members of different religious orders as confessors, the reason being that we can bring in people from around the world who speak different languages. We Franciscans have been assigned to the Lateran because it was there that Pope Innocent III approved the rule of Francis and his brothers. Ability to speak Italian as well as 15 years of ordination were two of the requirements to supplement the full time team of confessors there so I signed on and was accepted. I spent just about 7 months in Rome that year and it was a wonderful experience.
The basilica, shown above, is the oldest standing Christian Church in the world, built by the emperor Constantine on land given to the Church by the Laterani family in 324. It (and not St. Peter's) is the Pope's cathedral as Bishop of Rome, and for centuries the Lateran, not the Vatican, is where the pope resided.For a fuller story on this great church you can click on this description from Wikipedia--St. John Lateran--Wikipedia
From June of 2000 until early January 2001 I was hearing confessions there of people from all over the world. I also lived with friars from many different countries as well. As time went on the basilica continually intrigued me. Artistically it is eclectic with all sorts of art styles and most of the works truly beautiful. In time I realized that this wonderful house of worship was a microcosm of the whole Church. As you enter you see large statues, six on each side, of the twelve apostles. (See picture to the right above) There is a beautiful mosaic behind the main altar. On the left side one finds the confessionals--8 of them, where we Franciscans serve. In the middle is the main altar where beautiful solemn liturgies are celebrated. On the right there is a large side entrance, a gift shop and a starting point for guided tours. There are many small chapels on both sides including one with a Pieta', not the famous one by Michalangelo and not as beautiful, but significant because many people come there to pray for healing. In the Blessed Sacrament chapel to the rear of the basilica one finds the white "cathedra" or seat of the pope as bishope of Rome.
Reflecting on all of this one sees that saints, sinners, seekers and doubters, the pope, bishops. priests religious and laity all gather here at various times. This is truly the Church. This is who we are, indeed even at simple, small parish Churches. The Church is indeed, as today's second reading says, made of living stones.
Yours truly in October 2000 in front of the Lateran Basilica