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The New Evangelization . . . Walking In The Footsteps Of St. Peter, Hermit And Confessor

January 26, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By ALBERTO CAROSA

ROME — We are witnessing the rediscovery and promotion of the ancient itineraries traveled by pilgrims who crossed the whole of Europe to visit some of the most important symbolic places of Christianity, such as the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, the tomb of the Apostle St. James in Compostela, let alone those who, once in Italy, decided to proceed to the Holy Land via the port of Brindisi.
In the wake of these great international itineraries, shorter routes at local level are becoming increasingly popular and important, especially in Italy.
For example, the Cammino Celestiniano, named after Pope Celestine V (1215-1296), the first Pope ever to resign from his office, was recently established in the two regions of central Italy where he mostly spent his life, Lazio and Abruzzo.
And starting from Abruzzo, another trail, Il Cammino di San Pietro Eremita, was recently inaugurated — that of St. Peter, Hermit and Confessor (around 1025-1052), and not to be confused with the homonymous preacher of the First Crusade.
St. Peter is a saint who belongs to that group of itinerant hermits who characterized the religiosity of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Living on charity alone or in small groups, they moved from a place to another, after having preached and converted with the word and with the example of their austere lives.
According to the latest edition of The Book of Saints: A Comprehensive Biographical Dictionary (November 19, 2015), edited by the Benedictines of the English monastery of St. Augustine of Chilworth (formerly Ramsgate), the success of St. Peter’s apostolate was truly “remarkable,” with many thousands of conversions, prompted not only by his miracles, but certainly also by his penances.
Born around 1025 in Rocca di Botte near Carsoli in the Marsica region (Abruzzo), close to the border with today’s province of Rome, he spent his youth in his home village, until he escaped a marriage arranged by his parents and went to Tivoli, where he remained for two years in the school of the holy deacon Cletus.
When he considered Peter adequately prepared, Cletus introduced him to the bishop of Tivoli, Gregory, who mandated him to go and preach in the various villages of the region. After returning to Rocca di Botte, in the following two years he incessantly preached also in neighboring villages, such as Carsoli, Vallinfreda, Tufo, Cervara, Poggio Cinolfo, and many others.
But in a vision Jesus and our Lady urged him to further widen the range of his apostolate, so much so that the saint settled for five months in Subiaco, one of the three original Benedictine cradles of Christian civilization together with Norcia and Montecassino. Later, going up the River Aniene, he arrived in Trevi nel Lazio, from where he continued his work as an itinerant apostle, dying on August 30 in a year that traditionally is thought to be 1052.
In 1215 he was proclaimed saint by the bishop of Anagni, with the authority of Pope Innocent III. While St. Peter’s body is buried in the collegiate of the Lazio village, of which he is protector, his relics are scattered in all the places where he mainly preached, starting from Rocca di Botte, of which he is also the patron saint.
Among the numerous religious events held in his honor, starting from the eve of his feast on August 30, the rite of “comparatico” (the state of being a “compare,” or godparent) in honor of and under the name of St. Peter deserves a special mention.
This sort of unique twinning, probably the oldest in the world because it dates back to shortly after his canonization, is one of the most popular religious celebrations in the area. This centuries-old tradition between Trevi nel Lazio and Rocca di Botte is renewed every year when on August 29 a delegation of Rocca di Botte goes to Trevi nel Lazio, where they are hosted by their “godparents” for the first stage of the festivities, based on the visit to the saint’s grave for the veneration of his mortal remains.
This hospitality is then reciprocated on the octave of the feast, when in turn a delegation of Trevi nel Lazio goes to Rocca di Botte to participate in the second stage of the celebrations there.
This twinning has also been termed as a kind of blood pact between brothers, a pact that unites the two populations in the name of the saint, or better “two peoples but a single devotion toward this saint,” in the words of Mauro Marzolini, a native of Rocca di Botte and coauthor of a biography of St. Peter.
In an interview aired by TV2000, an Italy-based, Catholic-inspired broadcasting network owned by the Italian Bishops Conference, he described the atmosphere and how enthusiastic these “godparents” are when they meet in each other’s places. “You can breathe a particular air, as if somebody had come back home after a long time,” he said. “Thus they (Trevi people) see, as we also see when they come to Rocca eight days after, St. Peter coming back to us.”
And it is precisely on this centuries-old story of “comparatico” that the trail intends to be based. Therefore it seems almost natural to make this journey between the two villages the starting point of a journey that will then be divided into three concentric circles, encompassing all the various communities that were blessed by the evangelization efforts of St. Peter.
The route starts from Rocca di Botte and touches all the towns and villages of the Carsoli district, to then reach Riofreddo and Oricola and from here Arsoli, along the Aniene Valley, to finally get to Trevi nel Lazio. From Trevi there will be a return route that will involve the popular Santuario della Santissima Trinità (sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, probably the only one of its kind in the world) on the Simbruini Mountains and the mountains of Campo Secco and Pietra, arriving in Rocca di Botte.
Along this route, the little towns that house relics of St. Peter, and in particular Guarcino, Alatri, Vico nel Lazio, Fiuggi, Acuto, and Anagni, are well worth a stopover.
Meanwhile, a post on the official website of the Cammino on December 30, 2018 announced that the first two circles will be open to pilgrims this spring, a sign that the preparatory work is now well underway.

The Meeting With Jesus

The inauguration of this trail took place in Trevi nel Lazio on November 24 with the unveiling of a first commemorative plate, followed by a much more elaborate ceremony at Rocca di Botte, which saw not only the unveiling of a second plate, but also the official sacralization of the initiative, as the bishop of Avezzano, the Most Rev. Pietro Santoro, proclaimed the official recognition of the Church to this initiative with a written document.
This imprimatur was granted by the bishop during his intervention in a conference that took place in the ancient and beautiful parish church of the village and preceded the religious celebration.
In addition to the prelate, the floor was taken by, among others, the two mayors, Fernando Marzolini from Rocca di Botte and Silvio Grazioli from Trevi nel Lazio; the president of the Abruzzo regional council, Giuseppe Di Pangrazio; the scholar Francesca Marzolini, author of a thesis on the saint against the background of the culture of his time; Mauro Marzolini and the president and creator of the association Il Cammino di San Pietro Eremita, Enzo D’Urbano.
While the interventions of these “lay” speakers elaborated on the historical, cultural, and social dimensions of the Cammino, and also economic benefit for the areas concerned, the parish priest of Trevi and rector of the Santuario della Santissima Trinità, Don Alberto Ponzi, and Bishop Santoro, especially in his homily, highlighted the religious significance of the initiative, as a sort of contribution to a new evangelization of the territories concerned.
But how? His Excellency explained this very clearly.
A decisive moment in the life of the saint, the bishop reminded us, was his meeting with Jesus. But what happened for St. Peter to accomplish such an extraordinary story of humanity and presence among our people? It was the meeting with Jesus that took place in his heart, the bishop stressed. “Since then everything changed in his life.”
A love so great that it was not to be kept for himself, but shared, narrated — here is the reason why St. Peter the “Walker,” as the prelate termed him, “walks so that it may happen to others what happened to him, the encounter with Jesus and the transfiguration of his life….Here is Peter, the bearer of Jesus, the herald of Jesus, the witness of Jesus.”
And today what does he say to each of us? Bishop Santoro affirmed: “It is precisely this: Put Christ at the center of your life. . . . And so you decide to be with him the bearer of His Gospel.” But the openness to Christ, he continued, may not be partial, because “either we let Him enter everywhere, or we do not let Him enter anywhere. It is indeed time to truly return to the entirety of Christianity, because today . . . we are risking a Christianity without Christ.”
For example, when are approaching Christmas, the prelate noted, “there is a language that sounds like Buddhism repainted by Christianity as ‘the magic of Christmas,’ ‘the atmosphere of Christmas,’ with Jesus almost reduced to a symbol of magic and of the atmosphere. And where is Christ, where is He, where do we put Him?”
We can avoid this danger by following the teaching and example of the saint. “St. Peter is a hermit who tells you this morning: Put back Jesus in the heart of your choices, all with Christ, all for Christ, for this society to return to being a society…where men and God walk together.”
This must be our commitment, he stressed: to help society bring God back to the center. “May each one of us feel truly called into this great project,” concluded the bishop. “And then our biographies will never be disconnected, but inserted in that bridge between Earth and Heaven that gives dignity back to our earthly life and paves the way for eternity.”

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