St. Paul’s Outside the Walls

By: Umberto La Matta

When most people think of visiting Rome, they think of the Vatican. However, there is a place that is lesser known but also sacred for one of the earliest apostles. Even some locals do not know about St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, the basilica built for St. Paul where he is buried today.

On the last full day of our trip to Italy, we had the opportunity to attend Mass there. When we arrived at the church, we entered from the back. When we stepped inside the church, I was struck by the big and beautiful golden mosaic of Jesus. The church was massive, but there was a small number of pews. Normally at a big church you would expect to see a whole lineup of pews and crowds of people. There was something very humbling about this. Jesus was in control of this whole place, but it remained humble just like Jesus was. The choir who sang during the Mass were just volunteers, which added another humbling aspect to the experience. The Mass only lasted 45 minutes, and the gospel and the homily were about John the Baptist and his experience with Jesus. One of the most important things that I took from the Mass was when the priest told us what St. Augustine had to do to be a better Christian:  “Love and do what you will.” It is something so simple and easy but with so much meaning. Just by loving we can fulfill what God wants from us here on earth.

After Mass I got up and walked over to St. Paul's sarcophagus which housed the body of St. Paul. He was martyred around this area which is why this basilica was built for him. The thing that I found strange was that not many people know about it. My mom, my dad, and a lot of people that are from Italy had no idea this basilica existed. However St. Paul's story is important for us to know. He never lived the life of a saint. In fact, he persecuted Christians before God punished him. St. Paul had to learn to love other people the hard way, but he did change his ways and ended up being one of the great voices of Christianity. He was the person who introduced Christianity to many Greeks and Romans.

In addition to Paul’s sarcophagus, the basilica had chapels inside, and the one that stuck out to me the most was one that had a crucifix of Jesus from before the Middle Ages. A legend says that when a saint prayed to the crucifix, Jesus’ head moved. Another cool thing about the basilica is that it had paintings of every single Pope, and there were only 20 spots left. It is said that when the spots run out, the world will end.

When we left the basilica, we were met with the cold and windy air of Rome. We stopped to grab some souvenirs, including soap, jelly, olive oil, and honey made by the Benedictine friars. We later stopped to drink a cappuccino and bought some food for Ostia Antica, where we visited afterwards. Once we finally walked out, we got to view the front of the basilica, and the architecture resembled a Roman palace--the greenery, statues and columns were as grand as the structures of Ancient Rome. I finally saw the grandness that I associated with Paul, but I will always remember the humility I found inside his basilica.