Pope Francis holds palm branches as he leads the Palm Sunday Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, April 14, 2019. (Remo Casilli/Reuters)Martyrdom has its attractions.
Rome — On the way to Mass on the Friday before Good Friday, I passed the Roman Colosseum. It’s hard to have things put in better perspective. Christians were once fed to the lions there, and now it’s the background to many a tourist selfie. Mass that morning was at the Basilica of Santo Stefano Rotondo al Monte Celi. TripAdvisor’s top “review” on it that same morning offered this description: “Slightly off the beaten track, Santo Stefano is a lovely, quiet church full of horror.” The “horror” no doubt refers to the frescoes of Christian martyrdom that line the ancient circular basilica. Does it become less horrific when you see the serene smiles if not outright joy on some of the faces as these people approach their end? It depends on whether you believe that the martyr is in for a new beginning.
Santo Stefano is a Station Church for the Fifth Week of Lent, part of a tradition that dates back to the fourth century for the penitential season. Though, I confess, when you