CONYERS, Georgia, Feb. 28, 2013 – With Pope Benedict XVI’s recent announcement that he is stepping down, all eyes will soon turn to Vatican City.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the Pope said this week in a statement. “I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering.”
He added: “However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
Next month, the church is likely to call a conclave to begin the process of electing the next pope, again putting the Vatican City in the spotlight.
As a student of history, it’s only natural to marvel at Vatican City ’s direct link to modern day religion. While Rome has plenty of marvels worth exploring, no trip to Rome – or Italy, for that matter – would be complete without visiting the city-state.
To Christians, and especially Catholics, the site is one of the world’s holiest sites – the destination of many pilgrimages. It was here that Saint Peter – one of Jesus ’ 12 disciples – was buried after he was crucified circa 64 AD.
There has been a church on the site – which during the days of the Roman Empire was occupied by Nero’s Circus – since the fourth century. The current incarnation of St. Peter’s Basilica – a stunning example of Renaissance architecture – was consecrated in 1626.
“In ancient Rome – a city we would describe today as having been multicultural, multiethnic and multireligious – a simple Jew is executed and buried alongside a road on the edge of the city,” Catholic News Service in 2006 quoted Antonio Paolucci, an art historian who served as a curator of an exhibit coinciding with the 500th anniversary of St. Peter’s Basilica.
“The amazing thing, is that someone built a memorial over this out-of-the-way tomb and over time this memorial grew into the grandest church in the world,” Paolucci added.
But, visitors don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate the Vatican. The Holy See attracts millions of people every year, many of whom are not Catholic, and all one needs is an appreciation for beautiful architecture and a respect for history .
Many popes are buried in the Vatican’s catacombs, including John Paul II , the beloved pontiff whose grave alone attracts thousands of visitors daily on a pilgrimage to connect with the revered theologian.
While the Vatican has a lot of history, at roughly 400 years old, it’s one of the newer buildings in town. Still, to put it in perspective, construction on Saint Peter’s Basilica began in 1506 under the reign of Pope Julius II, 56 years before Saint Augustine, Florida, the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the U.S., was founded.
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