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Pilgrims Celebrate Women Officeholders

In early April, thirty-one pilgrims from the U.S. and Canada visited Rome, Ostia and Assisi to view archaeological sites of women officeholders in the early church. Best loved sites seemed to be the catacombs of Priscilla, the Basilica of St. Praxedis and the catacombs of Petrus and Marcellinus, though tours of the Vatican excavations, Ostia and Assisi were also highpoints. Four dynamic mother-daughter duos had a great time and enriched our prayer at Ostia, the site of St. Monica’s death.

The luminous beauty of a third century fresco in the Priscilla catacombs shows a woman being vested in priestly garb. Another portrays women celebrating an early eucharist. At the Petrus and Marcellinus catacombs, vibrant and rarely seen frescos give silent, compelling testimony to gender balanced leadership in early funerary rituals. Dr. Janet Tulloch’s extensive research of the frescos can be found in A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity by Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald and Janet Tulloch (Fortress Press, 2005).

The pilgrimage was led by FutureChurch’s Sr. Chris Schenk and Dr. Dorothy Irvin. Irvin is an active field archaeologist who also holds a pontifical doctorate in
theology from Tubingen. Arrangements were made by Capuchin Journeys.

At the Basilica of St. Praxides,  pilgrims listened to Dr. Irvin’s fascinating explanation of St. Pudentiana and St. Praxedis, two sisters who heroically buried the shattered remains of early martyrs. The church stands on land historically owned by one Pudens, who many believe is named in 2 Timothy 4:21.  The site quickly became a place of prayer and worship because of the martyrs buried there.  A famous 9th century mosaic honors Pudentiana, Praxedis, “Theodora Episcopa,” (Bishop Theodora) and Mary the Mother of Jesus, often portrayed as ratifying the ministry of early women leaders. The mosaic chapel was built in the 9th century by Pope Pascal in honor of his mother “Bishop Theodora.”

Special prayer services were held at each site using resources from the FutureChurch/Call To Action Celebrating Women Witnesses packet. At St. Praxedis, the group prayed the “Anonymous Women” prayer service, systematically naming aloud women leaders in Church history whose stories are often hidden. The service was developed by Karen Flotte of Mary’s Pence.

National Public Radio’s Sylvia Poggioli joined the group praying at St. Praxedis. For her account and to hear part of the prayer service visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5342854

Going home, many echoed the comments of one enthusiastic pilgrim: “I loved this trip. I am thankful that I was able to travel with such an inspiring group of women.” A repeat pilgrimage is planned for March 13-22 next year. If you are interested email pilgrimage@futurechurch.org

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