I opted for the Catacombs since, despite many trips to Rome, I’ve never visited them. They are where many martyrs were buried during the great persecutions to keep them safe from desecration. But they also became early places of Christian worship, particularly the Eucharist which was celebrated around the tombs of the martyrs.
Would you make any special stops?
The tombs of SS Peter and Paul because they are very prominent martyrs. Also, during the persecutions, their tombs were threatened with desecration and moved from their tombs to the catacombs to prevent their desecration during persecution and brought back to the original sites when persecution had ended. They were only brought back later when it was safe.
Who would be your travelling companions (excluding partner/ children)?
I would take a friend from Pakistan who has recently died. He was a prominent management consultant but in his later years became very interested in Christian origins. Also Archbishop Di Noia who is an old friend and knows Italy and Rome better than I do, and Mgr Patrick Burke who used to work in the Vatican and is administrator at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Edinburgh because his time in the Vatican means his knowledge of Rome and Italy is second to none.
You can transplant your favourite pub, bar or restaurant onto the route. What is it?
In Lahore, there is a restaurant called the Village which serves rural peasant food and I like that. I would choose a breakfast dish called Nihari – it’s tough meat that you have to cook all night until it is edible. I ate it a lot as a student because it is quite cheap.
Camp under the stars, or find a church hall to sleep in?
If it is the summer then it would be great to sleep under the stars but in midwinter I’d have to find a church hall.
Which books would you take with you? I’d take some poetry with me in English and in Persian – the two languages in which I also write poetry. I was thinking of Gerard Manley Hopkins or TS Eliot. In Persian I’d take the work of the poet Rumi or Hafiz, who is the national poet of Iran. I would love to write poetry again: it gets to depths of meaning in a way that prose cannot, and you can allude to things without defining them. I am also tempted to take some lighter books: an Edmund Crispin or Dorothy L Sayers.
What Bible verse would you ponder as you walked?
John 12, 26: “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be. If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.” Jesus is speaking before He is about to suffer and die. It ends with this promise, so there is costliness and there is also promise. This verse has been important to me in ministry and in the call to ministry and the promise that accompanies it.
You stop in a church. What’s your go-to prayer?
It depends on the time of the day. For the morning, I would choose the Collect for Peace which comes from the Book of Common Prayer but is now found also in the Daily Office that is used for the ordinariate:
“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
If it is evening then – again from the Daily Office – the Collect for Aid Against All Perils:
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.”
The Collect for peace sets you up for the day and on our pilgrimage it’s a good prayer to have because it assures you of God’s peace.
It’s your turn to cook. What’s your speciality?
I’m not really a cook, so my fellow pilgrims would have to put up with grilled food – if I can get to a fire – or omelettes. I can cook a great omelette, but otherwise am a bit limited.
What’s the singalong to keep everyone’s spirits up?
I really like Margaret Rizza’s music. She has composed something called the Prayer of St Patrick which would be suitable. My other choice is from Pakistan: the psalms in Punjabi would be beautiful if set to music.
You’re allowed one luxury in your bag. What is it?
Guava cheese. It’s a kind of relish you can eat with cheese or on its own with crackers. It is a comfort food for me.
What would you most miss about ordinary life?
I think hot showers. They’re something you get used to but don’t think about too much.
What would you miss the least?
This electronic reign that we are conducting at the moment. It is good we have it – I’ve been able to teach, for instance, on Zoom – but I find it tiresome.
Michael James Nazir-Ali is a priest and former Anglican prelate who served as Bishop of Rochester from 1994 to 2009. He is now director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue. This year, he was received into the Roman Catholic church and was ordained as a priest for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
This article is from the December 2021 issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe today.
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