By Ann Schneible
ROME, MARCH 15, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The city of Rome attracts pilgrims from around the world and from all states of life. For those Catholics who are in the formative years especially, coming to Rome makes the faith tangible, bringing about a new awareness of the concrete reality of the Church that still stands after 2,000 years.
This week, young people from the U.S. Naval Academy are preparing to conclude their weeklong pilgrimage to Rome and Italy. One of the highlights of this pilgrimage has been daily Mass, which is celebrated at one of the station churches, a Lenten tradition going back to the early Church where the Pope would make pastoral visits to different parishes throughout the city. The station church pilgrimage is organized every year by seminarians and priests from the North American College as one of their Lenten traditions.
Kyle Senn is one of four FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries who work at the US Naval Academy; they assist the chaplains there with faith formation by working with students one-on-one, leading Bible studies, and organizing large group events. He spoke with ZENIT about being here in Rome on pilgrimage with the students.
ZENIT: You and your group have been doing the station churches every day during your time here in Rome. What made you decide to make this part of your Roman pilgrimage?
Senn: One of our chaplains studied at the NAC when he was going through seminary, so he has a lot of connections there. I think it was just automatically given that we were going to be doing this. And it's a great way to keep our day very ordered, because it's easy for these pilgrimages to turn into more of a vacation. But just devoting the very beginning of our day to prayer – and the ultimate prayer, the Mass – is just spectacular. It really orders the rest of our day much better. I can see why they do it, I'm really happy; it's a great way to explore the city and see all these smaller churches that you may not get to otherwise.
ZENIT: Right now we're in the church of Saints Cosmas and Damian, which is right near the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. What does it mean for you, as an American, and for those who are on this pilgrimage from the Naval Academy, to experience the Church through its connections to ancient Rome and the ancient Church?
Senn: It's been pretty spectacular just to see things from a much larger, bigger scale, and to really just make real all of the things that I've read and studied. I think that's the case for a lot of the students on the trip as well. It's amazing to see the bones of Saint Peter, getting to pray there, and realizing that Christ’s words in the Gospel: "You are Peter, and on the Rock I will build my Church" -- it really just puts things in perspective for me.
ZENIT: At the Naval Academy, what is the particular importance of spreading the faith amongst the military and the Naval Academy?
Senn: I think it's a really spectacular opportunity to serve the students there because of the fact that, as soon as they graduate, they're going to be commissioned officers, and they're going to be leaders automatically in our nation's military, leading other men and women. Many of them will go on to be leaders in government, in business, in politics. We're really getting the chance to have a spiritual impact on them during their time there. They're really blessed to have two amazing Catholic chaplains there. We try to help out as much as we can, helping them to grow in their faith, to learn how to seek the Lord on their own during their time there.
ZENIT: What do you think that you and those participating on this pilgrimage will bring back from this time in Rome, especially those who are in this period of formation at the Naval Academy?
Senn: Really just the graces that we're all receiving are extraordinary. Going around all these station churches, receiving the Holy Eucharist every day in Rome where the Church began, and began to flourish. Those graces are not necessarily going to be tangible, but you know they're there; you trust that they're there, and when we do go back to the Academy, those graces are going to bear fruit. When they start interacting with their classmates, just telling them about their experience, just witnessing to what they saw and experienced here, I think that that is going to have a tremendous positive impact on the Catholic community and the culture in general back at the Naval Academy.