ROME, JAN. 8, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's vicar for Rome launched the jubilee year of St. Lawrence, which marks the 1,750th anniversary of the martyrdom of the saint who considered the poor as treasures of the Church.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini presided over the opening Mass of the jubilee year Jan. 1, held in the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls.
Lawrence was one of seven deacons of Rome condemned by Emperor Valerian I to die on a grill in 258. Tradition says he was originally from Osca in Roman Spain.
The complete program for the jubilee year that will span all of 2008 is not yet finalized. But the pastor of St. Lawrence's Basilica, Father Bruno Mustacchio, gave a preview of some of the events: "On the feast day of St. Lawrence, Aug. 10, we are organizing a procession in the neighborhood, preceded by a triduum of special preparation."
The pastor said the celebrations will also have a cultural dimension: "Most likely we will organize a cycle of conferences about St. Lawrence the martyr and the history and architecture of this church."
Lawrence lived in Rome when Sixtus II was elected Pope in 257. As a deacon, Lawrence had the mission of administering the goods of the Church and was entrusted with the care of the poor.
During the persecution of Emperor Valerian I, in 258, many priests and bishops were condemned to death, while the Christians who belonged to the nobility or the senate were deprived of their possessions and exiled.
Pope Sixtus II, one of the first victims of this persecution, was crucified on Aug. 6. The death of Lawrence and other Christians came shortly afterward.
Tradition says that authorities sought out Lawrence because they knew he administered ecclesiastical possessions destined for worship and for the poor. They ordered Lawrence to hand over the "riches" of the Church. The deacon promised to do so and arranged a place for the meeting. Meanwhile, he gathered all the poor of Rome. When the attendants arrived to claim the supposed "treasure," Lawrence pointed to the multitude of underprivileged people and said: "These are the riches of the Church."
The basilica was constructed in the area where Lawrence was buried after his martyrdom.
Succeeding pontiffs embellished the old structure until a new basilica was built in the time of Pope Honorius III (1216-1227). The most recent works of restoration were repairs in 1946-1949, after the Second World War, due to damage from the bombing of Rome.
St. Lawrence is also the patron of the city of Huesca, Spain, where people venerate the memory of his parents, Sts. Orencia and Paciencia.