Following the Footsteps of Paul: The Catacombs
When I was a small child, there was a grave yard near my home that I would walk through on occasion. I did not fully understand what it was about but I somehow felt that it was a special place and had an air of sanctity about it. The most sanctified place in Rome is in the catacombs. This place was the burial of the Christians for 400 years and half a million of our fellow believers had their final remains laid to rest in these tufa carved caves.
Roman law did not allow the dead to be buried within the walls of the city. Christians, in anticipation of the resurrection wanted their bodies to be buried, not cremated. Most of them were poor. But a few who had money provided land. The rock is soft and easy to tunnel so they began to dig, up to five levels deep over the centuries. There are 375 miles of tunnels in some forty different catacombs.
The first to die were the early church martyrs. In the catacomb we visited, the San Callisto, there were seven early popes, three of which died as martyrs. These Christians died in hope. They left symbols upon the covering of their tombs that spoke of their faith in Christ and of the hope of resurrection.
We had a wonderful guide named Geoffrey. He told us how it was that he became a Christian and began to do this work. He was in the military, a heavy smoker and drinker who had reached the end of his rope. One day, in a bathroom he heard a voice clearly say, “I am here for you.” He began to investigate different religions. A priest, who befriended him suggested that God was communicating with him. He decided to be baptized.
Several years later he went into a deep diabetic coma. The doctors said he would not live and if he did that he would suffer severe loss of physical and mental faculties. Within a week he woke up completely well and able to serve The Lord with more passion than ever before.
It was clear to us that this man loved the Lord and that this work was his ministry using every opportunity to witness about his faith.
One of the stories Geoffrey told us was about a wealthy man buried in the catacombs. When he became a Christian he freed all of his slaves. The former slaves continued to work for him and in the end they were buried along with him as family.
It was lovely to walk through these sanctified catacombs which are a living testimony of faith in God and of hope in the resurrection to eternal life!
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