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Pope Francis reflects on Roman Empire in visit to ancient Capitoline Hill

Pope Francis gazes over the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum with Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri during a visit to Rome’s historic Capitoline Hill on June 10, 2024. | Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis reflects on Roman Empire in visit to ancient Capitoline Hill

By Courtney Mares

Pope Francis gazed over the ancient ruins of the Roman Forum during a visit to Rome’s historic Capitoline Hill on Monday in which he reflected on how the “Rome of the Caesars’” transformed into the “Rome of the Popes.”

Standing shoulder to shoulder with Rome’s mayor Roberto Gualtieri, the pope took in the view from a balcony overlooking the third-century Arch of Septimius Severus of the archaeological site of what was once the heart of ancient Rome.

Pope Francis and Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri wave to the crowd gathered below at Rome’s Capitoline Hill on June 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

Pope Francis praised ancient Rome as “a radiating center of civilization,” which with its legal developments and organizational capacities built solid and lasting institutions and an ancient culture with “many good values, which on the other hand needed to elevate itself, to confront a greater message of fraternity, love, hope, and liberation.”

“The Good News, or rather the Christian faith, over time would permeate and transform the life of people and of the institutions themselves,” he said. “It would offer people a far more radical and unprecedented hope.”

“The shining witness of the martyrs and the dynamism of charity of the first communities of believers tapped into the need to hear new words, the words of eternal life,” he added. “Olympus was no longer enough; one had to go to Golgotha and to the empty tomb of the Risen One to find the answers to the yearning for truth, justice, and love.”

In his reflection on the Roman Empire, Pope Francis also noted how the prevalence of slavery in ancient Rome is an example of how “even refined civilizations can present cultural elements so rooted in the mentality of people and of the entire society that they are no longer perceived as contrary to the dignity of the human being.”

He compared the Romans’ acceptance of slavery to how some societies today “risk being selective and partial in the defense of human dignity, marginalizing or discarding certain categories of people, who end up finding themselves without adequate protection.”

Pope Francis recalled how the city of Rome “since its birth some 2,800 years ago has had a clear and continuing vocation of universality.”

Pope Francis addresses Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri and city administration during a visit to Rome’s Capitoline Hill on June 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

“Many things have changed, but Rome’s vocation to universality was confirmed and exalted,” he added. “In fact, if the geographical horizon of the Roman Empire had its heart in the Mediterranean world and, although very vast, did not involve the whole world, the mission of the Church has no boundaries on this earth, because it must make Christ, his action, and his words of salvation known to all peoples.”

After the speech, the pope offered a greeting from the Senatorial Palace balcony overlooking the Piazza del Campidoglio, the public square designed by Michalangelo atop Rome’s ancient Capitoline Hill, and offered a prayer for the city of Rome as it prepares for the 2025 Jubilee.

The Vatican and the city of Rome are expecting an estimated 35 million people to flock to the Eternal City for the 2025 Jubilee Year of Hope — the first ordinary jubilee since the Great Jubilee of 2000.

Pope Francis noted that while the influx of pilgrims, tourists, and migrants to the city of Rome may appear to be “a burden” for local citizens, the reality is that Rome is “unique in the world” and with that has “a responsibility … to the human family.”

“The immense treasure of culture and history nestled in the hills of Rome is the honor and the burden of its citizenry and its rulers, and expects to be properly valued and respected,” he added.

Rome Mayor Roberto Gualtieri and Pope Francis wave to the crowd gathered below at Rome’s Capitoline Hill on June 10, 2024. Credit: Vatican Media

More than 350 construction and renovation projects are taking place in the city of Rome in preparation for the Jubilee Year, including the 79.5-million-euro (about $86.4 million) Piazza Pia transformation and the 4-million-euro (about $4.3 million) Piazza Risorgimento redevelopment.

The pope told the city officials that while the Jubilee is a religious event as “a prayerful and penitential pilgrimage,” it will also “be able to have a positive impact on the face of the city itself, improving its decorum and making public services more efficient.”

“Rome is a city with a universal spirit. This spirit wants to be at the service of charity, at the service of welcome and hospitality,” Pope Francis said.

“Pilgrims, tourists, migrants, those in serious difficulty, the poorest, the lonely, the sick, prisoners, the excluded are the most truthful witnesses of this spirit,” he added. “And these can testify that authority is fully such when it places itself at the service of all, when it uses its legitimate power to meet the needs of citizens and, in particular, of the weakest, the least.”

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