Sunday, April 3, 2011

Santa Croce in Gerusalemme - From Window Washer to Titular Cardinal

Today's station church was once a room in the palace of St. Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine.  In the year 325, St. Helen, accompanied by her retinue, traveled to the holy land to retrieve relics of the Passion of the Lord.  Upon return, St. Helen erected a chapel to house the relics which include, pieces of the true cross, thorns from the crown of thorns, the INRI placard from the cross, a piece of a nail and pieces of the scourging pillar.  There is also a relic of a finger which is said to be the finger of St. Thomas that was placed into the side of the Lord after his resurrection.

One of the best books about St. Helen is "Helena" by Evelyn Waugh.  It is a beautiful piece of historical fiction that traces the life of St. Helen from being the daughter of a Celtic chieftain to the wife of a Roman soldier and then to becoming the mother of the emperor who was the first to allow the open practice of the faith. 

St. Helen originally covered the chapel floor with dirt from the holy land and Calvary, so that the church is truly Santa Croce "in" Jerusalem.

The facade of S. Croce in Gerusalemme:

Chapel of the relics:

Sanctuary of main altar


The titular cardinal of S. Croce in Gerusalemme is the cardinal archbishop emeritus of Prague, Miloslav Vlk.  Cardinal Vlk was ordained a priest during the "Prague Spring" in 1968 and was soon thereafter persecuted by the communists.  His state authorization to exercise his priestly ministry was suspended by the communist government in 1978.  Cardinal Vlk then had to work as a window cleaner in Prague while secretly ministering to the faithful.  In 1989 he was permitted to exercise his priestly ministry for a trial year.  He continued in his ministry and was ultimately installed as the archbishop of Prague by Pope John Paul II in 1991 and became a cardinal in 1994 when he was given the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme as his titular parish.

When we were in Rome last November, the Czech bishops were making a pilgrimage of thanksgiving to Rome to thank the Holy Father for visiting the Czech republic.  It was very moving to see these priests, bishops and cardinals who had endured such persecution for so many years and who had undergone their own passion to preserve the faith in their country.

                               Czech clergy celebrating Mass in St. Peter's, November 2010:


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