This weekend we celebrate the feast of the dedication of Christianity’s first basilica - the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour and of Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran. Or St. John in Lateran for short.
For those of you that are wondering about the name, here is some background. It is called an Archbasilica to show it is greater than other basilicas. The three names reflect its patrons - Jesus, St John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. And Lateran is the hill in Rome where the basilica sits.
This church marks the seat of the Pope as bishop of Rome. In other words, it is the Pope’s church. (I have to admit, I had always thought St. Peter’s served that purpose.) And if there is any doubt as to where the church ranks among churches in our faith, there is an inscription on the wall that reads “Mother and Head of all the churches of the city and of the world”.
There is a long history of the church, but the part that I reflect on the most is the actual dedication. When Pope Sylvester I first dedicated the church, it meant that the church could no longer be used for “worldly” things. It would be used only to worship God. Aside from having beautiful similarity to when Jesus cleared merchants out of his Father’s temple (John 2:15-16) it also reminds me how far our church has come. And how lucky we are.
Here in America, as in many other countries, we don’t have to wonder where we will gather to pray each week. We have a wonderful system of churches all branching off from this great church in Rome. Likewise, we don’t have to worry (for the most part) about our churches being used as marketplaces anymore. We can look forward to a dedicated, peaceful place of worship each week.
And so this week, I thank God for all of our churches around the world, especially St. John in Lateran. But I also pray for all of those people in the world who do not have a church to pray in, and may not have the freedom of religion we have here.