‘All the symbols of our faith are here’

ROME — Standing on a footbridge over the Tiber River, the Basilica of St. Peter in the background, Cardinal-designate Seán P. O’Malley spoke affectionately of the city to which he is now tied.

“Rome for me never gets old. It never gets stale,” he said emphatically. “There’s always excitement for me when I walk into St. Peter’s and the Colonnade.”

“For 2,000 years Christian pilgrims have been coming here to pray at the tomb of St. Peter,” he said. Many of the saints such as St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis of Assisi “have all gone to the tomb of Peter to pray,” he continued.

“I’ve been coming here for more than 40 years and during that time I’ve had the opportunity to visit so many of the churches,” he said. “All the symbols of our faith are here.” Symbols such as the catacombs and the coliseum; and “signs of the early Church, the medieval Church, the Renaissance Church — it’s all here.”

“As many times as I have been here, it’s always edifying,” he said.

Two days prior to the March 24 consistory, Cardinal-designate O’Malley led members of the media on a walking tour of the “Ponte degli Angeli,” or Bridge of the Angels, a place where the cardinal says he often takes evening strolls.

“I like to walk along this bridge,” he stated, indicating that his favorite time of day is after dark when the lights of St. Peter’s are bright against the night sky.

“Sometimes when I am at meetings all day,” he said, an evening walk on the bridge is his time to reflect. “It’s a very peaceful place,” he said.

“This is one of the most beautiful bridges in Rome,” said Cardinal-designate O’Malley.

The centuries-old footbridge, which was commissioned to the famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini — the same sculptor who designed the Colonnade at St. Peter’s Square — dates back to the 1670s. Spanning the Tiber, the bridge ends at the Castel San’Angelo, a circular castle dating back to the Roman Empire that has housed popes in centuries past.

Opposite the banks of the Castel San’ Angelo, the bridge begins with the statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, “the two men who are the pillars of the Church,” the cardinal-designate told the members of the media.

Perched along the rails of the bridge are 15-foot tall statues of angels, each one “carrying a sign of Jesus’ passion,” he continued. One such angel holds Veronica’s veil; another the lance that pierced Jesus’ side.

Strolling along the bridge, the cardinal explained the Lenten significance of each of the statues.

Cardinal-designate O’Malley drew special attention to the statue of the angel who holds the inscription nailed above Jesus’ cross, even translating the Latin phrase carved into the marble: “Our God who reigns from the tree.”

According to the cardinal-designate, his favorite statue is that of an angel holding a cross.

“People who know art history can speak to the artistic value of the statues, but to me the religious symbolism of these statues is very powerful,” he said.

“Particularly in this season of Lent,” he continued, this bridge is a great “meditation of His passion.”