En route to World Youth Day, Melbourne pilgrims have been exploring and celebrating Mass in some extraordinary locations. On the morning of Thursday 27 July, the day after they were treated to a private audience with Pope Francis, pilgrims from the Emerging Leaders program and the Italian Way converged on St Peter’s Basilica, where Archbishop Peter A Comensoli celebrated Mass in one of the chapels.

‘It was an opportunity early this morning to enter this beautiful, beautiful church,’ the Archbishop said in a video filmed that day, ‘that really only makes sense though when you know that it’s the burial place and the martyrdom of St Peter, the first pope, chosen one of Jesus and head of the apostles.’

‘We sang; we prayed; there were intentions going left, right and centre, I’m sure, in people’s hearts. It was a beautiful experience.’

Following Mass at St Peter’s, the pilgrims made their way to the Roman catacombs. Along with the Archbishop, Oriana Belanti, a primary teacher from the School of the Good Shepherd in Gladstone Park, reflected on what a moving experience it was to be down there in the Catacombs of San Callisto, one of the five Roman catacombs open to public viewing.

‘I have been to Rome a number of times, but I’ve never been here before, so I was glad that I had the opportunity,’ Oriana said. ‘We entered underground—I think it was 20 metres below the surface—and walked through these corridors full of burial sites, of adults but also of children.’

Oriana said that up to 40 per cent of the tombs were dedicated to children, and this, for her, was one of the most significant parts of the experience.

‘Something that’s really significant is the fact that Christians were the first people that really recognised children. So it was pretty amazing. It was quite peaceful down there.’

‘I think you raise a really beautiful and delicate and significant point,’ the Archbishop responded. ‘Yes, there were lots of burial slots. You could tell that they were for children because they were smaller sized, and I thought it was very poignant to see that.

But your point is that it was the Christians, in all the societies of the ancient world … it was Christians who first honoured their children, because they too were children of God. And that they would be honoured with a burial place with all their family members is really important and shows you something about our faith in all of that.

Oriana shared her excitement about returning home and unpacking all that she’s learned with the school.

The Archbishop said, ‘For all our people in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, be assured that we are all praying for you. We’re praying for you, and I know that you are praying for us.’