Catacombs of Domitilla

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Brother Uwe Heisterhoff, SVD, shares poignantly -- in his own words -- his experience and work in the Catacombs of Domitilla.

In December 2011, Bro. Uwe an SVD German confrere working in the Region of Bolivia was appointed by the then Superior General Antonio Pernia as the Director of Domitilla Catacombs.

My first impressions, almost seven years ago when I first visited the Catacombs of Domitilla, were of the many testimonies of the Christian community of that time about the resurrection, and the cemetery as its backdrop.

For me, it is not possible to explain the catacombs without talking about the faith of the nascent church in Rome. In the Catacombs, we find the "Good Shepherd," who carries the sheep on his shoulders, and that is Christ, who carries the souls of the deceased.

33965321_1983584571952264_1370052661428092928_nThen we have the anchor with the two fish, "anchored in the eternal port of God," which is a beautiful way to express the faith of this community. Finally, we will not miss the dove with the olive branch in its beak that returns to Noah's Ark, where everything is under water, bringing a message, "land that saves us from sight."

For the community, this means the "Eternal Land," which for Christians is within reach. There are also many fourth-century paintings from which a complete catechesis can be done.

Many students from schools where they almost never encounter the Christian faith, consider their visits very constructive as they learned something about the faith that makes emerging Christianity in Rome more tangible.

33814922_10155547081553133_9064555360408305664_nBecause of the celebration of the Eucharist near the tombs of the martyrs, the personal experience is very intense. Often the faithful come to us to tell us about it.

The real faith of the early church until the resurrection is visible and experiential and this gives sense to our presence and work here as an international community. The guided tours of pilgrims are significant and fulfilling.

Working in the Catacombs is not an easy task. It requires proper planning and coordination with the personnel who guide the sometimes significant influx of tourists and pilgrim groups.

33995671_10155547081048133_4755326681336512512_nWhile it is a challenge to work in the Catacombs, we experience a lot of satisfaction when we see the people that we guided looking happy, inspired and moved by what they see.

Looking back at all these years of service I often ask myself, "how as an SVD group we can carry out this task with all its challenges and demands day in and day out and do it well?"

Originally published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota” – May 2018