Snow…in August…in Rome!

As I write on Thursday evening, snow is falling gently outside. Not too unusual in Britain, but what if snow fell during August? Tradition tells of a snowfall that seemed impossible, namely in Rome on 5th August in the year, 352, when snow fell during the night.

There lived in the Eternal City a nobleman, John and his childless wife, who had been blessed with much of this world’s goods. They chose the Mother of God as the heir to their fortune, and at the suggestion of Pope Liberius, prayed that Our Lady might make known to them how to do this by a particular sign. In answer the Virgin Mother during the night of 5th August, appeared to John and his wife and also to the Holy Father, Pope Liberius, directing them to build a church in her honour on the crown of the Esquiline, one of the hills of Rome! And what would be the sign that John and his wife had requested? “Snow will cover the crest of the hill.”

Snow rarely falls in Rome, and never in August, but the flakes fell silently during that night, blanketing the peak of the historic hill. In the morning the news quickly spread and crowds gathered to throng up the hill and behold the white splendor. The snow had fallen in a particular pattern, showing the outline of the future church. When it became known that the snow was a sign from Mary, the people spontaneously added another to her long list of titles, Our Lady of the Snows.

The church built by John and his wife in honour of Our Lady, restored and enlarged at various times has been known by different names: the Basilica of Liberius, Saint Mary of the Crib (because it is believed to enshrine relics of Christ’s Crib). It is most familiar as Saint Mary Major, to distinguish it from the many other Roman churches dedicated to the Mother of God. Saint Mary Major is one of the four basilicas in which the pilgrims to Rome must pray in order to truly make the pilgrimage to Rome, along with St Peter’s, St Paul’s and St John Lateran. It is one of the most popular churches in the world. Crowds gather still on 5th August to celebrate a Mass of Our Lady of the Snows, when a shower of white rose petals falls from the ceiling, to commemorate the day that snow fell… in August… in Rome.

Fr Matthew (edited from

Praying together

Our diocese has recently started a scheme where all the parishes pray for one another in turn. It’s called the ‘Cycle of Prayer’ for the parishes of the Archdiocese. Each week, all parishes will be invited to pray for one, and for the clergy, schools, hospitals and any other special needs in that parish. This is a little like our own 3 Churches scheme where we pray for different streets in turn, as indicated on the back page of the 3 churches newsletter. So now we will add the relevant parish and details for inclusion in this newsletter.

This is a good scheme, as it can be easy at times to concentrate of our own needs and ministry, forgetting that to be Catholic means to belong. We are not all little kingdoms – we form part of the “local church” of Cardiff, which in turn forms part of the universal Catholic Church across the world.

This week we begin with the Cathedral, whose proper name is the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David. Parish priest (dean in a cathedral) is Canon Peter Collins. St David’s recently absorbed the former parish of St Cuthbert’s, so St Cuthbert’s Primary School is in the parish. So also are the Sisters of Nazareth at Nazareth House, very much part of Catholic Cardiff’s history. Close by is the Oratory of Saint Philip in Formation, a community of priests and brothers belonging to the Congregation of the Oratory, including Bro Ambrose (Daniel Jackson), originally from our St Paul’s.

St David’s resident population shrank over many years, as people moved out of the city center, but in more recent times there has been an increase in residential accommodation there. The cathedral also attracts shoppers and those who like a city parish, and the tradition of good music.

So please watch out for a mention of a different parish in this newsletter each week – it’s our own turn soon

!Fr Matthew

Two years later

We saved some wine from our wedding two years ago because so much was left over. We bring some out every anniversary, as a sign of the blessing it is to be married. Whoever shares it with us agrees: it is the best wine they ever tasted.

People drank freely on our wedding day. We didn’t know we ran out until our chief steward brought the new wine over. I didn’t really know Jesus that well either. Jesus’ dad and my dad were friends, because they were both carpenters. It takes about six hours to walk from Nazareth to Cana and Joseph would sometimes spend the night at our home. Joseph had passed away by the time Judith and I were betrothed. Mary gave many of Joseph’s tools to my father after Joseph’s passing. She gave us his favourite hammer as a wedding gift. I could only assume that Jesus was not planning to continue in his father’s profession.

Marriage is more difficult than I ever dreamed it would be. God is blessing our marriage, but the heartaches are many. My wife miscarried three times before we welcomed our son into the world. I feared I would lose her after his birth because she was so ill. Fortunately, our wedding anniversary was imminent, and we brought out the wine for our annual toast. Despite her weakness, Judith welcomed our ritual. We told stories from our wedding day. As we emptied our glasses, Judith looked brighter and stronger. Within days she was back to her normal self. Was there something special about that wine? I can’t say. But there was certainly something special about Jesus, and that was obvious based on the miracle at our wedding feast.

He stopped by on our anniversary the first year we were married along with Philip and Nathaniel. He spent a night with us before moving on. His ministry is causing quite a stir throughout the area. I was glad of the opportunity to offer hospitality. I showed him his dad’s hammer, still a valued part of our workshop, and he smiled with great love. While he was with us, he spoke about forgiveness and how critical it is not only in marriage but also in society at large. For a man who’s never been married, he sure understands the effort a good marriage demands. I told him that starting fresh and letting go are keys to success… I felt valued and heard in his presence. Jesus blessed us before he left and encouraged us to share our love with our family. And to share, of course, the wine.

Loretta Pehanic, The Center for Ignatian Spirituality, Sacramento CA