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Croatian History inItaly
Recently, while visiting Rome, Italy, I saw a fascinating, life size sculpture by Ivan Mestrovic on permanent exhibit in the "Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna". Also, the Italian television had a special on Brioni Islands and advertising the rest of Croatia.
In preparation for my trip to Rome, I emailed a week in advance, a request for a ticket to the general audience with Pope John Paul II. It was granted, along with seven thousand other people with invitation which read, "Prefettura Della Casa Pontificia Udienza Generale di Sua Santita Giovanni Paolo II mercoledi 13 Novembre 2002".
The Holy Father holds weekly audience where people can see and hear him, except when he is on vacation in the mountains of northern Italy, Castel Gandolfo. The audience lasts two hours. It includes prayers, songs, sermon by the Pope and his blessings.
I received the ticket gratis with a donation to the home of the American Catholic church in Rome, the Church of Santa Susanna. While in church, I was stricken by its beauty and read the history, the story of Santa Susanna.
The church of Santa Susanna is one of the 25 oldest churches in the city of Rome. Beneath the present floor of the church are the ruins of a Roman house that was constructed about the year 280 AD. This was the home of relatives of the General Gaius Aurelius Diocletian, who would become Emperor in 284 AD. Like the Emperor, the family of four brothers migrated from Dalmatia or what is now modern Croatia. Caius and Gabinus and Gabinus's daughter, Susanna lived here on the site of the present church. There were two other brothers, Maximus and Claudius who were a part of the Roman government and lived elsewhere in the city. The family's religious beliefs were divided. Caius, Gabinus and Susanna were Christians, while Maximus and Claudius remained followers of the old religion of Rome. Caius and Gabinus were not only Christians, they were priests and in December 283, Caius was elected Bishop of Rome. This family residence served as a "domus ecclesia," or house church as the Christian Church could not own property and private homes and other buildings served as the first churches.
After becoming Emperor in 284 AD, Diocletian adopted a form of government called tetrarchy, or joint rule in order to insure peace and stability. There would be more than one Emperor and this would provide continuity. Diocletian who was called "Augustus" wanted to appoint the General Maxentius Galerius as a junior ruler or "Ceasar," with the right to succeed him. In the year 293 AD in order to further validate Maxentius's succession, Diocletian prepared to marry this young general into his immediate family. Diocletian's daughter, Valeria was married. The only unmarried young female in the family was Susanna, his cousin. So in the Spring of 293 AD, Diocletian announced the engagement of Maxentius Galerius to his cousin Susanna. This would lead to a family crisis and to martyrdom.
The story of what occurred between members of the family comes from a 6th century account. Susanna refused the marriage proposal. Her father Gabinus and her uncle Caius supported this decision. Her non-Christian uncles, Claudius and Maximus tried to persuade Susanna to marry Maxentius. In a long debate between the four brothers that lasted through the night, Claudius and Maximus were converted to Christianity. Maxentius came to the house, believing he could persuade Susanna to marry him. Susanna's refusal led to the suspicion that she was a secret Christian. The Roman Consul Macedonius then called Susanna to the Roman Forum. Susanna was asked to prove her loyalty to the state by performing an act of worship, by placing incense before the God Jupiter. She refused. This confirmed what many Roman authorities had suspected, that Susanna and perhaps several other members of her family were Christians. There was no attempt to arrest Susanna, as she was also a member of the Emperor's family.
Susanna had refused the marriage proposal, not only because she was a Christian but because she had taken a vow of virginity. When Diocletian on the eastern frontier learned of his cousin's refusal and the reasons why, he was deeply angered, and ordered her execution. A cohort of soldiers arrived here at the house and beheaded her. Her father Gabinus was arrested and died in prison. Maximus and the family of Claudius which included his wife Prepedigna and his children Alexander and Cuzia, were all martyred in Ostia where the present Fumicino airport is located. Ironically the only survivor was Pope Caius, who had escaped and hid in the catacombs. These murders within Diocletian's own family would foreshadow the last great persecution against the Christian church which the Emperor began in 303 AD. Diocletian's daughter Valeria was divorced, and in June 293 AD married Maxentius who would succeed Diocletian in 305 AD.
The General Constantine had hoped to be chosen instead of Maxentius Galerius. He left Diocletian's staff in the east, and traveled to the frontiers in Gaul where his father, Constantius, was not Caesar of the west. When Constantius died in 306, the army in Gaul immediately proclaimed Constantine as his successor. On October 28, 312 AD, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge on the western side of the city of Rome. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber when the bridge collapsed. Constantine became ruler of the west and eventually sole ruler of the world. He would establish Christianity as the religion of his Empire.
In the year 330 AD, a church was built over the site of the house of Susanna. It was first called Saint Caius in honor of the pope whose home it had been. The bodies of Susanna and Gabinus were brought back from the catacombs and buried in the church. In the year 590 AD, Pope Saint Gregory the Great, in recognition of the growing cult that had grown up around the tomb of Santa Susanna, renamed the church in her honor.
The Church of Santa Susanna, Via Venti Settembre 15, 00187 Roma, Italy
www.santasusanna.org or http://www.santasusanna.org/popeVatican/tickets.html