The Flight Through the Catacombs

by Catherine Mohs

JULY 19, A.D. 64: Maria

A tall man dressed in a toga strode through the streets of Rome. He seemed lost in his own thoughts and his face wore a troubled expression. This was Marcus Paulus, a Christian upper class citizen of Rome.

The great fire of Rome had just destroyed half of the city but his house was on the safe part. He, his wife, Maria, and their son, Iohannes, were very thankful for that but he had just visited a Christian friend who said that Nero had blamed it on the Christians. His soldiers were hunting out Christians everywhere.

When he got home, Maria was sitting with Iohannes at the table ready to eat lunch.

"Maria," he said as calmly as he could, "please come to the study with me. Iohannes wait there." When they were in the study he told her everything.

"Oh, Marcus this is terrible news," she wailed."First the fire, now this!" Marcus comforted her best he could.

"Well, Maria let's eat lunch and I'll explain the situation to Iohannes," he said.

"Don't you think that the soldiers may come any time now?" asked Maria worriedly.

"No, I don't think, so since we are upper class citizens. They may give us a little time," he replied.

At the table, Marcus explained the situation to Iohannes. Then they agreed upon that they would take their most precious belongings and go to the catacomb whose door was in the study. There was a floor board that lifted up to show the start of the catacomb. The board looked like a regular one except there was a tiny crack separating it from the other boards so it could be lifted up. Marcus had a small chest over it so the crack would not be seen. In that chest there was a map of the catacombs.

But before they went in they needed more food. Marcus slipped out of the house and carefully ran through the streets avoiding the guards. He went to the market and bought some food. As he got some bread from the short, skinny baker the cross he wore under his tunic caught the rays of sunlight and glimmered brightly.

The baker noticed it and whispered in Marcus's ear, "I am a Christian, too." Marcus started back in amazement.

The baker nodded and whispered, "Take these two more pieces of bread for free and go quickly." Marcus hurried back to his home not noticing a quick darting figure following a little way behind. When he got to the catacomb, he told nothing of the incident to his family.

It was two o'clock when they entered the catacomb.

JULY 20:

Marcus woke and opened the top of the catacomb cautiously. The sun was up and shining. He sighed and slipped back into the catacomb. They spent the rest of the day exploring the vast catacombs.

That night as Marcus lay beside Maria on the cold, hard stone floor, he debated to himself whether they should trust the baker and stay put or go somewhere else in the catacombs. He decided to stay where they were. This decision he would later regret making.

He was suddenly shaken awake by Iohannes. As he sat up, he notices a noise like the tramping of many boots. He rubbed his eyes. Around the corner a light came. As the light stopped moving, the thin sinister face of the baker appeared!!

Marcus shook Maria awake and grabbed Iohannes's hand as the baker's face disappeared around the bend again. But by then it was too late to run. The soldiers blocked their only escape route. The end of the catacomb was behind them and the soldiers, in front. As they slowly came closer, the family backed up against the wall. Marcus was sure their time had come.

Suddenly, the wall gave a way!! They turned around and ran for their lives, Maria running on the right of Marcus and Iohannes being carried by him. But the soldiers were in hot pursuit. Maria turned in to the right side passage while Marcus had no choice but to turn left. All of the soldiers followed him.

But after running a few more yards he saw he had made the wrong turn. He was at the brink of a great chasm. The only way around was a very thin board that stretched across but was not nailed down. Marcus set Iohannes on the bridge and told him to hurry across while he guarded the end just in case the soldiers decided to push the board off the end. Iohannes reluctantly obeyed. Marcus gave him the map, too.

Then a loud voice yelled "Marcus, run across I'll hold them off! And pull down the bridge after you!!!"

It was Antonius, Marcus's child hood friend and playmate who had joined the Roman Army. Marcus did as he said and saw Antonius emerge out of the darkness fighting all of the soldiers. He was forced to the brink and with a sudden thrust forward one of the soldiers hurled him into the abyss!

"NO!!!!" yelled Marcus, but he could do nothing to help his friend. Antonius was dead.

Then they heard a voice behind them calling them. It was Maria. She had wandered through the catacombs and had finally found them. They fell on each other's necks and cried for joy. They had thought they would have never seen each other again.

Using the map, the family made their way through the catacombs. They finally arrived at a Christian friend's house where they warmly accepted. They soon made plans to set sail to Egypt where there were no persecutions.

July 27.

The family got up and said their morning prayers. After breakfast, they said goodbye to their friends, and went to the harbor. The parting was a hard one because they knew they would probably not see their good friends again.

After sailing for three of what would be a five day trip, stormy weather began and the little ship was tossed to and fro. This was a terrifying experience for the family because they had never been at sea before.

To make things worse a whirlpool was sighted. The captain could not avoid it. Suddenly it moved aside and did the ship no harm.

Upon arriving safely in Egypt they amazingly had no trouble buying a house and Marcus getting a job. He worked as a carpenter.

August 15. (The feast of our Lady's Assumption)

Maria conceived a girl who would later be called Maria Antonia, after their heroic friend.

So ends the story of the Christian family of Marcus. From being a rich patrician of Rome to a poor carpenter of Egypt, the family always remained happy and contented.