The Roamin' Roman

Benvenuto! You have happened upon the blog of a wandering Catholic American college student studying for a year in Rome, the Eternal City. You will find here my pontifications, ruminations, reflections, images, and ponderings on my life in Rome. Ciao!

Sunday, August 14

On the way to Turin

Recap continued...

Ok, we're out of Tuscany and in north-central Italy, in Bologna. We are spending the night at another hotel (a Holiday Inn Express!! It's actually very very nice... that was some AWESOME dinner!) that has Internet access - and this time I can use my laptop! I will post photos shortly, though only a couple because I don't have that long to spend uploading... I gotta sleep tonight, we leave early tomorrow for Turin!

So where was I? I think I just mentioned some of the goings-on during the first day in Rome - so let's see, day 2 in Rome...

Wednesday, August 10th

We got up early and took the bus to the Vatican (our first "official" visit), and immediately got into line to go to Pope Benedict's weekly General Audience. It was held in the Paul VI audience hall (AC!) and the place was packed, with large groups of youth and young adults also on their way to WYD!!! Papa came in to cheers and song from the crowds, and was quite gracious and fatherly to everyone. Down in the front were our good friends Derik and Christina, newly married and waiting down in the newlywed section for the chance to receive a special papal marriage blessing - and boy did they get a blessing! Benedict came right over to them and took their hands, and blessed them specially. And the rest of us were able to see it happening on the big TV screens that they have set up in the hall! What a treat to see, they were both just beaming. At the end of the audience, after the teaching and general blessing by the pope, he then sees individually the sick and handicapped who have come. Nicole and I looked at each other and said, hey, we can get a much better view now!! So we went down to the front sections, hopping a rail on the way (a guard saw us, but looked the other way :) and managed to get right to the foot of the stage area. We got to see Papa a bit more closely, and got a couple of very nice photos too as a bonus.

After the papal audience, we spent the rest of the day pretty much at or around St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican. Others in the group went to the Vatican Museums, I ended up going back to the Bernardi residence to pick up a few more items from my long-term luggage that I had forgetten the night before. When I got back I just wandered around the Basilica until the meeting time, bumping into various other pilgrims on the way (small world, even when there are thousands of people around!). I did NOT visit the tomb of John Paul II, to tell the truth I was a little afraid of doing it, not really afraid per se, but uncomfortable. There were SO many people around all the time (WYD pilgrims and the like) that they were crowding people in for just a glimpse at a time. I personally decided that my visit to JPII was going to be an emotional one, and I did not want to be herded like a cow past his holy resting place when I knew that in just another month or so I could come back and have at least a bit more private time to spend. So, when I return!

It was later in the afternoon and we still had yet to have a Mass, first we tried to go to a regular Italian daily Mass at St. Peter's, but were a few minutes too late by the time we got everyone together. So then we thought to try to go to the church of Santa Croche (Holy Cross) near our hotel, as they had a regular daily Mass at 6:30pm. We made that one! It was awesome, there were just a few Italians there, and a few other American tourists, and a ton of us! I am not sure what the religious order is that has charge of the church, but they were wonderful! So hospitable, and welcoming with such short notice of guests. The Mass ended up being a partly Italian partly English Mass, with singing and chant. Later, the friars reopened the chapel of the Holy Relics (relics from the Passion, including a large beam from the Cross, thorns from the Crown, nails, and the INRI sign that hung over the cross of Christ) and let us pray inside for awhile, it was so amazing.

Ok, fast forwarding...

Thursday, August 11th

Assisi!! We had to leave really early in the morning to make it to Assisi in time for the feast day Mass at the Basilica of St. Clare!! We made it, just barely in time (Mass already had started actually, but it was early enough, just at the opening prayer). The Basilica, not a large church to begin with, was absolutely packed. A few of us, however, had perfected the Italian art of filling all available crowd space at all times, and therefore slowly but surely made our way up closer to the sanctuary. Two bishops and a ton of priests were concelebrating the Mass, and there was a beautiful choir and trumpet orchestra for many of the Mass responses and music (in Italian). I just kept "filling in space" every time someone in front of me left or moved aside, and found myself right at the very front of the church by Communion, it was so beautiful to see the Mass in this way, odd as that may seem. You see, with it being in Italian, it was easy to know what part of the Mass we were at, but pretty much impossible for me to know exactly what was being said - it was all a mystery. Because of this, it was that much more beautiful to me, that sense of mystery, of miraculousness, was heightened in a way that can only happen when you witness something in a beautiful, but foreign, language. THAT is why I lament the loss of the use of Latin in most Masses today - it is a sign that we have lost a sense of wonder and mystery, and in turn it is easier for us to lose sight of the miracle of the Eucharist that is taking place before our eyes at every single Mass. Understanding the Biblical readings and homily is important, as is understanding the changing parts of the Mass (the prayers for the day, etc). However, I fail to see any reason whatsoever why the stable parts of the Mass, the prayers and responses we say every single time, are not still done in the universal language of the church - Latin. Additionally, I speak from experience to tell you that instead of "denying" diversity in the church, the use of Latin ENCOURAGES true appreciation of diversity, for it allows us all to see ourselves truly as one, as the unified body of Christ. It was very funny to me to see, during the Masses here, that the only time that people could fully participate in the Mass was when there was the use of Latin - the Italians were not able to participate in the English Mass, and we were not able to participate in the Italian Mass. But when we did the Sanctus or Agnus Dei in Latin, everyone could join in and feel the true unity and universality of the Church.

In any case, setting the liturgical soapbox aside again, let me continue... After the beautiful Mass in Assisi, we journeyed on foot through the charming town of Assisi, visiting the Basilica of St. Francis and a few other spots. I myself, having been to Assisi before, joined up with Fr. Joseph Mary and a few other people to go to lunch, we went in search of a restaurant that Fr. had seen briefly on a past trip to Assisi and wanted to try to find. Well, we found it - and what a great choice! Great food, and fabulous food! We were up on the very top part of the town of Assisi, eating at a rooftop terrace overlooking the city below. Very nice!

Later, we went down the hill to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels (in the town of the same name), which was built above and around the Porziuncula (the little chapel) of St. Francis. It also has the Transito Cappela (Transist Chapel) where St. Francis died, and the Rose Garden and cave where he lived. For the Year of the Eucharist, the Basilica is offering daily Eucharistic Adoration in one of the side chapels! Beautiful, we were able to pray for a good amount of time before our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Then we met up again to go back up the hill. Most of us, including me, went up to the Carceri, the hermitage, of St. Francis high up the mountain above Assisi. Beautiful place, tucked in the woods and overlooking the land of Umbria (the region of Assisi, very hilly). It was very peaceful up there, and must have been quite a hike for St. Francis back in his day! It was a good 10-15 minute drive up the mountain for us.

At the end of the day, I had both a good time and a rotten time - good because I had some great gelato at a place down the street from the hotel (in good company too, with a group of other pilgrims and religious). Bad, because on the way back to the hotel I stepped down wrong on the sidewalk, on the edge of a pothole, and rolled my ankle sideways into the pothole as I fell.... ouch! Fortunately I didn't sprain it too badly, perhaps just pulled a muscle a little. Rich was on hand the next morning with a good job of bandaging it up, and I kept it elevated and iced, and took ibuprofen for it. (Today, a couple of days later, it's much better and I think I can just walk on it normally tomorrow). At least I got some good sympathy from everyone :) Bed sure felt good that night!

Friday, August 12th

Early morning drive onward, to Siena! Pretty countryside as we rolled into Tuscany (as I reported in my earlier post, Tuscany is gorgeous, prettier than any movie could show you!), and beautiful weather even though it seemed like it wanted to rain for most of the day (just a sprinkle here and there). The first thing we did when we got to Siena was to have Mass at the Basilic of St. Dominic (where St. Catherine of Siena's head is kept in a beautiful reliquary, and her finger is also kept in another reliquary. Her body is in Rome, and her feet are over in Venice, by the way... just for the record... That's what happens when you are such a popular saint, beloved by the people... :) Seriously, though, these relics are actually very beautiful to see, even though it sounds to modern minds to be a disquieting notion to have relics like that -- you just have to remember that as Christians, we are an Incarnational people, we do not believe we are just spirits trapped in some bodily form until we can die and escape to a spiritual heaven. No, we are born as complete persons, both body and soul. Because of this, we should be a very tactile people, desiring to strengthen our connections to the Christians who have gone before us, who have "run the race" and have showed us their lives as models for our own lives.

Anyway, sorry, off on a tangent there... It is a odd church, one that seems to want to be both modern and ancient at the same time. There were some beautiful paintings and sculptures, and stained glass. But then there were also some frightful stained glass depictions of Jesus and the saints, particularly the one above the main sanctuary... Jesus just looked like a devil!! Yikes. Not sure whose brillant idea those were, but the current Dominican friars that are in charge of the Basilica were very hospitable and friendly, and seemed decent enough.

Next we took a short stroll down the hill to see Catherine of Siena's "casa" or home. Very beautifully restored, her family's old kitchen was converted long ago into a chapel, with beautiful frescoes of her life and spirituality. It is a larger complex now than it was when she was alive, and the site has been extensively restored and decorated to show us the various ways in which Catherine was a witness to Christ's love for her and for each of us.

The Duomo (or Cathedral) of Siena is beautiful, it is a distinctive building with alternating dark and light marble layers (the "zebra" church :) with a very impressive interior. We spent a bit of time inside just praying and exploring the art and history of the church in Siena. Honestly, I thought it was a very pretty church, but it was almost too much for me. Rather than there being one special aspect to focus on and meditate upon, the entire church was completely covered with fine art and precious sculptures - very difficult for me to truly appreciate any one element of it.

For lunch, we went down to the Piazza Il Campo, the main town square. They are gearing up for the Palio right now, a mega-horse race that is held every year in which each of the regions enters horses into the competition. Hundreds of thousands of people will be flooding Siena in the next day or two for the race, on August 16th this year. The Piazza is huge and well kept, beautiful buildings. Good food, we had some great seats on a pub balcony above the square - we were told that during the big race, the Palio, the seats we were in will cost 300 Euro each!! At that news, the 50 cents we paid to sit down didn't seem too bad (in Italy, and in a lot of Europe, you actually have to "pay" to sit down, but this pay includes the tip and service charges.)

After lunch, we walked a few minutes to get to the Basilica of St. Francis, which is the location of a special Eucharistic Miracle. Long ago, over 300 years ago, theives broke into the church and stole a ciborium holding consecrated hosts, the Eucharist. The townspeople, wildly upset over the sacriledge of the theives, searched in vain for the hosts. Over a day later, a priest was praying in a nearby church when he looked over at the offering box and saw something white sticking out of it. He immediately went over with other people and found the hosts in the bottom of the dirty box. The bishop and the people brought them carefully back to the Basilica, where they were cleaned and put back into a ciborium. It is unclear why they were not consumed or diluted at that time, which is what typically happens when the Eucharist is dropped or contaminated in some way, perhaps it was because there were so many of them and they were so dirty. In any case, it is well documented that the hosts were kept in the ciborium long enough for it to be realized that they were not corrupting - they stayed fresh. Hundreds of years later, the hosts remain just as they were then, completely incorrupt and perfectly whole, with no signs of degradation. As an experiment, the rediscovered consecrated hosts were put alongside another ciborium of unconsecrated hosts, and then watched. Over the course of a month, the unconsecrated hosts (made exactly the same way) degraded and fell apart into pieces, but the Eucharist remained intact. This is what we were able to see today, to worship our Lord present in this modern-day miracle, a truly present miracle. To be able to go up and thank the Lord for His goodness to us, even to the point of giving us this gentle reminder of His faithfullness and willingness to humble Himself to the point of hiding His very Being in the appearance of simple bread, brought many of us to tears.

That night I rested my ankle, so I missed dinner and the raccous praise and worship jam session that I hear went on afterwards... I also guess there were some good views of the meteor showers, but I certainly didn't stay up for them. :)

Saturday, August 13th

Today, we drove to Bologna through some of the most amazing countryside - high mountains, the Appenines, which run down through the length of Italy (the Alps are the northern east-west ridge). It took a couple of hours to get here. We got here and immediately walked to the Duomo for Mass (the Basilica of St. Petrino, named after the first bishop of Bologna), which was in a beautiful little side chapel. Fr. Rutten amused us all during his (very good) homily, centering on baptism and how in the old days one symbolized the turning away from sin by spitting towards the west and then turning your back on it, and on all that was bad, and turning towards the east to enter the waters of baptism. Great content, however, Fr. was a bit too expressive in his talking, and actually turned his back while gesturing that behind him was all that was bad -- only problem was that our too loyal pilgrim servers, Mike and Rich, were there and we immediately started chuckling. :) I don't think they are quite ALL bad Fr.!! Heehee. The Duomo was nice, but it is still "unfinished" after a few centuries... it was supposed to be this huge church, bigger than St. Peter's in Rome, but the money ran dry and the Vatican said "hey, no you don't" to the idea of having a bigger church than St. Peter's. Thus, the church today is huge but not quite what they had in mind at the beginning of its construction.

After Mass, we got lunch, or at least we were supposed to. Instead, however, Bethany and I took off and wandered the streets of Bologna. Bologna is known for its miles of arcades (covered walkways in front of the buildings). We wandered a bit, but then we discovered the two "leaning towers" of Bologna (not quite like Pisa, but sorta)... and then I remembered talking to Matt W. before we left and him saying something about climbing one of the towers to see the vista of Bologna -- hey, good idea!! We hunted then and found the entrance in, and made our way to the top (a LONG way up... trust me. And the stairs were pretty worn too, I have to wonder just how old that wood was!!). The view from the top was well worth it though, the tower is by far the highest building height in Bologna, and everything is tiny below it. The view into the surrounding hills and mountains is stunning.

So instead of lunch we feasted on the view of Bologna, and coming back down we met up with the group again at the steps of the Duomo. We set off again, this time for the church of St. Sigismondo, where the body of Blessed Imelda is kept. She was a young girl, only 11 years old, when she died after having received her first Holy Communion. Then, Communion wasn't given until a child was 12 or 13 years old, but Imelda was a very devout child and very much wanted to receive her Lord in the sacrament. The day of Mass for First Communion for the children a year older than her, she was not to receive, but during the Mass suddenly a host appeared suspended before her, and the priest, recognizing that God willed her to receive His Son in the sacrament, gave her the host - almost immediately she died. The church itself is in the new University of Bologna quarter, in the heart of the "modern" Bologna.

Following this visit, we walked to the Basilica of St. Dominic, the heart of the Dominican order, where St. Dominic himself is buried. For me, this was the most moving experience of the pilgrimage thus far - to actually be so near to Father Dominic himself so as to feel as though I can touch him. He is buried in a beautiful sarcophagus inside the church, with a reliquary in the back that holds his skull (not very visible, not like Catherine's head!), and it is very peaceful. Not a lot of pilgrims come here, so it was just a wonderfully quiet place for me to pray and reflect on my own discernment and vocation. I loved that church, and I really hope to come back to it again. I would love to be able to spend hours to pray there some day.

After that "high" spiritually, we walked back to get on the bus to go to the hotel, where I am now.... we had a splendid dinner at the hotel, of all places, with some of the best dessert I have ever eaten... even better than gelato! It was some kind of "companesta" or something... like a creme brulee, only way way better!

And now, I have written too much. It is time for me to go to bed. And now my roommate is on the phone, so I think I will end here, and save this posting for the morning and post it then on our way out the door.

Miss you all, praying for you here! We leave in the morning for Turin, to see the Cathedral (where the Shroud of Turin is kept) and then go to the church of Our Lady, Help of Christians, where Sts. John Bosco, Dominic Savio, and Mary Mazzerelo are buried. More news later, whenever I can (and photos too... sorry those are taking so long to get up.)


  • At 7:01 PM, Anonymous Elitre said…

    Hi, I've just read your post, if you're interested in Palio di Siena take a look at my blog with lots of 2005 pics and a link to see the last Palio movie (free). Ciao...



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