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!

Saturday, September 24

Finally Home in Rome!


After a most restful week in Lourdes, and then 48 hours of absolute insanity, and zonking out in MY OWN BED at last for a full night I am now finally awake and alert for the first time in the Eternal City! Yes, family and friends, by the grace of God (and His Providential sending of two of the SJV guys to find me at the Lourdes train station and travel with me the rest of the way!) I have arrived at last to my new home in Rome.

I am not even sure where to begin. I guess I should begin where I left off, because otherwise I'll never get back to it. My last night in Nantes was wonderful, Caroline was invited to a wine & cheese dinner and brought me along too - it was great fun with all kinds of cheese I had never heard of, much less tried before. And the vino was excellent of course. :) I also met another great girl there, Abby from England (also a friend of Caroline's) - so perhaps I will go visit England one of these days ;)

The next day, Saturday, went smoothly enough - Caroline brought me to the train station, and after a sad goodbye (Caro, you must come down to Rome this winter!) I was on my way to Lourdes. It took about 8 hours to get there, and we mostly followed the coast of western France. Very pretty, but by the time I got to Lourdes it was pretty dark (9:30pm) so it was not until the next morning that I saw the beauty of the Pyrenees mountains! I stayed for 5 nights at the Emmanual Community house, which is a wonderful retreat spot, clean and great people who are involved in some way with Emmanuel all over the world (I met people from Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, and Britain). Great views too :)

Lourdes (the city) and the Sanctuaries were both incredible and disappointing to me - incredible in the beauty and spiritual historicality of the place, and with the numbers of the faithful that have come to worship God at the request of Blessed Mary. I was amazed at the beautiful emphasis on the Blessed Sacrament, confession, and the candlelit Marian procession every night. But I was disappointed in the influence of "modernism" throughout the place. The oldest church structures are from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and they are beautiful places that lift the heart and mind to God's glory just by being in them, the Grotto itself is still beautiful and very moving to pray in. The famed Lourdes water is definitely special, and going through the steps of washing, bathing, drinking and taking the water is actually a mini-pilgrimage itself. However, the complex also houses the "largest underground basilica in the world" and a "fully modern" church and these are some of the most horrid (to my tastes) examples of modern architecture, with no transcendental emphasis and a "gym" quality. Liturgies also run from being very good (ie, no wackiness or "improv") to being very horrid (all the nuttiness you can think of) - and guess which ones are in which churches? Haha. The "spirit" of the place also tends to be a bit modern ("we are Church", "welcome to all people of all faith paths or no faith at all, because God is one for all").

The only reason I bring all this up is to let anyone else who is planning on going to Lourdes or who may in the future end up there, that your best bet for a truly deepening and spiritual retreat experience in Lourdes is to:

A) Stick to the Grotto and older basilicas, don't even bother going into the new churches or chapels (it is funny, the reason the guidebook gives for visiting the underground basilica is to see the record-breaking immensity of the architecture - I guess they just want you to go satisfy their egos and go say "that's nice" to their creation)
B) Check the Mass schedules every day. Go to either the 7am Mass in the Crypt or the 4pm Mass in the upper Basilica (both done well) or go to one of the Italian pilgrimage Masses offered (every Italian Mass I have been to so far has been done pretty properly). Avoid the "show Masses" of the Sanctuary, including any of the ones outside of the original churches. Also avoid the French and English language Masses, because you have no idea what you're going to get from them (might be good but probably bad). Of course, some of you will probably be traveling with your own priest(s) so that's fine for Mass. :)
C) Confessions here are emphasized (good), but give the wrong message (bad). Like many "modern" retreat houses the emphasis is not on recognition of sin and of our offenses against God, but in our "healing of self". I sat through about 25 minutes of psycoanalysis by this priest answering all kinds of weird questions before he finally just read the absolution statement off the sheet of paper. So I guess it was valid at least... I have a feeling that the rest of the "staff" priests here are similar (could be wrong, but just saying...). My future plan (and advice to you) is that if you are there alone with no priest, observe the English pilgrimage groups and when you find one that looks solid go ask their priest for confession.
D) Go to bed early and get up early. The crowds don't start coming until around 9am or so, and the buildings of the Sanctuaries open at 6:30am (the grounds and Grotto are open all night long). Option #2 is to avoid the Sanctuaries all day and only come later, come for the Marian procession at 9, stay for the last Mass at 11 in the Grotto, which concludes with Adoration until midnight, and then pray for a bit after that.
E) Stay in a place outside of the Sanctuaries area, so you will actually have some peace and quiet.

Anyway - I did have a marvelous time in Lourdes, as I quickly and instinctively avoided most of the nonsense and sought out the deeper spiritual experiences. I do highly recommend going there, the heart of Lourdes and the message of Lourdes is still necessary to hear today and is just as beautiful now! To stand where Bernedette was, to visit her family's home, to follow the massive Way of the Cross up the hillside above the basilicas, it is all very moving!

So my week went well. Then came the departure day. The plan was to take the train from Lourdes to Toulouse and then another one to Nice, and then the night train to Rome, arriving around 7am Friday (yesterday). Well, I get to the Lourdes station easily enough, and then I wait... and wait... and wait... I'm getting nervous because I know that the connection in Toulouse is a bit tight (only 10 minutes difference). So I wander down the gate a bit to see what the notice board says about the train's arrival time. As I'm looking, I suddenly hear my name!! Some guy is standing in front of me saying, "Is it you?" It took me a moment to compute both the shock of hearing my name and the face of this person, but I finally realized that it was Jonathan Venner (behind him was Huy Le) from SJV! (They said I looked very funny, going from blank to flabbergasted to joyous in a few seconds :) Jonathan and Huy are two seminarians that I know, and they are both also studying in Rome and staying at Bernardi this semester. They had gone with the other seminarians on the pilgrimage walk to Compostela (Spain), and then when the seminarians split up afterwards these two decided to go to Fatima Portugal and then through Spain, and then to finish in Lourdes before going on to Rome. Only the mystery of God's Providence can explain how we came together for the last leg of our journey to Rome.

Thanks be to God that He *did* send them though, for without being with them I would have been utterly at my wit's end with the complications and stress that was to come. Because, of course the train was too late, and we missed the connecting train in Toulouse, and therefore also missed the connection to Nice that would get us there in time to take the only night train to Rome. We ended up waiting in Toulouse for almost 7 hours for another train, leaving there at 12:30 in the morning on Friday. We got to Nice finally at around 8am. In Nice, our only option was to try to take a train to Milan and then find another train to Rome once we got there (from France they could not reserve us seats on an Italian train). So we left Nice and got to Milan. My second time in Milan was even worse than my first time there. I hate it and I am never going back there if I can possibly avoid it. Milan should have a sign over it saying "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." At least this time in Milan I was there with the two guys, praised be Jesus. All the trains from Milan to Rome were full but one, a slow one that meandered through central Italy for almost 6 hours before getting to Rome. So we took the slow one. We got to the outskirts of Rome (Tiburtina station) at about 10pm, and then managed to take the subway (Metro) back to the main Termini station in central Rome. The Metro to Bernardi was closed already, so we ended up having to take a taxi, which cost us 30 euro - but we didn't care at that point!! We finally were welcomed by Thanos at Bernardi at close to 11pm Friday night.

So basically, one train that was late 10 minutes cost us 15 hours of travel and 30+ euro. Bah humbug. I sure hope God knew what He was doing when He allowed that whole fiasco - it was great to meet up with the guys, but hey.

Oh well. We're here now! We're safe, we're warm, we're fed, and St. Peter's Basilica is just down the way!

Of course, I have tons of photos. I will try to upload them later. The computer network here is quite different from at home though, so as yet I am not sure if I will be able to hook in my laptop directly or if I will have to keep using my USB key to transfer files first to one of the computers here for uploading.



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