Shopping, Prayers, and things that were closed

I was talking to Megan tonight and we began to talk about how much we missed Rome… so it inspired me to continue with the Rome trip reminiscing. I can’t believe it’s April and I haven’t finished talking about something that happened in October. I guess it’s like a fine wine — sip it slowly to enjoy it to its fullest.

On Monday it began sinking in that the trip was almost over. We had originally planned on going to the Gesú for Mass at 8, but before going to sleep I asked Meg if she cared if I snuck out early and went to the Vatican for early morning Mass. So we decided to meet at the Gesú at 9 instead.

It’s always a risk to split up and meet somewhere when you’re in Rome. With the exception of my 2008 semester, I’ve never had a cell phone in Rome, and you don’t realize how dependent you are on instant communication until you don’t have it.

But early the next morning I hopped on a bus around 6:40am and headed up the Tiber to Transpontina, the stop just down Via Conciliazione from the Vatican. I ended up walking down the Borgo Pio and going to Sant’Anna for Mass. One of the Sisters had requested prayers there, so I thought it was a good time to go visit. And I love early morning Mass there. Sant’Anna is a little church just inside one of the gates of the Vatican. They have Mass every morning at 7am (and at 8am and 9am and possibly 10am…) and it’s usually packed with Sisters from various congregations who work at the Vatican, along with some other lay Vatican employees. So it’s a fun Mass to go to. I love Sant’Anna — I love the picture of St. Anne and Mary over the high altar, I love the smallness, and I love the pews and kneelers. They’re hard to describe, but everyone has their own little personal kneeler that drops down and is only held down by your own weight. So when you stand up, it automatically swings back up.

This doesn’t do the painting justice.

After Mass I went over to St. Peter’s just to be and pray (there weren’t many days left to do that), but they were setting up for something and you couldn’t go anywhere on the entire right side of the basilica, nor could you go past the sacristy on the left side. So there wasn’t really a place to just be and pray. So I went back and knelt at St. Pius X’s altar, because there were kneelers there. There was Mass going on, and it ended up being Mass in English, so I stayed for that.

Then I headed out — taking my sweet time, just taking it all in. I stopped to take some pictures of the colonnade cleaning effort. It’s incredible to see the statues that they’ve cleaned.

For breakfast, I ended up going to the Gianicolo Terminal for cappuccino and a cornetto. The Gianicolo Terminal is a large underground parking garage that (I think) was built for the Jubilee Year. It doesn’t exactly sound like the place to get breakfast in Rome, does it? When you’re surrounded by incredible coffeeshops?

And if you’re only in Rome a week, normally I would say – no, don’t go to the Gianicolo Terminal. But I was introduced to the Terminal by my friend Trena and the Christendom Rome program when I was back over there in 2008. Christendom would have daily Mass in the middle of the day and then everyone would go to the Terminal for lunch. Besides being a parking garage, the top floor has a large cafeteria for tourists. (it’s packed on Wednesdays after the Papal Audiences) Since Christendom’s classroom building is right next to the Vatican, they have a meal plan with the Gianicolo to eat at the cafeteria. So when I would go to daily Mass with them, there was usually an extra meal ticket and they would treat me to lunch. The food wasn’t terrible- and it was free.

Besides the cafeteria, they also had two coffeeshops (what they would, ironically, call a caffeteria) where you could get cappuccino and a cornetto for a euro. A euro! For a pastry and decent coffee! (well, decent in Italy. Fantastic compared to American coffee) In the Vatican neighborhood, that price is pretty unheard of. So while I would suggest most people should treat themselves to a normal Italian street cafe for breakfast, I knew I could save a little money and get a good cappuccino in the Terminal. And besides, it was good for nostalgia.

They’ve raised their price to 1.20. But it’s still a good deal.

One of the exits of the Terminal drops you out up on top of the Janiculum Hill, where the North American College is, so I followed a couple American seminarians down the hill as they headed into town for class. I was hoping to run into an old Christendom classmate, but no such luck.

Megan accidentally overslept, but I waited in the Gesu and just prayed she hadn’t gotten lost or mugged or something. That’s all I really could do. Luckily, she was fine and we were on our way a little after nine.

Leaving the Gesú, we had a few things to cross off our list. Our list for the week hadn’t been very long, but there were still some things that needed crossing off. Like hot chocolate at Tazza d’Oro. The best hot chocolate in the world.

After Tazza d’Oro (which is right by the Pantheon), we walked across the street and I bought leather boots. Leather boots had been on my tentative to do list, but after seeing all the lovely Italian ladies in their boots, it had moved to the must do list. America doesn’t make boots for people without calves, so I haven’t been very successful in finding knee-high leather boots that don’t look like wellies on me. In Rome, I knew 1) they had nice leather 2) they like their boots 3) their women don’t have calves either! Win-win-win. So I bought black leather boots. And they actually fit me!

Then we walked over to San Luigi dei Francesi, the national church of France in Rome. It’s perhaps most famous for being home to Caravaggio’s Calling of St. Matthew, which is one of my top five favorite paintings of all time. Sr. Matthew Marie had specifically asked for prayers in front of the painting, so I gladly complied. Then it was off to Sant’Agostino, another beautiful basilica – just around the corner- that is full of hidden treasures: the body of Augustine’s Mom, St. Monica; another Caravaggio; a Raphael; and a statue where Roman women pray for pregnancies.

You’ll find statues and altars throughout Rome that have silver “ex-voto” plaques around them, left as a sign of answered prayers. The ex-votos left at this statue are a little different — blue and pink ribbons, baby bottles, pillows, and various other pink and blue signs of answered prayers and babies born. I believe the Italian women go to pray both to get pregnant and for safe and healthy pregnancies.

I went there to pray for my dear friend Liza. … and I’m happy to report that she and her husband are expecting. : )

The morning was mostly spent wandering — it’s just good to walk around Rome like a local. My morning walk from St. Peter’s to the Gesu, and now the walk around the Piazza Navona/Pantheon neighborhood — it was so relaxing. We went to the paper store near the Pantheon that my sister likes, then over to the silver store near Santa Maria sopra Minerva– it was still closed, as it had been every time I walked over there– so I think it must be closed for good. How very sad.

Everything seems to be getting a cleaning– even Elefante!

After a stop at McDonalds near the Trevi for the restroom (the McDonalds by the Pantheon is gone! YIPPEEE!!!!! That discovery was one of the greatest joys of the day. Even though McDonalds is a great option for public restrooms in Rome, it’s good to see at least a small bit of Americanata disappearing from the city), we then headed down the Corso, which is always a frustrating experience. The sidewalk is too small, people walk too slow, and I always end up wanting to scream and push.

But the Corso was a must, because the next thing on my list was to buy a purse at Carpisa. Carpisa is afantastic purse store that Trena showed me in 2008. I love, love, love it. They have the greatest purses at very reasonable prices. I had wanted a black leather purse and knew Carpisa would have one for my Target-budget. Sure enough, they had the perfect one. Megan bought a wallet and I bought a wallet for Jill, because all their things are marked with their cute turtle logo, and I knew Jill liked it.

We continued down the Corso towards Piazza del Popolo, and ended up bopping in the church of Santi Ambrogio e Carlo al Corso — the church of St. Ambrose and Charles Borromeo, the two great saints of Milan. It was perfect timing because Mass was starting, so Meg was able to go to Mass. Then we ended up finding St. Charles Borromeo’s heart, which I had thought was in there somewhere but had never seen it. (There was a sign as we were leaving that said, “Have you seen St. Charles’ heart yet?” and said where it was. We saw it right after I said, “I thought St. Charles’ heart was here.”) So I was able to pray for my friend Sr Mary Charles! It’s good to have a lot of friend with holy names…

After attempting to see our third church with Caravaggios – Santa Maria del Popolo- and failing (it was already closed for riposo), we took one of the mini buses down the Corso to head home. The mini buses are hilarious — they’re so small and jammed with people and they always go down streets you’d never imagine a car going down, much less a bus.

My favorite adoration chapel was closed (in Piazza Venezia), so I’m wondering if it went the way of the silver store and is closed for good. I hope not. Then we walked over to the kitchen store right across from the Gesu (we made one large circle that morning!) where Megan bought espresso cups. Then it was over to Pizzeria Florida for lunch (mmm…) and back to the hotel for riposo.

Only a day and a half left of our trip… it was going way too fast. (It was going much faster than blogging about it. Whew! I don’t know what was more exhausting… all the walking we did, or you guys making it through that long post. Thanks for sticking with it!)


smelling the roses

My screensaver on my computer is a collection of pictures from my 2008 semester in Rome.  (Is anyone shocked?)  When this picture of my friends in Assisi went by, it caused me to ponder for a moment or two.

Goodness gracious.  Are those lovely ladies standing in a postcard?

When I saw the picture on the screensaver, it was almost like seeing it for the first time (although I’ve seen it a billion times since 2008).  I thought about how the sky couldn’t be bluer, the countryside couldn’t be more gorgeous, and how the day just seemed perfect… and I wondered if I truly appreciated it at the moment.  I think I did — I’m pretty sure I spent most of that weekend in Assisi exclaiming about how much I loved it.

Even this past October, when it was cold and rainy, I’m pretty sure I gushed about the city for most of the trip.  (when I wasn’t cursing the lack of ATMs.)

But seeing that picture did make me stop and wonder if I truly appreciated the beauty of the moment.   And that prompts another question – Is it even truly possible to fully appreciate those moments in the moment?  Or does part of the appreciation come after the moment has passed and we can only look back and marvel at the gift?

I definitely don’t stop and smell the roses enough — I’m too busy these days, it seems — but I guess even if I can’t stop, at least I can appreciate as I pass them by.

And maybe I’ll just move to Assisi.  I’m pretty sure one of these guys is looking for a wife:

Seven years ago!

May he be our shepherd for many, many more!

“When, little by little, the trend of the voting led me to understand that, to say it simply, the axe was going to fall on me, my head began to spin. I was convinced that I had already carried out my life’s work and could look forward to ending my days peacefully. With profound conviction I said to the Lord: Do not do this to me! You have younger and better people at your disposal, who can face this great responsibility with greater dynamism and greater strength.

I was then very touched by a brief note written to me by a brother Cardinal. He reminded me that on the occasion of the Mass for John Paul II, I had based my homily, starting from the Gospel, on the Lord’s words to Peter by the Lake of Gennesaret: ‘Follow me!’. I spoke of how again and again, Karol Wojtyła received this call from the Lord, and how each time he had to renounce much and to simply say: Yes, I will follow you, even if you lead me where I never wanted to go.

This brother Cardinal wrote to me: Were the Lord to say to you now, ‘Follow me’, then remember what you preached. Do not refuse! Be obedient in the same way that you described the great Pope, who has returned to the house of the Father. This deeply moved me. The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.

Thus, in the end I had to say ‘yes’. I trust in the Lord and I trust in you, dear friends. A Christian is never alone, as I said yesterday in my Homily. In this way, I expressed the marvellous experience that we all lived through in the past four extraordinary weeks. Following the Pope’s death and all the sorrow that it brought, the living Church emerged. It was clear that the Church is a unifying force, a sign for humanity.

When the great radio and television broadcasting stations gave 24-hour coverage on the Pope’s return to the house of the Father, of people’s grief, of the accomplishments of this great man, they were responding to a participation that exceeded every expectation. The Pope appeared to them as a father who offered them security and trust, who in some way united everyone.

It became obvious that the Church is not closed in on herself and does not exist only for herself, but is a shining point for humanity. Indeed, it was seen that the Church is not old and immobile. No, she is young.

If we look at these young people who were gathered around the late Pope, and as a result, around Christ, whose cause the Pope espoused, something just as comforting could be seen: it is not true that young people think only of consumerism and pleasure. It is not true that they are materialistic and self-centred. Just the opposite is true: young people want great things. They want an end to injustice. They want inequalities to be overcome and all peoples to have their share in the earth’s goods. They want freedom for the oppressed. They want great things, good things.

This is why young people are – you are – once again fully open to Christ. Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number. Rather, he shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life.

From the Address of Pope Benedict to German pilgrims, April 25, 2005

Happy Birthday, Papa Benedetto!

I hope everyone did something special to celebrate the Pope’s birthday today.  It would have been most fitting to eat German food, which I suspect is what he did with his brother Georg.

I, however, had to settle for Italian food.

Trader Joe’s arugula pizza with cherry tomatoes, to be exact.  It was pretty delicious for a frozen pizza.  I finished it off with a glass of Indiana red wine.  I don’t think the Pope has ever been to Indiana (and you wonder how different history would be if he had accepted Father Hesburgh’s invitation to join the ND faculty!), but I’d like to think he’d drink some Oliver wine if he had.

Besides celebrating with food, I read some theology and now I’m off to finish “My Brother, The Pope” by Msgr. Georg Ratzinger.  A wonderful book- I highly recommend it.

A fitting way to finish celebrating the day, don’t you think?

Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict!

Back to Rome: Sunday sera*

When I last posted about our Rome trip, it was Sunday afternoon, after riposo, and we were on the Aventine Hill.

We walked down the Aventine towards Circus Maximus because Megan claimed she had never seen it.  We had no definite plans — we eventually were going to end up at San Giovanni dei Fiorentini for 6pm Mass, but until then, we were free to do whatever the heck we wanted.

We wandered down into Circus Maximus to cross it and walk down Via San Gregorio.

You can see the ugly Vittorio Emanuele monument peeking back there, in the middle of the picture– so if you can picture it in your head, Megan and I will eventually be walking basically in that direction, just on the other side of that hill dotted with trees and ruins  — the Palatine Hill, where the palace of the Roman emperors was (and where we get our word “palace”).

At the end of Via San Gregorio is something that might look familiar:

Only you don’t normally see this side — the lower side — because it’s not as photogenic as the other higher side, which has more marble intact.  We were approaching the Colosseum from the Caelian Hill side.  The Caelian Hill, one of the “seven hills” of Rome, is where the Romans kept the wild animals that were used in the games in the Colloseum.  It’s said that you could hear the roars of the lions on the Caelian Hill at night.

The hill was also once home to the family of St. Gregory the Great, land which he donated to the Benedictines and where a Benedictine monastery still stands at his church San Gregorio Magno al Celio.  (The Benedictines, if you remember your church history, led by St. Augustine, were sent to England by St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons.  Hence, St. Augustine of Canterbury.)

That’s the beautiful Arch of Constantine.  I think we should start making magnificent architectural monuments like that again.  I guess we have our monuments to the presidents in D.C., but this is different.  Can you imagine if General Petraeus made himself a giant victory arch?  Of course, back then, generals who won great victories tended to then take over and rule things.  And become dictators.  So never mind.

Megan had also never been to St. Frances of Rome’s church, or if she had, she had never seen St. Frances’ tomb.  We had been praying a novena to St. Frances of Rome for our trip, so it was fitting to go and pray it together in front of her body.

I love St. Frances of Rome so much, and she had really come through for us on this trip.  I loved staying at her house in Trastevere, too.  She is a woman worthy of emulating, so it was fitting for the two of us to put ourselves under her patronage- for our pilgrimage, but also for our lives and vocations.

She achieved sanctity by living out her vocation — whether it was her time as wife and mother, or after the death of her husband, as a member of the religious order she founded.   There’s a beautiful story of her answering the needs of her husband and children during her prayer — setting aside her prayer book each time they called her.  When she would return to her prayers, she found herself reading the same sentence over and over again, as she continued to get interrupted.  When she returned yet again, the sentence had turned to gold — a divine sign that she was doing the right thing in setting aside her prayers to fulfill the duties of her vocation.

If you visit her church, which is perched on a hill in the Roman Forum, you’ll want to walk into the sanctuary and down the stairs you’ll find there off to the side.  Following a narrow hallway, you’ll come to her tomb, which is directly under the sanctuary.  There she lies, a full skeleton, wrapped in gauze, with little shoes on her feet.  In her hands, she clutches her prayerbook.

As we came out of the church, walking quickly past the drunk homeless man lying outside, we heard the strains of the Last of the Mohicans soundtrack.  Not exactly what you’d expect while walking in the Roman Forum.

There was a street festival down Via Fori Imperali, the street that Mussolini created next to the Forum.  While there were lots of people at the street festival, we soon realized that the festival consisted only of:

1. a street performer that looked like a statue

2. a “kids zone” that consisted of sticks (like Lincoln logs) lying on the cobblestoned ground

3. a woodcarver

4. three — yes, three– different groups of Native Americans, including one in full feathered headdress, playing synthesizers and various “authentic” instruments, like rain sticks.

They were spaced out along the road, so that as soon as one synthesizer/rain stick song died out, you approached another one.  It was quite odd.

My brother and sister-in-law and I had seen a Native American street performer in Florence, and it was equally strange then.

Maybe we missed most of the festival attractions by the time we walked through.

We stopped to marvel at the Forum, although it appeared that something was on fire.

Megan and I commented how Rome burning generally doesn’t bode well for Christians.  And while this was said in jest, it did spark some interesting thoughts and conversations.   I don’t think I believe in portents, but I will say… that smoke is coming from the exact direction of the old Porta Capena.  Which is where the Great Fire of of 64 started.

Interesting, hm?

We stopped to get water from my favorite fountain, which is the pine cone fountain between Vittorio Emanuele and San Marco, at the end of the 916 bus line.

I made Megan pose for a picture.

The water out of that fountain is as cold as the water out of your refrigerator.

Then we stopped at the Gesu, where I should have used the ladies’ room.  I’m not sure why I didn’t.  But I did take a picture of one of my favorite paintings in Rome, which is above the main altar of the Gesu — the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Then we took a bus to San Giovanni for the 6pm Mass with Father Thomas Williams.  Have I mentioned how much I love and miss the 6pm Mass at San Giovanni?  I even emailed Father Williams about a month before our trip to make sure he still said Mass in English on Sunday nights there.  It used to be a more popular Mass for the English university students, but when I was studying there in 2008 it would often be just a handful of us.  I lectored every other week or so, when my friend Joseph didn’t or when we didn’t have people like George Weigel visiting. : )  (We let him lector.)  Mass would only last a half an hour or so, but he never rushed and he certainly never skimped on the homily.   I would actually look forward to his homily each week, and they never, ever disappointed.

So even though we had already been to Mass that morning, Megan gladly humored me by going again.  Elizabeth Lev, an incredible art historian in Rome, was there, like she usually was, and Father asked her daughter to read the first reading and Meg or I to read the second.  So I got to relive a bit of 2008 by lectoring again in that big beautiful basilica.  It was just so wonderful to be back.  Father’s homily was wonderful — nothing earth-shattering, just simple, eloquent truth.

After Mass, I really had to use the ladies’ room.  I should have gone in the Gesu, obviously.  I should have asked the sacristan if there was one in San Giovanni somewhere, but I didn’t, so Megan and I headed into the darkness of the Roman night.  I quickly got into a pretty bad mood, because I didn’t want to make a decision.  I knew I needed to use the restroom, but we also needed to eat dinner, and I wasn’t ready to go all the way back home for the night.  We didn’t have very many nights left, and I didn’t want to waste one just because I had been dumb.

(You see, public restrooms are hard to find in Rome.)

Looking back, it’s pretty embarrassing to admit that I was in a bad mood in Rome.  When I type that we were tired or hungry or grouchy … it’s hard to believe we weren’t just basking in the Roman wonderfulness and frolicking down the cobblestones.  What I would do right now to go back to that night, despite the discomfort or the weariness or the inconveniences of the city.

Dear, dear Megan.  She found cranky me a bathroom.  Granted, it was in a little cafe and I felt guilty sneaking in and using it and not buying anything.  And it was horribly filthy (I didn’t feel bad not buying anything after I saw how dirty it was), but it meant we could continue on our way to find dinner.

Don’t you like how I include every last detail of this trip? (Well, really, I don’t.  But almost every last detail.)

We went to l’Archetto for dinner, one of my favorite pasta places. My cousin Adam introduced us to the place, and I think you could probably go there every day for a year and get a different pasta.  The menu is rather overwhelming.

But I tend to get the same thing every time.  Don’t judge.

Pasta tropici.  *sigh*  Where else do you find pineapple and melons and pasta in a light cream sauce?  Believe me, I’ve tried to replicate it here in the States, and I haven’t come close.

And I love how you can get little pitchers of house wine over there.  I may or may not have ordered that little pitcher and had the whole thing myself.  Okay, I may.  It was little.

After dinner we walked to the Pantheon to get rose gelato, Megan’s favorite.  (We didn’t get the gelato at the Pantheon.   It’s sold at a place next to the Pantheon.  We think it’s the only place in Rome that has it… and it’s not della Palma!)  It’s a little flowery for me, but it’s worth getting to experience it, and she loves it, so I’m glad we found the place again and I’m glad they had it.  I think we both paired it with dark chocolate.

My night pictures never turn out, but how can you resist a picture of rose flavored gelato with the Pantheon in the background?

*sigh*  I really want to go back.

Thanks for sticking through that long post about Native Americans and having to go to the bathroom.

*One thing you’ll notice in Rome is that people start to tell you buona sera pretty early.  They don’t wait until dinner time to tell you good evening, like we would around here.  I’ve generally found that people start using “buona sera” after noon.  Or after riposo, when you head back into town after your nap. : )

Happy Little Easter

In Italy, today is a national holiday — Pasquetta — little Easter.

Here are the sights from my little Easter:


Beautiful flowers (and my first Fiat Cinquecento) from my dear friends Dan and Darcy


Dinner: leftover sweet potatoes


For snacking: columba!

This Easter has been so lovely.  The vigil was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed.  Then we went to the Motherhouse the next day to see all of our friends.  (I thought I would cry all through the Vigil — but after almost tearing up with excitement/happiness during the fire, I held myself together … only to lose it the next day after Communion.).  Sunday afternoon we had a lovely Easter lunch– my parents, Dan & Darcy, Darcy’s mom, my friend Tess, and Father Jacek.  Then I got to enjoy my parents’ company all evening!

This morning we went to Puckett’s for breakfast — a old standby for good Southern food– and then went to the Carton Plantation.  Nothing says Easter Monday like a Civil War hospital with blood stains in the wood floors, does it?

Then I spent the afternoon catching up on Person of Interest and reading my cousin’s book!  And eating.  You know you did something right during Holy Week when you realize on Easter Monday that you can eat — whenever and whatever you want — and that alone makes you happy.

A lovely day.

All in all, my Triduum and Easter were more blessed and beautiful than I could have imagined.  From Holy Thursday night, to Good Friday at the Fathers of Mercy, to Easter with my parents and dear friends.

Buona Pasquetta!

This is the night

Christ is Risen!

He is Risen indeed!

As the clock strikes midnight, I have eaten my piece of poticia and piece of chocolate, and now I’m headed to bed.

My parents and I were just happy participants of a glorious 2 hour and 45 minute Easter Vigil, at which my dear friend Dan was baptized, confirmed, and received his first Holy C0mmunion.  We recalled the splendid history of our salvation and celebrated the fulfillment of all Israel’s longings, the Paschal Mystery of Christ.

For those of you who went to the Vigil — wasn’t the new translation of the Exultet amazing!?  Wowzers.

This is the night, when you once led our forebears, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry-shod through the Red Sea.

This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.

This is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to His holy ones.

This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.

Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed.  O wonder of your humble care for us!  O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son!

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servant’s hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.

 But now we know the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor, a fire into many flames divided, yet never dimmed by sharing of its light, for it is fed by melting wax, drawn out by mother bees to build a torch so precious.

O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of early, and divine to the human.