Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Rome Sweet Rome

Anyone who has ever visited Rome knows that it is impossible to see the sights in just two days – especially when one of the days is the major jetlag day! But I am proud to say that the brave band of pilgrims on the first ever FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage made the most of every minute! I have tried to include as many links as possible so that you can take a virtual trip with us.

Our journey in the footsteps of Pier Giorgio began appropriately at the basilica dedicated to his favorite saint – St. Paul. We arrived at St. Paul Outside the Walls on June 27th – just before the closing of the Jubilee Year in honor of the birth of St. Paul. Before getting off the bus, we began our group novena in honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio to seek his intercession and protection for our trip. Inside the basilica, we had our first Mass together as a group in the chapel of St. Lawrence. The basilica was already being prepared for a special visit by Pope Benedict and so we were unable to get near the area of the most recent excavation of the tomb of St. Paul. However, we were able to visit the chapel of the Crucifix. The crucifix is considered miraculous because St. Bridget reported that the face of Christ turned and spoke to her while she was praying at the feet of this Crucifix in 1370. (One of our pilgrims was named Bridget and she shares a birth date with Pier Giorgio, so it was extra meaningful to visit that chapel.)

(A little interesting aside about St. Bridget: When the miraculous Crucifix spoke to her, she was given words of encouragement about founding a religious community. Later, she would found the Order of the Holy Saviour – known as the Brigittines. One community of Brigittine monks is located in Oregon and recently elected a new prior, the Reverend Brother Bernard Ner Suguitan, O.Ss.S. He will be installed on July 23rd, the feast of St. Bridget. He is a native of the Philippines and a big fan of Pier Giorgio! Before entering religious life, he founded the Friends of Frassati Philippines.)

But back to Rome… after visiting St. Paul’s, we took a quick trip through Rome to our hotel near the Vatican, settled in and then met for lunch. The rest of the day was a marathon walk to many of the famous places in Rome that would not be a part of our guided tour but are often considered “must sees” when you visit. These included one of my favorite churches in Rome – the Holy Spirit Church along Borgo Santo Spirito. (By the way, the priest/postulator in charge of Pier Giorgio’s canonization cause resides across the street from this church.) The Holy Spirit Church is dedicated to the Divine Mercy and is maintained by nuns from the order of St. Faustina. We entered just as the daily recitation of the chaplet and rosary was coming to an end.

From there, we headed to Santa Lucia in Gonfalone and the Chiesa Nuova. Unfortunately, we timed it just wrong and both were closed. We spent a little bit of time at the Piazza Navona and made it to the Pantheon just minutes before it was closing. In Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, we were able to pray at the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena. (St. Catherine and one of our pilgrims -- Debbie -- share a birth date.) Most of her body is contained in a stone sarcophagus near the altar. We would not see the rest of her until reaching Siena. The tomb of Blessed Fra Angelico (with whom, by the way, I share a birth date) is also in this basilica. We would be able to admire his works later in Florence.

Despite the heat and fatigue, we walked on and reached the jam-packed Trevi Fountain and then the Spanish steps. Trivia: the first McDonald’s in Italy is located on the street just to the right of the bottom of the Spanish steps. Thankfully, we were able to use the bathrooms there! Our streak of hitting places that were closed continued when we finally made it to the Casa del Rosario – a place I recommend for souvenir shopping. Saturday is the only day it closes super early. Make a note of it! It is right across from Santa Maria Maggiore. By this point, everyone was ready to call it a day. We were not far from Rome’s major train/bus station Termini, so we took advantage of the public transportation and headed back to our hotel.

Rome is overwhelming. There are so many breathtaking sights and beautiful churches. There is also the historical aspect represented by ancient Rome. This would be the focus for our second and last day there on Sunday, July 28th. We started the day with Mass in St. Peter’s at the Clementine Chapel. It was a privilege to have Mass in this place because it is the closest location to the remains of St. Peter (who, of course, is one of Pier Giorgio’s namesakes.) We also were able to visit the tomb of the great Pope John Paul II while we were down in the grotto area.

Our guide for the day met us after Mass and we set off for the Basilica of St. John Lateran with a quick stop afterward at the church of the Holy Stairs . We enjoyed the cool of the catacombs of Domitilla and then returned to the Piazza of St. Peter’s to see our friend Pope Benedict recite the Sunday Angelus. He was glad to see us, wished us a pleasant stay in Rome and a Blessed Sunday!

After lunch on the Borgo Pio, we headed off to Santa Maria Maggiore to complete our visits to the four major basilicas. Finally, our guide brought us to the Flavian Amphitheatre, a.k.a.The Coliseum and we spent a good bit of time inside contemplating the complexity and greatness of ancient Rome. Well, okay, I guess we were mainly taking pictures and video -- but trust me, no matter what you do in there, you cannot help contemplating the complexity and greatness of ancient Rome!

With only one evening left in Rome, we were not about to call it quits. We had dinner scheduled that evening at a great little pizza place in Trastevere. Our special guest was Wanda Gawronska – a niece of Blessed Pier Giorgio. On the way there, we stopped in at the basilica of St. Cecilia. Time was on our side and, thanks to a wedding there, we were able to get inside and admire the beautiful (and one of my all-time favorites!) sculpture of St. Cecilia. We were just enough ahead of schedule to have time to visit yet another spectacular basilica– Santa Maria in Trastevere. This is the seat of the Community of Sant' Egidio. Every night, they have beautiful vesper services. On Sunday evenings, they celebrate the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. (I happen to be an eastern rite Byzantine Catholic, so this is always a special experience for me.) Just as we walked inside the basilica, the procession with the gospel book and the incense passed right by us to the sound of the beautiful chanting.

At the pizzeria, we found an air-conditioned room and were joined shortly afterward by Wanda. After dinner, she generously invited us to her home for ice cream and a brief visit on her terrace. What more can I say? The sky was awesome; the view was spectacular; we were having gelati in Rome at the home of a relative of Pier Giorgio. To make it even more special, we prayed day two of our group novena together up there on the terrace. All good things must come to an end and so we made our way back to the hotel via the tram and a city bus. While heading for the bus, we got an up-close look at the giant cats of Rome that live in the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Creeeeeeepy!

I think we can all agree that we made the most of our time in Rome. It was a wonderful mix of fun, fellowship, faith, food and Frassati. I feel tired and excited just writing about it! The days to follow would be just as full and even more meaningful. Verso l'alto!


Anonymous said...

It was a please to meet Wanda and a wonderful pilgrimage. It was impossible to describe my feelings. It was a mixture of EVERYTHING.

cintamk said...

It was awesome Chris! Thanks for everything!St. Peter's and being on the terrace with Wanda were definitely my favorite in Rome!

debop said...

Just wanted to say the Rome tour guide summed it up nicely when he looked at our itenerary and said, (in his Italilian accent), "So...
You want to see Rome in a day. OK!?!"

Many thanks to Chris who made sure we packed in as much as we could and went out of her way to make sure each of us got to see the sights that meant the most to each of us.

Michele said...

It was fantastic to finally meet Wanda after corresponding with her for almost 10 years and trying to meet her on previous occasions. I appreciated being invited to her rooftop. She is most gracious.

I am grateful for all we did in Rome. Thank you for arranging Mass in so many special spots. It was humbling to be there, yet each one was filled with grace. I loved getting to know the group through our shared prayer.

Anonymous said...

Just wanting to add a little more about our trip in this city. Throughout the entire pilgrimage, there would be one or 2 spots that gave me feelings of amazement. In this city(Rome)- St. Peter's holds the entire treasure of our faith and the colosseum tells stories of their past. But it is the catacombs that gave me the feeling of being surreal in this city. Knowing so many centuries ago there were so many faithful and courageous christians, gave me great feelings of joy. I felt so elated to have been connected with them in faith. Knowing they had fought a battle very different from the one we now are facing but the same WAR. That they had won and had given it all including their lives gave me a lot of encouragement. But it also gave me a feeling of discomfort. Discomfort because one can almost hear in that place an echo of one's conscience that continually asks the questions,"How much are you willing to give for your GOD?How much are you willing to give for Christ?"