Saturday, 13 September
Saturday was a more relaxed day and began with a tour of the Vatican Gardens. We entered through the Museum where we met our guide, Marina, who was excellent. After several security checks we made our way outside into the gardens to see the beauty that surrounds the city-state. It’s not just the visual beauty of the statues, buildings and gardens that is pleasing but also the perfume of laurel and lemon trees. We passed by the Vatican Government offices as well as the Vatican train station and of course the friary where our friars, as confessors at St. Peter’s, get to live.
The afternoon was free to explore Rome and Fr. George and I took the opportunity to return to the Vatican Museum and make arrangements for the guide, Marina, to give as a tour of the Museum and Sistine Chapel. That night the whole group met at a restaurant near the Pantheon to celebrate the 80th Birthday of one of our pilgrims.
Sunday, 14 September
Since the Pope was in France, for the 150 anniversary of Lourdes, we were free to celebrate the liturgy at the church of our choice. Some attended at the Pantheon, which is a rather unique experience. Others of us went to the American parish of Rome; Santa Susanna. The church was full of young people and the liturgy really well done.
After mass we went by a Carmelite church which has a famous Bernini sculpture of St. Theresa of Avila in ecstasy. It’s quite a powerful image of the saint.
That afternoon Fr. George took us for a walking tour of the Jewish ghetto of Rome. The Jewish community was, and continues to be, an important element in the culture of Rome. We then crossed over to the Trastevere neighbourhood of Rome and it’s truly Roman community. There was stopped in local bar for a quick drink (so cheap in this part of Rome) and then made our way to IVO’s Pizzeria which experts (and Friar Tom Purcell) say is the best pizza in Rome. I agree. We had a great meal. It started with some olives and traditional bruschetta. Traditional means that it’s only grilled bread, with some olive oil and then is served with a piece of garlic which you rub over the bread. Delicious. Others had various pasta. I had a pizza with sausage and mushrooms. We washed it all down with some wine from Sardegna and it made for a great meal… and quite inexpensive.
On the way home we stopped at Santa Maria in Trastevere and attended the prayers of the S. Egidio Community. San Egidio is a lay community committed to working for peace and justice. They are young, creative and quite vibrant.
Monday, 15 September
We took some cabs to St. Paul outside the Walls for a visit in honour of this great saint whose 2000th birthday we celebrate this year. Although much of this church was rebuilt after a fire, it still is imposing and beautiful. After that we went back to the Vatican, had a quick sandwich and then met our guide for our tour of the Vatican Museum. Marina also gave us a description of the Sistine Chapel. It’s not permitted to talk in the chapel so it was helpful to have it explained to us prior to going in. We spent 2 hours in the museum which was enough for the most cursory overview with a couple of stops at some major works of art. I certainly saw a few tapestries I would like to have! What can I say about the Sistine Chapel? Since the restoration, one is simply speechless by the colours, the artistry and the message of the chapel.
That night Fr. George and I went to a rather unique restaurant in Rome called L’Eau Vive. This restaurant is run by an international missionary community of sisters. They use the proceeds to support their missions. The food is very French and well done. The sisters are friendly and willing to share about their experiences. Towards the end of the evening they dim the lights and sing a brief night prayer and invite the diners to join them. It’s quite unique.
Tuesday, 16 September
On Tuesday we started off taking walk along one of modern Rome’s oldest streets, the via Giulia which is celebrating it’s 500th anniversary. Only in Rome is 500 years still considered modern! The street is leads to the Villa Farnese which is not the French Embassy and to the Piazza Farnese which is quite beautiful. Nearby is the Compo di Fiori which has a market with all sort of produce and even Rome’s equivalent of Dollar Stores.
The afternoon was free and I went back to Barbiconi and picked up some typical Italian clerical shirts with “real” Roman collars. Only in Rome.
“Only in Rome” has been a constant theme during this visit. Only in Rome would you have dinner in what amounts to a parking lot, while gypsies play music, and garbage trucks saunter by and we think it’s romantic. Only in Rome will we pick up a gelato and walk around dirty alleyways, filled with graffiti and strewn with garbage and think it’s the best ice-cream in the world. The other day, sitting in the Piazza Navona, with the moon over the church, I could not help but think that it looked like the set of an opera.. yet it was real, and I was there.
Wednesday, 17 September
This morning we left early (7:30) for our taxi ride to the Vatican for the Papal Audience. We tried to get there early to get a good seat. The audience was in the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall which is quite comfortable but only holds 9,000 people. The let us in at 8:30 past the security check and then went to the hall where we waited until 10:30 for the audience. Pope Benedict came in from the side door of the front of the hall and quickly moved the audience along with a reading from St. Paul followed by a brief reflection. The Holy Father also gave a review of his latest trip to France. The many groups present were welcomed and he gave a brief message in several languages. The Pope also blessed us, our families and friends back home, especially the sick and those in need of his prayers.
The afternoon is free and tonight, after dinner we need to pack as our sojourn in Rome comes to an end. My flight in the morning to Munich is at 8:45 am. A bientôt!
Saturday, 13 September