Friday, June 24, 2016


Well, everyone has always told me how beautiful and magical Venice it.....turns out they were right!

From the moment you step out of the train station and onto a public transport boat, to the moment you step back on that boat to go to the airport, Venice is magical.

There is, indeed, water everywhere.  You are either walking beside it, walking over it, or boating through it. Venice by day is full of day-trippers---mostly from cruise ships.  By evening the crowds thin out a little, and it's easier to get around.  It's a beautiful city to walk around in, for sure.

We started with mass at San Marco---thanks Ginnie for the advice on where to go to get in for church services!  I was taken aback by how very GOLD it is----the mosaics are incredible---and very, very gold. Gold.  We eventually had the chance to climb the stairs to the loggia and got a closer look-----gold.  Fabulous.

San Marco has only been Venice's cathedral since the 1800's---prior to that it was the "chapel" for the Doge's Palace, which is connected to the church.  The residence next door to the cathedral was occupied by the Patriarch of Venice (the bishop)---and 3 of those Patiarchs ended up being Pope.  Pius X, John Paul I, and John XXIII.  Impressive.

The symbol of the Evangelist Mark is everywhere----lions, lions, and more lions.  In 828, two merchants from Venice stole Mark's body from Alexandria and brought it to Venice, where it lies under the main altar.  Or so they say.  There is a rumor that the merchants goofed and stole Alexander the Great instead.  Oops.  

I loved every minute of Venice and would go back in a heartbeat----what a beautiful city!

The photos:

1.  Gondolas tied up at sunset looking towards San Giorgio
2.  The "Bridge of Sighs" in the prison of the Doge's Palace
3.  The view that caused all the sighing....
4.  Gondolas waiting outside the.....wait for it....Hard Rock Cafe
5.  Ceiling mosaic, San Marco
6.  Tomb of St. Mark, under the high altar
7.  San Marco, from inside loggia
8.  View from the loggia of San Marco
9.  Gondolas on their way to a traffic jam...

Monday, June 20, 2016


Nothing really changes in Assisi---well, except for this year (more about that later).

My second visit to Assisi was as magical as the first. There isn't the anything about Assisi that one would say 'been there, done that'" about. Because if you've seen the upper or lower basilica of St Francis, you'd gladly go again. And again.

We stayed in the same hotel as before (Hotel Umbra) and walked everywhere. The spirit of St. Francis continues to live in this place, and you don't have to try very hard at all to sense it.  Just go with the flow.

Before leaving the States, my Franciscan friend, Sr Chris, had told me that the original San Damiano crucifix was going to be moved to its original location at San Damiano---the very place where Francis heard it speak.  San Damiano was the church that he rebuilt---and also where Clare had her community of sisters.  Francis later realized that Christ meant something beyond the literal when He told Francis to rebuild His church.  You've seen the cross--copies of the cross. It's everywhere---now you know where it came from.

The cross had been moved to the Basilica of Santa Chiara when the Poor Clares moved to Santa Chiara,  and had never been returned.  It was only moved to San Damiano from June 15-19 this year, so we were very lucky to have had the opportunity to see and pray with it while in Assisi.  The cross will return to Santa Chiara this week.

Assisi might possibly be my favorite place in the world---it is, for sure, my favorite place in Italy.

Once you visit Assisi, it gets into your bloodstream in a way that no other place can.  If you've never been, and always wondered if you should should go.  That is all.

And now the photos (and be sure to click on each photo to see it completely:

1.  First known image of Francis by Cimabue---lower basilica
2.  Francis preaching to the birds. (Giotto, upper basilica))
3.  Clare--fresco by Simone Martini--lower basilica
4.  Francis--fresco by Simone Martini--lower basilica
5.  Francis' tomb---crypt
6.  Bells at San Stefano---these are said to have rung spontaneously as Francis lay dying
7.  San Damiano--Clare's place on the floor where she slept, and died.
8.  San Damiano---original crucifix in its original place
9.  Assis at sunset, with the bell tower of the Basilica of St Francis.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rome 2016

So.....I begin where I left off.

I just read my last entry---it's interesting that I wrote it as I was leaving Rome in 2014, and I haven't written anything since.  So, here I am in Rome again.  There are a number of reasons that people refer to Rome as the "Eternal City"---one of them must be that when you visit here, you can't imagine never returning.

So, my sister and I are here. And we don't have to see and do EVERYTHING.  Because we don't.

The main stuff---the Scavi Tour--I didn't mind going again, because the tour is so, so interesting, and the chance to visit and pray at the tomb of St Peter is not to be missed.  Got a great photo of the Confessio----right above Peter's tomb, where they bless the palliums for the new bishops.

We picked up our tickets for the Papal Audience on Tues. afternoon.  And folks, if you request tickets, please be aware that the Vatican website is totally wrong about where to pick your tickets up.  It indicates that they are to be picked up at the Paul VI Audience Hall.  Nope.  It's still at the Bronze Door, on the other side of the Colonnade.  I had a hilarious conversation with one of the Swiss Guards about this----I had a funny feeling that the website was wrong (Could the Vatican ever be wrong?  Wait, don't answer that).  I asked one of the guards about it, as well as to clarify where we needed to be for the Scavi Tour. He kept a totally straight face and told me that "the website is mistaken. You pick them up at the Bronze door.  And you will come here for the Scavi Tour. You will learn the secret handshake, go through security and then proceed to the tour." I asked him who would teach me the 'secret handshake"---he nodded towards the police.  It was hysterical.

Let me explain why it was confusing.....

Paris. Brussels.  

The police, Carabinieri, and military presence has increased dramatically.  There are police and military (with assault rifles) everywhere now at all the public places, major churches, train stations, metro stops.....everywhere.  You have to go through an airport type screening to go into any of the major churches.  It's what it is.  But it's different than it was. 

You now have to go through security to pick up your papal audience tickets.  They now only allow one person in line. My sis told me a hilarious story about an American family that didn't like the 'only one person in line' policy, so they jumped the barricade.  Very bad idea.  The Italian police were not amused.  American family wised up quickly. 

She also told me about an American wife who had sent her husband to pick up their tickets for the papal audience.  "Are they reserved seats?" she wanted to know.  Her exasperated husband didn't know.  "Well, did you ask?" ---and he said that he had not.  They get the "Dumb American Tourist" prize, because even if you have tickets, you have to get in line a couple of hours early, and run like heck when you clear security.

As I got into line for my tickets, an Italian nun, in full habit, elbowed me and pushed me aside so that she could cut into line in front of me.  Unfortunately, that's not the first time that's ever happened (stories from 2014)---and then, the morning of the papal audience, I got elbowed again.  We were in line, waiting to go through security, and there was a tour group that kept elbowing and shoving so that they could cut into line.  The woman next to me, who was wearing the biggest crucifix I've ever seen on someone,  kept elbowing me and glaring at me for not moving out of her way (and trust me, there was no place that she could have moved to!).  Finally, as the crowd started to move forward, she looked at me sideways, made the sign of the cross, and then elbowed me really hard so that she could cut the line in front of me.  Dear Lord Jesus....I totally understand why some people think that your followers are irritating as heck! 

You can't make this stuff up.

But when all was said and done, we cleared security and had great seats.  

Here's the sad part.  Security. 

They seem to have clamped down on the Pope's ability to drive through the crowd.  There were easily 100,000 people in the Square---yet, he only toured the crowd for less than 15 mins. 

Pope Francis is amazing, and I feel so blessed to have been in his presence twice in my life.  How lucky are we to have this Pope in our lifetime?  His energy and love are tangible.  

Went to an interesting panel on the council being held by the Orthodox.  Or not.  Stay tuned to see if they all show up.

Holy Door X 3.  We went through 3 Holy Doors in 1 day for the Jubilee Year.  St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major.  Prayed for all of you.

Love Rome.  I hate the humidity. But I love Rome more than I hate the humidity. There you are.

Headed to Assisi and a much slower pace tomorrow.

And now, the photos...

1.  St. Peter's Basilica at night
2.  Sistine Chapel. You aren't supposed to take photos. Sorry.
3.  The Confessio
4.  The Holy Door at St Peter's
5.  I'll bet you didn't know that there is a coffee shop on the roof of St Peter's.
6.  Close up view of Michelangelo's dome
7.  Himself!
8.  High altar at St Peter's w/ Holy Spirit window
9.  Castel Sant Angelo (Hadrian's tomb, and also where the Popes hid out when under attack) Our hotel is near this.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Arrivaderci Roma

Last 2 days in Rome.....we did the obligatory tourist stuff.  

If you travel to Rome, the 3 day Roma pass is a good deal.  You get 2 sites/museums, metro/bus, and you get to skip the long lines of people waiting to buy tickets.

First, the Colosseo-----we have been staying close to the Colosseo, but never really looked down the street to see how close it really is.  And it's huge.  The history is brutal, bloody and sad----and really, not for the squeamish.  The entire complex has an eerie feel to it, and I was glad to get away from it.  To be in a place where killing people---via animals, or other people----was the "entertainment" just felt strange.  But, it is, indeed, a 'must see' so we saw, and moved on.

The best part of the day was the evening at the Lay Centre----this is the group that was going to provide the education pieces for our original study tour, so our friend AJ arranged for us to have dinner with the folks who live and study there, and then to visit.  They occupy part of the facility owned by the Passionist Fathers----right across the street from the Colosseo----and it is the largest garden area in the city of Rome (keeping in mind that the Vatican gardens are in the Vatican City State).  It is a beautiful place of learning, and I want to go back!

For our last day in Rome, we journeyed out of the city to Ostia Antica---the ancient ruins of the seaport city.  Fascinating, interesting, and HOT (as in lots of open areas with no shade).    Ostia dates from the 3rd or 4th century BC, and was Rome's seaport at the mouth of the Tiber.  It was a boom town, then fell into disuse when the Tiber changed course, then it was silted over-----they excavated it in the early part of the 20th century and found that it was amazingly intact.  They are still excavating, and it's a wonderful, easy day trip out of Rome----closer than Pompeii!

How to spend one last evening in Rome?  Visiting with a new Italian friend, and then back to the guest house to finish packing for an early morning!

The movie that we got to watch on the way back was timely---after spending over two weeks taking in some of the greatest art ever created, "Monuments Men"---based on the stories of the rescue of the art stolen by the Nazis in WWII---was an unexpected treat.  I had been wanting to see this film for quite some time, and here it was as a fitting conclusion to my trip to Italy.

It has been a wonderful journey---from worrying about how to navigate, the pickpockets, gypsy folks, thieves---fortunately, nothing terrible to report.  I tried, as much as possible, to become, as Rick Steves suggests, a "temporary Italian."  When you do that, it changes your perspective on so many things.  As Americans, we tend to be very judgmental of people who don't do things the way we are used to.  It was fun, on our last night, to converse with an Italian friend, who shared all the ways that Italians embarrass her----lest we think that Americans are the only badly behaved tourists.  (I will not write anything about the most badly behaved folks we encountered.....but if you ask me, I'll tell you!!)   

I find that if you travel with a basic open-ness to meeting people where they are and hearing their stories---no one cares what country you come from and what the different biases are that might be at work.  We meet as people, as part of one human family, as good world citizens. And that, my friends, is the best part of travel.

I am beginning to understand why Rome is always referred to as the "Eternal City"---so much of history, culture and art are here---as well as the center of our faith.  When I compare a trip to Rome with a trip to the Holy Land---as similar as they are in some ways, they are very, very different,  Our faith started in the Holy Land----but it was tried in Rome when it started to expand.  Jesus didn't walk in Rome---but His presence and Spirit are very much there.  


1.  On the street near the Irish Pontifical College (where we stayed)
2.  Nun.  Cell phone, St Peter's Square.
3.  Gypsy, near the Vatican Museum
4.  Cross at entrance of Colosseo
5, 6.  Colosseo
7.  Near the entrance to the Colosseo.  I post this without comment.  Hee.
8, 9:  Rome at night, from the Lay Centre.  Victor Emmanel monument and Colosseo
10, 11:  Ostio Antica
12.  Last night in Rome with our friend, Chiara

St Peter's Basilica

There are 3 levels to St. Peter's---the main basilica level, the 2nd level grottos, housing the papal tombs, and the 3rd level necropolis.

Tradition always held that the Basilica was built on the spot where Peter was buried---but that was not verified until the 20th century, when they started digging and discovered the necropolis (while digging the tomb for Pius XI).  If you write to the Vatican Excavation Office (Ufficio Scavi) months ahead of your visit (and you must write ahead---you can't just walk up to the office and ask), you might be one of the lucky few who get to experience the Scavi Tour.  We were lucky.

You have to go through a metal detector to get into any part of St. Peter's --- to get to the Ufficio Scavi you start with the police and the metal detector and then you proceed to where the Swiss Guards are.  We arrived at 8:43 for our tour.  The Swiss Guard told us that we could go in at.....8:45.  They are, after all, Swiss.

They take only 150 people per day to the necropolis under the Basilica---we were lucky enough to have an excellent guide who is also an archaeologist.  And so we walked the streets of the 1st century city of the dead--and had the opportunity to see and pray at the tomb of St. Peter.  It is, as tradition always said, directly under the papal altar.  Science (and archaeology) proved the tradition!

No photos allowed during the Scavi Tour, but you can take the tour on Google street view---seriously!

The tour ends in the grottos---again, no photos allowed there either.  And then, you can go back into the Basilica without having to go through the metal detector again.

This time, St. Peter's was full of tourists, tour guides, and general chaos.  The only quiet oasis is the Blessed Sacrament chapel, where we stopped to pray.  

Then a quick walk around the church and out and away from the chaos......

But I think that every Catholic should step inside of St. Peter's, at least once in life.  Breathtakingly magnificent.  I think that even people who are not Catholic, feel Catholic in St Peter's.....


1.  St Peter's!
2.  Tomb of Pope John Paul II
3.  Tomb of Pope John XXIII
4.  St. Peter's Square
5.  Excavations Office
6.  Workers and nuns in the collonnade near the Bronze Doors---I thought this was funny!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Coffee and Donuts....Italian style!

We arrived back in Rome, with no train strike to report----thanks be to God!

Off to Sunday Mass at the Oratory of St Francis Xavier del Caravita---one of the Roman parishes that provides mass in English.  It turns out that there was quite a Seattle reunion----our friend, AJ Boyd was serving mass (along with being a wonderful friend and tour guide when we were in Rome), and some other folks that we met.  Cardinal Peter Turkson was the presider, and we had the chance to meet him after mass.  

I'm posting a photo of how the Italians 'do' their post-mass social hour----no donuts, no coffee----it's Prosecco and OJ (and some snacks).  American parishes, take note!

We also walked over to Trastevere, Rome's 'boho' district and visited the magnificent Santa Maria in Trastevere, the oldest church in Rome that is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God.  Fr Robert Barron is in Rome this weekend, filming a new series, and he was either there right before or right after we were.....

We almost crashed a wedding.....that was odd.  Bridal party all marched in, everyone is waiting at the altar, no bride.  10 min later, a car pulls up---out pops the bride and her father----the music starts, up the aisle she went, and there you are.  I guess that is how you do things when there is no such thing as a "bride's room'----eh?

We also stopped by the Gesu church----shout out to the Jesuits!

On Monday, we got to breakfast late----and it is a good thing that we did, or we would have missed someone important!  As we arrived in Rome, Fr Jim emailed me to say that Fr. Michael from Magadan ( who has visited our parish, was in Rome, giving a retreat for the Missionaries of Charity, and perhaps I would run into him in the streets of Rome.  Yeah, right.

I ran into him at breakfast.

He shared a wonderful story of writing to the pope to say that he would be in Rome and would love to visit, and the pope responded by inviting Fr Michael to concelebrate mass with him!  We also met Fr Brian Lawless, who is the vice postulator for the canonization cause of Matt Talbot.  What a day!


1.  Post mass social hour
2.  St Francis Xavier del Caravita
3.  Cardinal Turkson and Seattle folks
4.  Terri, me, Fr Michael Shields, Fr Brian Lawless
5.  Gesu Church
6.  Santa Maria in Trastevere