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

Monday, June 2, 2014

Assisi-- Part 2

Assisi was, for me in many ways, about recognizing the guardian angels among us.  They got us through the train strike and into Assisi----and then the first night we were there we stopped at a restaurant that a friend had recommended.  It wasn't open yet (don't even think about dinner in Italy until at least 7!)--so we went to a different restaurant that had also been recommended.  They opened sooner, so we decided to wait.  Close to opening time, a guy joined us by the door and started talking with us, telling us that it was a great restaurant, and that he was in Assisi working on sabbatical, etc----so we invited him to join us for dinner and ended up with a wonderful new friend and tour guide.  Fr Dave is from North Dakota, and has been living in Assisi for a few months, so he is very knowledgable about the area.  The next day, he took us to visit Santa Maria degli Angeli, built over the site of the Porzinciula (the first church that Francis restored) and also the Transito chapel, the site of Francis' death.  He met up with us again later for dinner -- the restaurant was near the Basilica and we sat on the terrace with a 180 degree view of the Umbrian valley.  We sat for nearly 4 hours and talked and talked and talked into the night.  What a gift he was---another guardian angel!

Tourists are everywhere during the middle of the day.  The tour guides mostly speak in English--that is becoming the common language for a lot of the world.  We were blocked from leaving the little church built over the original home and birthplace of St. Francis by a group from India, and we got to hear part of the "tour" as we waited.  The tour guide was talking about when Pope Francis visited Assisi last Fall---and then she excitedly told the group, "And then the Holy Father had lunch with 57 REAL poor people!"  You can not make this stuff up----we had to stifle ourselves until they left, because all three of us were thinking the same thing: REAL poor people?  As opposed to what? FAKE poor people?  You had to be there.....

Assisi has a stillness and spirit that I have never experienced anywhere else.  Once the tourists leave for the day, it takes on a different feel-- the quiet and the spirituality seems to permeate everything---even the cheesy gift shops with St. Francis bobble-heads for sale.  As we were walking by the shops, I was reflecting on how most people who have a St. Francis statue in their back yard (I have one!) forget that Francis, while he loved all of Creation, also had a radical commitment to the poor.  He is one very challenging saint----and we should not dismiss him so easily, by only seeing his love love of Creation.  Francis walked the talk in ways that most of us would never consider----because it's challenging and scary.  

It also occurs to me that visiting Assisi can be somewhat akin to going up to the Mountain of Transfiguration and wanting to stay there.  But that story, and this one, are all about the reality that what goes up must come down.....


1. Assisi bells
2, 3.  Porzinciula--exterior and interior
4.  Transito chapel
5.  Font where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized in San Ruffino
6. Medieval confessional in San Stefano
7.  Room where St. Francis' father kept him imprisoned
8.  Dinner (Fr Dave, Terri, me)
9.  The view!

(be sure to click on the photos to get the full experience!)

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Assisi -- Part 1

Assisi is a place that so many of us dream about visiting----and sometimes those dreams come true.

We arrived--train strike and all--dropped our stuff at the hotel, and immediately went to the Basilica of St. Francis----luckily it was late in the afternoon, which means that the day-tripper tourists were in the process of leaving.  Even Assisi is chaotic when full of tourists---esp. tourists who aren't religious and treat it as a tourist site instead of a holy site.

We stayed for quite some time---and spent a lot of it in the crypt praying in front of the tomb of St. Francis---one of the most prayerful and peaceful places in Assisi---until the tourists come in and ignore the signs that say "Silence" in every possible language.

We left the Basilica and walked up to Santa Chiara---the Basilica of St. Clare.  Her relics lie in a crypt on the lower level---what you actually see is a wax figure in a Franciscan habit.  The "real" relics are visible only to the sisters who live in community there---but the cute distraction was the nun who was clearly visible behind St. Clare, taking flash photos of the "real" relics.  She kept taking photos, and then ducking down.  I didn't catch her in the act with my camera.  And if you want to see the 'real' relics, you can ask Google to show you!

The most prayerful place in Santa Chiara is the small chapel where the original San Damiano cross hangs.  This is the cross that spoke to St. Francis, telling him to rebuild the church.  We actually spent approx. 5 mins alone in the chapel, with the quiet, the solitude, and the San Damiano cross---until the peace was interrupted by a large group of tourists from an Eastern European country, let by a very loud priest who ignored the big "Silence" sign---he started doing loud tour guide stuff, then started loud prayers, then they started singing a hymn.  We left as quickly as we could and noticed that the basilica staff was visibly concerned with the noise---not sure what they did about it.  I love singing in church, and I love most hymns---but this wasn't the time or place.  As it turns out----they seemed to follow us everywhere!  

But, we were in Assisi----so, pace e bene.


1.  Assisi Train station
2.  A street in Assisi
3.  Basilica of St. Francis
4.  Fresco of St. Francis--lower Basilica (attributed to Cimabue and one of the oldest images of Francis)
5.  Mary Magdalene chapel--lower Basilica
6.  St. Francis' tomb
7.  San Damiano cross at Santa Chiara
8.  Relics of St Clare
9.  Assisi

Friday, May 30, 2014

Getting To Assisi

It seems that a visit to Italy is incomplete without a train strike.

On the way to our train in Siena, we ran across 3 confused looking American college students who were trying to figure out the train ticket/validation system, which can be confusing.  They were very sweet, and grateful, and we felt like we had paid something forward, since folks had earlier helped us.  We left Siena, headed for Assisi, changed trains in Chiusi-Chianciano.  We were supposed to change trains in Terontola, but......the door wouldn't open, so we had to ride to the next stop and get off there (my sister and I had a similar experience in England 12 years ago----hilarious!).  So, there we were at the stop in Camucia-Cortona--where there is .......nothing.  Nada.  By this, of course, I mean NO BATHROOMS!!!

And we looked up at the video screen and saw the list of trains that were coming our, trying to figure out which one to take.....problem was that they all had "SOP" next to them.  Then we found out what SOP means------there was a train strike.  And we were stuck at Camucia-Cortona----with no bathrooms.  No food, no big deal.  No bathrooms.......oh dear.  I went into the station to see if we could find out any info, and there was no one in the ticket booth----but there were two confused American college students trying to buy tickets, which were not coming out of the machine.  I suggested that perhaps the tickets were not being sold because there was a train strike going on.  College student #1 looked at me like I was crazy, and said, in the snottiest of tones ever .."are you SURE?"  The tone was something along the lines of "well, you are the most incompetent and stupid adult ever..."  I told her that my train had been canceled and hers likely had been as well.  She ignored me and kept banging at the machine.  Her friend said nothing, and just stared at me like I was crazy.  Well, I am, so there.  Deal.

We amused ourselves by trying to come up with creative acronyms for SOP that didn't involve profanity.  Shut Out of Passage.  I have no idea what SOP means in Italian, and I don't think that I want to.....take some guesses in the comment section, and be polite.

At any rate, my new "friends" went to the other platform to wait for their train to Florence, which had no hope of arriving, so that they could catch their 4PM plane (this happened around noon---a little tight, no?).  It took two announcements for them to understand that the train really, really, really wasn't coming.  They even announce these things in English and Italian!  Our young friends soon walked away and we never saw them again.  

Meanwhile........we kept watching the monitor and praying for a train that would get us back to Terontola and a BATHROOM, because really, what else matters at that point?  And, within an hour, 1 train showed up that did not have SOP next to it on the schedule!  So, we went back to Terentola, thanked God for the guardian angel that got us there, found a non-sketchy bathroom, and waited for a train that might take us to Assisi.  Long story short----all the trains that went to Florence were canceled, as well as most of the trains to Rome.  The only other train that didn't have SOP next to it was the one to Assisi.  Saintly intervention?  I think so.

So, thanking God again for guardian angels, we jumped on the train to Assisi and arrived with only a 2 hour delay----and a great story to tell.


Platform in Chiusi-Chianciano

Florence to Siena

We left Florence, its art, and its mosquitos behind.  We left with many, many souvenirs of the mosquitos.........I know, TMI.

One stop at Santa Maria Novella --- beautiful church right across from the train station.  Santa Maria Novella has Giotto's "Crucifixion" in the center of the space, and it is exquisite to pray and meditate in the presence of this beautiful crucifix.

Next stop---Siena.  

As we sat down on the train, 3 American women got on---with too much luggage.  There are lots of polite Italian boys who will help you onto the train and load your luggage into the racks for you----but these kids expect to be tipped.  Personally, I don't let anyone I don't know touch my luggage, but other people can do what they want.  The women seemed irritated that the young men wanted some money.  They finally gave them something and then spent most of the ride from Florence to Siena complaining loudly so that anyone in the car who could understand English could hear ...."well, can't people see that we are 3 women traveling together and need some help?  SOMEONE could have helped us.  This is just terrible that people expect something from you...." and on and on and on.......seriously.  Everyone on the train who could understand them just rolled their eyes.  These women were so rude and entitled-----and I felt embarrassed that this is how many of us behave when we travel.  I saw it all over the place.  My fellow bring too much luggage.  Do not bring what you can't carry.  And stop acting like you are better than everyone else and expecting the rest of the world to show up to help you with your overwhelming amount of stuff, just because you are an American with entitlement issues.  The rest of the world does not exist to serve us, and it is high time that Americans who travel understand this.

 I have never come back from any trip wishing that I had taken more stuff.  Ok, rant over.  


We stopped at the beautiful Duomo--likely one of the most decorated and complex cathedrals you could ever imagine.  And then we went to San Domenico to visit Catherine of Siena's relics.  Well, some of them.  Let me explain....

First I have to go back to Rome and tell you about Santa Maria Sopra Minerva---built over the Temple of Minerva.  This is a lovely, quiet church near the Pantheon in Rome.  It houses the tomb of Fra Angelico, the great Dominican artist responsible for some of the most beautiful frescos in church history---the ones at San Marco in Florence, for starts.

It also houses the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena.  Well, most of her, anyways.  Catherine died in the rooms behind the sacristy in this church.  According to legend,  the Romans wanted to keep her body in Rome.  The people of Siena didn't particularly care for this idea.  When Catherine was exhumed in Rome, as part of her canonization process, her body was mostly incorrupt---but her head was disconnected from the rest of her body.  So......the people from Siena spirited her head out of Rome----they were stopped outside of the city, and when the bag containing her head was opened, her head was miraculously replaced by flowers.  By time they got to Siena, it had regained its earlier form, and that is where it remains, in a reliquary at a side altar in San Domenico.  They have her thumb, too.  Europeans do death differently than we do in America.  

So, we visited San Domenico and then moved on to visit the house where St. Catherine lived---just down the street (and yes, I mean DOWN).  Siena is one of the hill towns---and one of the most beautiful cities in Italy----especially after the tour buses leave and take the day tripping tourists with them.  Walking up and down in Siena was good practice for Assisi and for life.  


1.  Giotto's "Crucifixion"---Santa Maria Novella
2.  Cloisters--Santa Maria Novells
3.  Masaccio's "Trinity" fresco----3D if you stand in the right place!!
4, 5---Duomo in Siena
6.  Chapel in St. Catherine's house
7.  Exterior of St. Catherine's house
8.  Reliquary with St. Catherine's head---too much light, which is probably just as well...
9.  St. Catherine's tomb, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome