Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pilgrim Has Landed

Well, the first batch of pilgrims anyway from St. Francis College and Felician University. Others are still on their way to Chicago before heading to their final destinations.

Now that the trip is officially "over," I think there is a lot of processing to do and of course sharing of the experience.


Another great, group dinner last night at a restaurant down the hill from where we were staying with plenty of wine, food and conversation flowing.

Before dinner we had a feedback session to talk about the trip. Among the highlights people spoke about were the mass inside the original Porziuncola Chapel, the time on the mountains at Carceri and La Verna and lunch at La Foresta with the people in the Mondo X program.

That lunch at La Foresta was the high point for me because it was a real world, living example of how Franciscanism can affect positive change on lives. This group of men had gone from trouble to being part of a productive, responsible community.

We also spoke about what we bring back with us to our various institutions.

Judy, John and I agree that the best thing we can do is to model positive behavior and try to continue and extend our involvement with our students to offer a helping hand and mentoring wherever possible.

The revelry at dinner came to an abrupt end as we needed to wake before 6 this morning to get to the airport. At the first check-point we bid goodbye and exchanged well-wishes with Father Andre and Sister Anne.

Andre is based in Mt. Vernon just north of the city, so I'm sure we will be able to reconnect in short order.

Now it's all about the waiting; at security, at check-in, security again, passport control, for the bus to the terminal and finally for boarding.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stray Thoughts

Rome is kind of a dirty city - maybe because of all the motorcycles or diesel engine cars, I don't know but it feels pretty polluted when you walk around.

I found one Ferrari shirt with a Formula One car on it for the low, low price of 18 Euros - what is this Ed Hardy? I got Adam a Gianluigi Buffon soccer jersey - green with the number 1 and a map of Italy on it. That should work.

St. Peter's Basilica

We spent the morning at St. Peter's Basilica, first with a mass. Under the main nave by St. Peter's grave is a full circle of chapels of all different sizes. There are several services going on at once and you can hear the songs and prayers being recited as they echo through the chambers. Our chapel was built with donations from the Irish.

Afterwards Sister Anne gave us a tour, pointing out a lot of the information specific to the Franciscans; like the statue of St. Francis which is the first one from the main apse. And the statues of Francis and St. Clare among the ones that stand atop the collonades that ring the plaza outside.There are four rows of columns and in most spots you see all of them but if you stand on one specific circle on each side, it looks like just one column... here's a video to show you.

I had read that when St. Peter's was built they didn't want to put anything in there that would fade or deteriorate, so no frescos and limited paintings. Instead, it is marble and metals everywhere But, looking around, it seemed there were a number of large paintings all along walls and in side chapels. However, Anne pointed out that they were actually murals. The Vatican has a color palette of 35,000. On some of the murals, even when looking right up close it's hard to discern the individual stones. I was able to get a picture of a close-up and a mural at full size. I'll post that in a few days.

Francis' connection to St. Peter's goes back to the very beginnings of his conversion. He was on a pilgrimage when he came to the original Basilica and saw that people were only putting in small amounts of coins as tribute and donation to the church. So he made a big show of giving away much of his money, drawing lots of attention and shaming others into donating more. Afterwards, he sees some beggars outside and asks to switch clothes with one. He spends the day begging and feels a large sense of fulfillment in doing so.

I was told not to go to the top of the Basilica because it's basically a crawl space and I'd be hunched over for a looooong time. No argument here.

So after the tour we were set free for our last few hours in Rome and on our trip.

I went over to the Pantheon, an amazing structure and found some risotto. Food is awfully expensive here, even if you don't consider the conversion from Euros to Dollars. It's worse for me because I can't just pick up a slice from a stand-up cart or grab a sandwich. None of those places, that I've found, have anything gluten-free, only restaurants.

What can you do except be happy I live in New York and have lots of reasonably priced options.


OK, what am I missing here?

What do Italians love, besides food?

Soccer and cars, right?

So while I can get any number of soccer jerseys; all with the logos of teams and sponsors, why can't I find one single shirt that has a PICTURE of a soccer ball or a Formula 1 car?

This reminds me of when we went to Paris and could not find one single piece of anything with Madeline on it. They have books, dolls, videos in the U.S. She's French after all.

I think there may be a very profitable niche just waiting to be filled here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

St. John Lateran

History is a funny thing in that it goes hand in hand with cultural and communal amnesia.

We visited St. John Lateran, a church I'd never heard of before. But it's called the Mother Church because it was actually the seat of power for the Pope and the entire Catholic Church from the 300's to the early 1500's. Which means much of the Papal history we know about took place here and not at St. Peter's Basilca and the Vatican. I thought the Vatican has been the center from the start.

St. John Lateran was given its current name in 904 for both St. John the Baptist and St. John the Apostle as well as the Laterani family which owned the property until Constantine conquered Rome and took it. It's where St. Francis came when he had just 11 followers to ask Pope Innocent III to approve his rule of law. There were a number of sects popping up at that time and many went far afield of accepted religious practice. Francis wanted to get that stamp of approval to separate him from the others.

A series of dreams led to Francis gaining approval after at first being dismissed; the most important being the one Pope Innocent had which showed a straggly man holding up Lateran Church. He recognized that Francis was the man in his dream and gave verbal approval for his way of life. With that approval, the number of Brothers grew from a total of 12, including Francis, to thousands in just a few years.

The church itself is as magnificent as it is enormous. They took the giant metal doors from the old Roman Senate (possibly three stories high) and built the whole church to those gigantic proportions. Twenty feet high marble statues of the disciples line the main nave with gold flaked and vibrant colored designs blanketing the ceiling. The floor has intricate marble swirling patterns on intertwining paths and geometric designs that create wild 3D effects.

There is a holy door at the church also, one of four in Rome that people can go through every 25 years for absolution.

To immortalize Francis' dream, a statue was erected across the plaza that when viewed from the rear at the right angle shows Francis physically holding up the church.

We held mass in a back chapel then were able to walk on our own. Several Popes are buried there including Pope Innocent III who had died and was originally buried in Perugia.

Afterwards Father Andre took us to a great little restaurant he has frequented for almost 20 years known as Da Paulo (after the owner). We ate, drank and made merry, to understate things a bit.

Tomorrow is our last day. A mass and full tour of St. Peter's Basilica is on tap.


A small group of us started the day at the Vatican at the weekly Wednesday Papal audience. It starts at 10:30 and we got there about 9:00 so we could get seats close to the outer aisle of the front section. That meant we'd get a closeup look at Benedict in his Pope Mobile. It is a sea of people that fills almost the whole square. You have to get a free ticket beforehand and we believe you can only get tickets if you are affiliated with a religious organization. You see flags from all over the world (Brazil, Spain, Poland, Sweden) and groups with lots of different matching outfits (orange hats, yellow scarves).

I asked Sister Anne if it was like Times Square on New Years with about 90% tourists. She said it was.
At about 10:15 the opening act started with a choir singing a quick song. Then someone came out to read off all the groups from Germany. It took him almost ten minutes to get through them all.

The anticipation in the crowd starts to mount and people leave their seats behind and press to the edges to get a good view. They change the image on the plasma screens (maybe 10 feet wide) from the overhead shot, we thought we saw the sun reflecting off Ralph's hairless head but couldn't be sure. I was able to spot the Pope Mobile coming to the fore and we watched it move ever so slowly - zig zagging back and forth through the aisles. As expected he came right past us. I captured it on video, others with still shots. We'll get it up here soon enough.

Once he passed some of us broke for the exit. They had to wait for him to get back toward the stage then the guards let us out. We were definitely going against the tide as many others were rushing in to get closer.

From there it was time to test my memory. Diana and I took the Metro to the main station (Termini) and searched. It wasn't where I thought it was but we found it. Not as awesome as I remembered and it looked pretty beaten up instead of the smooth marble surface I recalled. But there it was, some mythic man wrestling with a sea serpent, the water shooting from the mouth of the beast. Four mermaids dot the outer rim of the fountain, sprayed by water from smaller fishes.

Then we got back on the Metro for a trip to the Coliseum. In the small, small world of Rome, we bumped into a group of six or eight of our fellow pilgrims who had just been to the Sistine Chapel - twice. The Vatican Museum is set up with only one way out - they raced to see the Chapel then went back to see some works by Raphael - but to leave they had to go back through the Chapel.

We walked past the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and other ruins of ancient Rome and past Circus Maximus - which once held an arena of some 250,000 marble coated seats and now looks like a recently completed construction project, like they just laid a new mile long sewer line and the grass hasn't grown back yet. You'd think they'd have thought of a better fate.

Next it was up to the Jewish Quarter. I got some pictures of the synagogue and found a place to eat. I choose wrong. It took forever to get some not so good fish and made it so we had to hustle to get back. We raced along the Tiber River then got caught up at a tunnel; a wrong turn up a steep hill, some confusion and longer detour until we got back on track. We made it to the hotel with twenty minutes to spare before getting on the bus to St. John Lateran.

Tomorrow I want to get to the Pantheon - maybe go back to the Jewish Quarter - our way-too-long lunch meant I had no time to look around.

The Pope says "Hi" back by the way.

Random Notes

The shower in Rome is like a stand up coffin - less than three feet a side - square. Every time I bent to soap or moved my arms, I banged the sides.

I got an awful haircut the day of the trip before we left and my hair is all poofy in every photo of me. Good thing there are only a couple, unlike John who I think is shooting photos for a calendar or something. He's asked me to take three pictures of him at every location. I told him I'm done, enough, find another Annie Liebovitz of Herb Ritts.