Buona sera! I sit here on a Wednesday evening, finally winding down after a rather hectic day. It’s fall in Rome, and I’m enjoying my 6th day here in the Eternal City. My name is Dan Clarke, a sophomore and double major in Catholic Studies and philosophy at UST. This fall, along with 28 other Catholic Studies students, I’ll be immersing myself in a semester of study, prayer, fellowship and culture here in the Eternal City.
I’m sitting on our beautiful rooftop terrace here at Bernardi, from which I can see the magnificent dome of St. Peter’s, only a short 20 minute walk away. It has been a very busy first few days. But let me begin from the beginning. Two friends and I flew in on Monday/Tuesday, arriving in Rome around 11am on Tuesday. We then caught a 2pm train up to Alessandria, in Piemonte (NW Italy), where we had arranged to stay with a friend of Fr. Keating’s who runs a bed & breakfast. Our 6+ hour train ride took us up along the jaw-dropping beautiful western coast of Italy. We reached La Rocca, the bed & breakfast, (which was actually in Vignale, a 45 car ride outside Alessandria) a little before 10pm, after nearly 18 straight hours of travel.
Vignale is in wine country, and our host, Tracey (a UST alumna), owns a small vineyard, and we three actually got to help with the wine making. Not a lot, but we helped clean up the cantina, and when there was a minor crisis because the acidity level was too high, we stood in and helped move the yet unfermented wine from one massive holder to another. We tasted the wine, too, which was cool. It was very sweet, like an amazingly fresh grape juice. All chemical free, too, I might add.
The town was beautiful, and rather quaint. It was perched on a hill, with the church — S. Bartolommeo — at the top. The streets are very narrow, the houses very old yet well-kept and charming, and the view from the hilltop out over the surrounding country (all vineyards and small, similar towns) is stunning. It was truly amazing that these streets and houses, the townspeople and (in many ways) their way of life, has been passed on from centuries before, and there we were, three young Catholic Studies undergrads from the States experiencing it. The whole trip, which lasted from Tuesday night until Friday morning, was truly special. On our last night in Vignale, we splashed out a bit and went to the nice ristorantes in town, La Trattoria Panoramica. I ordered one of the nicer wines of the region and our main course was delicious meat ravioli, with a pumpkin sauce. It was amazing — who would’ve thought that pumpkin and ravioli could work? All in all, a wonderful meal and the perfect bookend to a relaxing 3 day jaunt in Piemonte.
The next morning we caught our train into Roma, and got in around 4. The night of our arrival in Rome through yesterday has been jam-packed with orientation, registration, events and introductions. Since getting in on Friday, I’ve already visited St. Peter’s twice; went to an audience with the Holy Father (fifth row!); begun classes at the Angelicum; had a visit from Archbishop Neinstedt; toured and registered with the Gregorian library (more on that later); gotten lost multiple times (not a bad thing); and seen the inside of an amazing 16th century monastery that used to belong to French nuns. Tomorrow night we’ll be going to an ordination of several deacons at St. Peter’s, as well as a tour of the Catacombs with Dr. Lev (for our art and architecture class), and on Saturday we’re joining other university students in praying a rosary with the Holy Father for Africa.
I hope to write more soon, especially about our upcoming visit to the Catacombs and the Vatican Museums with Dr. Lev. As tiring and intense as this first week has proven to be, I‘ve come to realize just how blessed and fortunate I am to be here, studying and living in Roma. Buona sera, e pace.