As I sit in the good old United States of America looking back on a semester in the Eternal City, I am having a hard time putting into words what the whole experience meant for me. I am back now, in my hometown with people and places so familiar to me. Yet, in a very real way, Rome, or at least parts of Rome, had become so familiar as well. There are certainly many dirty, smelly, annoying things about the city, and I am happy now to be back in the U.S., but I will always remember and treasure my time in Rome. There are little ways Rome is still with me, such as getting the Italian Mass part songs stuck in my head, wishing we had common dollar and two dollar coins to match the euro, or meeting every inconvenience with “Va bene.” In fact, last week as I was thinking through a trip to the store and my desire to put my purchases on two separate checks, my thought process went something like this, “How can I convey to the cashier that I want to pay for my groceries in two separate groups? Hmm, I wonder if they will even let me do that? – Oh wait, I’m in America now, I can just talk to them in English!” While I’m sure these kinds of thoughts will abate as I adjust back to the U.S., I think I can safely say that I am forever changed for the better by my European adventures.
The last days of the semester were certainly bittersweet, doing things I’d wanted to do all semester but hadn’t gotten around to it, and also revisiting favorite places to say goodbye. Jacqueline did such a good job capturing this aspect of the last few days that I’ll leave that to her, but here are a few pictures from my last week.
As our time in Rome grew closer to an end, tests and papers began piling up due to the Italian education system which saves everything till the end. The first floor lounge was filled with study parties and the commuter lab filled up with busy writers. Of course that didn’t mean that people stopped seeing the sights of Rome. Bernardians worked hard to complete their Rome bucket list.
During the last couple of days I was able to revisit many of my favorite places. Among other things, I looked one last time at Caravaggio’s paintings in Santa Maria del Popolo and visited the tomb of Saint Catherine at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. I also climbed the holy steps, the steps Christ stood on when he was condemned by Pontius Pilate. I remember the first time I saw all these holy places; I had been awestruck in wonder and surprise. Instead of that initial awe, there was now a quiet sense of peace and familiarity.
One of the privileges of living in Rome is the gift of being able to visit so many of our friends, the Saints. Thankfully, many Bernardians were able to get relics to bring home. I got relics of Saint Maria Goretti and Saint Gemma Galganni. I am so grateful to be able to bring these home with me, but I will certainly miss the toweringly beautiful churches which held many more Saints.
On our last night in Italy, all the Bernardians went as a group to A’ll Orsetto, a small family-run restaurant with which we had become quite familiar. Part of the beauty of Italian culture is that they really value regular customers, and there were a number of places where the waiters knew us by name, a way we really entered into Italian culture. After our lovely dinner many of us went to get gelato from Old Bridge, a gelateria right by St. Peters, and said goodbye to the Basilica that had become so familiar.
Rome is really at the heart of the Church. It’s streets are thick with rich history and filled with Catholics from all over the world who gather to study or even to come for just a little to see Papa Francesco. I was blessed to physically see the family of the church. It is a family which spreads horizontally across the world but also vertically throughout time as seen through apostolic succession and the Saints from the different centuries. While it is time to come home and finish school here, I know that our lives are changed from experiencing a new culture. Yes, there are cultural marks that people can see such as getting a slightly crazier hair cut or wearing more scarves, but there are also things that are much more profound. Traveling has given me a deeper understanding of what culture even means. My fellow Bernadians have given me deeper understanding of what community means. Rome has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be Catholic, and that is something which will impact the rest of my life.