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“How was Rome?”

hankfaceSince returning from Rome, every old friend that I have run into has asked me some variation of the question “So…how was Rome?” I’ve tried to vary my answers. A simple ‘good’ seems a wholly inadequate response, so sometimes I pause for a moment, look my friend in the eye, and lower my voice to add emphasis. Sometimes I try a different adjective; ‘wonderful’ and ‘amazing’ have been favorites. Sometimes, when I’m really feeling saucy, I throw in an adverb like ‘very’. Hyperbole, hand gestures, and everything short of haiku have been tried; yet I am certain that none of my friends has left our short exchange with any better sense of my semester in Rome than before they asked the question.
Setting aside for the moment the inherent difficulty in summing up four months abroad in a single, carefully-chosen adjective, I believe some of the difficulty I am having conveying what my time in Rome meant for me is that I, myself, do not know. It is often said that spending time abroad will for anyone be a “life-changing experience”. I am not sure sort of change is implied in such a saying. If the change meant is a new financial outlook on life, one of frustration with the American dollar, then the saying holds true. But if the change implied is more personal in nature, a fundamental change in who I am, then I should pass it off as mere sophistry, because it could hardly be further from the truth.
We were warned during the homily of a 5 a.m. Mass given by our chaplain Fr. Carola the morning we were to leave that returning home would be like waking from a dream (and given my track record during Fr. Carola’s homilies, I was likely dreaming at the time as well). So it has been. I’ve returned to St. Paul and to classes as if it were any other semester. Looking back upon the semester, I sometimes wonder if it really happened. Being in Rome seems such a distant reality.
Yet, it is not. Very clearly I remember my times there, even if they seem as though from a different life. Very clearly do I remember the Missionaries of Charity and the Little Sisters of the Lamb, the Pope and the Vatican, restaurants and train rides, Bernardi and the twenty seven wonderful people with whom all these fond memories are inextricably tied up. I can recognize points where I’ve grown. My time in Rome did not change who I am; I am still the same person who God first created 21 short years ago. In fact, I am more so that person, because God has never stopped creating and during the past few months he has been hard at work.
Someday, when God finally stops creating, hopefully He looks upon me and sees precisely the person He created. Then I will see Him face-to-face. He will show me my life, and I will finally, fully understand what He was up to. For the moment, I can only look back upon the surface of four months of experience and see that it was, indeed, ‘good’.

Hank

Italian Cuisine

pizzaWe are now near the end of our Italian language program; and, while I would still describe my ability to speak Italian as “non bene”, I was able to carry on a two hour conversation with an Italian man on the train one weekend. Not a bad achievement! I found my vocabulary rather limited in most all topics of conversation with one exception: food. Though I would be put to shame by any Italian three-year old in a game of “What animal makes this sound?”, I am able to navigate my way around a menu as though I were a native Roman. Time spent dining happily constitutes a healthy portion of our life here in Rome, thus Italian cuisine is certainly deserving of a place in this on-line journal.

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Hank

Life at Bernardi

group2A burst of laughter erupts from the small group gathered in the dark room as that familiar piano intro begins. Muscles tighten and eager glances are exchanged as the keyboard builds in quick crescendo. The theme song to The Office is playing once again in the lounge. As the instrumental chorus breaks out, a raucous accompaniment of drumming on sofas, tables, walls, and floor emphasizes the catchy beat of the tune and echoes throughout the halls of Bernardi letting everyone know that another episode has begun. This little piece of American Television imported in the form of a 4-DVD box set has become a favorite way for our remarkably close group to relax after another busy day in Roma.

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Hank

Classes

buildingThis past week, I checked the academic calendar at St. Thomas to find that there were only two weeks of classes left at the St. Paul campus. For us, we just passed the half-way point of our Fall semester. Since this is a study abroad program and not just a four month vacation, classes at the Angelicum do account for a significant portion of the Catholic Studies program.
The classes we take are designed specifically for the program and are centered on the study of the Catholic faith and culture. What better place can there be to study such a relationship than Rome, the center of the Catholic world since Peter and Paul were martyred here almost two thousand years ago?

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Hank

The Humanity of Rome

clothThis fact of the Church being such an integral part of the culture is manifested in many ways which we can see. Architecturally, there are over seven hundred Catholic churches in Rome of every age that provide a chance to witness the progression of sacred architecture through history. The presence of the Vatican draws an abundance of priests, religious, and pilgrims that give one a sense of the universality of the Church. The Catholic world is, indeed, small, and this is truer of Rome than anywhere else. On any given day, we can walk through St. Peter’s square and run into first a cardinal than a group of people from a parish up the street from St. Thomas. A quick look at our own academic calendar shows that the major holidays for the Romans are actually the many “Holy Days”. Christmas and Easter, the Immaculate Conception and St. Stephen’s Day. The feast days of Rome’s patron saints – Peter, Paul, and Laurence – remain days of major festivities. There is no doubt that the Eternal City is alive with an abundance of opportunities for us to study what was truly a Catholic culture.

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Hank

Settling In

talkingMonday, October 8th arrived and along with it our first day of classes; over one month later than our peers back in St. Paul. The beginning of classes also means that after the initial, frantic excitement of arriving in Rome, we are coming down off that high to settle into a more regular routine. We are approaching the period of time in which many Catholic Studies Rome students enter a frame of mind which Sister Helen, the British Dominican who runs our program at the Angelicum, affectionately referred to as the “slough of despond”. This is not a part of studying in Rome that most people hear of from their friends – and rightfully so as it is not representative of the overall experience – but it is common for many of the students to go through each semester.

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