Monthly Archives

February 2012


Small World After All

After class on Thursday, Jake and I grabbed lemons off a tree at our school, the Angelicum, before heading back to Bernardi.  Each day this past week was nicer than the last, and Thursday was no exception.  So we decided to start the weekend by taking a different route than normal to our home base, choosing to take the walk at an unhurried Italian pace, enjoy our lemons, and take advantage of the warm evening air.  We walked slowly, and actually ended up walking so slowly that we found we were no longer moving, and instead were sitting on a bench in a small park. A monument of a mounted figure occupied around half of the park’s ground space, but that wasn’t stopping 15 or so Italian kids from playing soccer on and around it.

They must have thought us strange, two Americans, well-dressed and watching them with puckered faces.  Even if they noticed that we were eating plain sour lemons, we surely looked out of place on that little bench – until several other young people walked through the gate of the park.  I am getting to the point where I can distinguish between Italians, Americans, Brits and sometimes Germans here, so I looked them over to determine their nationality, number, age, occupation, intentions.  By the look of it, they were Americans, ten of them, college age, students, and looking to sit down for a bit in the middle of a long walk.

And then my eyes fell on one student specifically – a tall dark-haired fellow with an unmistakable chinstrap of a beard.  It was a guy I worked with last summer in Fort Dodge, Iowa.  But it couldn’t be.  We were thousands of miles away from there, in a relatively unknown little park in a residential part of Rome.  There was no way that we both happened to stop here, having left in the summer never expecting to see each other again, even in the Midwest.

It turns out I was right.  It wasn’t Russell.

It was Russell’s twin brother, Austin.  And so, although I would like to say I have a story about accidentally seeing someone I knew in Rome, I cannot.  So there really wasn’t much point in telling the story at all, and in summary I met a stranger, which is neither uncommon nor exciting.


I didn't have any relevant pictures of this story, so here's Bernini's Philip IV of Spain, lookin' fine in the portico of Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four major basilicas of Rome.


HA. Kidding, it was incredibly hilarious and unlikely.

Twin-Austin, two of his friends and I decided to play soccer (calcio) with the Italian kids and one of them, Pasquale I think they called him, decided it would be best to play piccoli vs. grandi, first to three points.  The score got to Piccoli 3 – 2 Grandi, but of course we couldn’t leave things like that; they let us challenge them to another point, and we beat them 4- 2.  Not that I’m extremely proud of it or anything.  (But as long as I have a twin on my team I will gladly smoke those kids any day of the week.)  They might have been 12 years old, but there were 15 of them and they were good.

After the game, Jake and I said goodbye to Pasquale and his pals, bid Austin good luck and glad tidings to his kin, and headed home, catching a nice view of the sunset  over the Spanish steps on the way.

To (seriously) summarize, I will say that running into unlikely but familiar people  in this world capital is less rare than one might think.  A boss from a summer job here, a classmate from fourth grade there.  Maybe it’s really true what they say, that “all roads lead to Rome.”


The Steward and the King

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”

As well as being found in the Gospel and inscribed around Michelangelo’s dome at St. Peter’s Basilica, these words were the first proclaimed at this weekend’s consistory for the elevation of twenty-two new cardinals, including two American bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore.  These words marked the theme and this event made the pinnacle of the past two weekends, which for the students of Bernardi have been an unofficial official celebration of Peter the Apostle, his office and those who have filled it, and the teaching authority of the Apostolic Church.

Arguably the most important chair in the world.


We started this celebration in a particularly unique and fortunate way with the Confirmation of Joe Boyle, our youngest companion here in Rome.  This sacrament was bestowed in the context of a liturgy presided by Cardinal Raymond Burke, and is itself a manifestation of the apostolic authority handed to Peter by Christ, from whom in an unbroken line Cardinal Burke receives his authority.  All the members of this line have been guided by the Holy Spirit; now Joe Boyle, having perfected what was begun in his baptism, will be guided by the Holy Spirit in spreading the Gospel as a full member of the Church.


The following day we attended mass as a group at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s official ecclesiastical seat as Bishop of Rome, with a choir of St. Thomas students and our very own Joe Campbell on the organ.

Arguably a very big organ.


Then came this weekend, with Saturday’s consistory and Sunday’s mass.  I arrived with other students at both events around six o’clock in the morning, and as a result we were able to sit inside the Basilica for both.  After the consistory Saturday, the American cardinals had a reception at the North American College up the hill where we met and congratulated them.  We met many of the other cardinals at a similar event in the papal palace.  The frescoes and statues covering nearly every inch of those walls were spectacular: a fitting reception hall for the cardinals, princes of the church, and a fitting home for the pope, steward of the King.



Equally (if not more) jubilant was Sunday’s mass, which consisted of the liturgy on the altar above the tomb of Peter, in the Basilica of Peter, celebrating the actual official Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, which was moved from Wednesday to Sunday for the special occasion of the Consistory.  The 1500-year-old statue of St. Peter came to life, decked in amice, alb, tiara, stole, cope and ring.  Oh, and we saw this guy:

Arguably the greatest man I've ever seen at such a short distance.


This grand celebration was all the more magnificent for happening in Rome, the city of the Caesars, the philosophers and their gods, all of whom in their absence present a stark contrast to the vitality of the Church.  Onlookers at Benedict’s election in 2005 noticed a thoughtful look on the face of  a certain Cardinal Francis George.  When later asked what he was thinking at that moment, Cardinal George replied,

“I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.”

Upon this rock, He built his Church.  And the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.


You can't argue with that.


Home again, home again, jiggity jig.

WELL, after ten hours and 5000 odd miles of flight, it would seem we have arrived in Rome.  It is day three here, and the idea that I live and go to school in Italy is slowly boring its way into my jet-lagged noggin.  It is my first time out of the United States (does Canada count?) and indeed the furthest I have ever been from home.



A couple of days before leaving, we received an email from the Bernardi campus coordinator, Thanos, that Rome was under a snow advisory.  This did not translate to delays for most of the Catholic Studies group ( at least, not the students), but it does mean Rome is in a state of chaos different than its usual sort.  While the Eternal City has seen enough light, quickly-melting snow in its day, it is less than prepared for a full on assault (read “slightly-greater-than-average Midwest snowfall”) from the wintry heavens than one might expect.  Everywhere you look, small cars and mopeds have been abandoned, helpless against the forces of ice and drift.  Shop owners are using poles and rakes to clear the thick ice in their doorways.  I saw a man pushing ice and snow off of his roof, unconcerned about possible damage to the cars in the street below.  And, call it an American bias if you must, the Roman people are prolific in the construction of crummy snowmen.


Ethan and Cecilia Beacom could teach 'em a thing or two.


But perhaps the most comical part of all this Minnesnowta snow dumped on a Mediterranean port is that there are trees and other flora, full of leaves and of the sort you might expect to see on a sandy beach, surrounded by snow in this rare and unsuspecting winter wonderland.


These trees are so confused!


All snow aside, it seems that the myths about Italian drivers are, to some extent, mythical.  Lights and signs are for the most part obeyed, and speed limits are not entirely ignored.  But some of the myths are a little more…true.  For example, in the words of author Bill Bryson, “you turn any street corner in Rome and it looks like you’ve just missed a parking competition for the blind.”

On the sidewalk? Sure.



Middle of the intersection? Why not!


Unlike busy New York City where the pedestrian is king and goes where he wills, his feet largely unconcerned by traffic lights and honking horns; in Rome the automobile operator seems to have declared war on walking men everywhere.  To further stress the point, on every Roman street corner the lighted ‘walk/don’t walk’ signals feature stick figures whose legs appear to be broken if you see them from an odd angle.  It does look like the ice and snow is slowing everyone down a bit; on Sunday cars without chains on the tires were not allowed to drive in the city.

For the past three days (our first three days in Rome), I have made the 20 minute trek to Vatican City each day.  It’s hard to describe or quantify the experience of seeing St. Peter’s Basilica for the first (or 2nd, or 3rd) time.  Although I felt like jumping up and down or giving a good “HALLELUJAH” at the top of my lungs, I felt that these things somehow wouldn’t or couldn’t suffice, and was surrounded by tourists’ cameras anyway.  So as I wandered across St. Peter’s Square I mentally listed several things to help me realize the scope of where I was and what I saw: How many saints have walked on the ground where I stand? Popes?  Presidents and kings?  Within these walls, encyclicals and speeches have been written and delivered, altering the course of human history.  Here is a stone marking the place where Blessed John Paul II was shot, and up there is the room where he recovered.  This place is why Rome still exists, why the West was converted, and why human thought has advanced the way it has over the last 2000 years.  In many respects, this is the center of the world.

But even as these thoughts were swimming through my mind, another thought — or feeling, or question — gave life to all the others.  As I gazed up at Christ the Redeemer atop the main façade of St. Peter’s, flanked by his apostles, I remembered the 5000 miles between me and my house and wondered how, standing there embraced by the snow-covered arms of Mother Church, I felt I was not so very far from home at all.




I’ll admit it. I’ve been wallowing a bit since I’ve been back from Rome. Don’t get me wrong—it is wonderful to be home and to reunite with family and friends, but I find myself longing for smaller coffee cups, wine at lunch, more art, churches at every corner, hearing Fr. Carola’s homilies, and speaking Italian. One of my fellow Bernardians coined the term “Romesickness,” and I believe that explains my state perfectly.

But setting the coffee cups and art aside, I think the main reason I miss Rome is because it truly was a home for me. The phrase “at home in Rome” travels around a lot in Catholic circles, I think, because it’s so very true. Because what is most “real” in our lives is the spiritual, as Catholics, Rome is our home. St. Peter’s is our parish and Pope Benedict XVI preaches weekly to each of us. Rome is where faith and history combine and come alive for us, in viewing bones of saints over 300 years old and visiting extant ancient sites that were pivotal in the history of the faith we proclaim today.

Even more, Rome was cemented in my mind as home because it is there that I became a part of another family, a Bernardi family. I now have 26 new brothers and sisters whom I will cherish and keep in contact with for the rest of my life.

It’s never easy to leave home; it’s never easy to leave your family. And I don’t think it should be. Granted, I have to keep my self in check sometimes, (for goodness’ sake, Ali, just drink the coffee and don’t complain), but I think my Romesickness is justified because, at its core, it’s homesickness. However, it’s comforting to know that I can look at hundreds of photos, recall countless memories, chase down the few Italian speakers on campus, and meet with my new family to get me by until I return home.