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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.


Ci vediamo, Roma.

ci vediamo

As hard as it is to believe, this is our last full week in Rome. I think the most fitting word to describe it would be ‘bittersweet.’ I am so caught between trying to squeeze every last drop out of my days, enjoying the sweetness of these small moments while knowing that come one week, I’ll be gone.

 But instead of listening to me sob, I’ll share some of my small revelations with you about the city that has utterly bewitched me.

 Here in Rome, history, culture, art, and religion seep up from under the cobblestones and grab your ankles, holding you fast so that your feet want to do nothing more than walk and walk and walk Rome’s streets.

Here in Rome, that worn-yet-vibrant rose color of old stucco stains all and any light that touches it, so you cannot help but stop to let your parched eyes drink in that pink air.

Here in Rome, you walk into the most magnificent basilica in the world, St. Peter’s, and breathe a sigh that says, “I’m home.”

Here in Rome, you see 70-year-old women greet each other with, “Ciao bella!,” and you couldn’t agree more.

 But the essence of Rome is all of this and yet none of this. One day I’m certain I know Rome, and the next day she surprises me. Four months is not enough in “la città più bella nel mondo:” the most beautiful city in the world. And that’s why this is not good-bye, but “ci vediamo.”

 Rome, I’ll be seeing you.


“Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life.”


“Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life,” Pope St. Leo the Great enjoined in his 5th-century Christmas sermon. I can truly say we proved his words true.

 Yes, we were nearly 5,000 miles from home. We were all missing our families, friends, and holiday traditions. We missed ugly sweater parties, campy Christmas carols, and eating cookies. But we had no reason to be sad, for we received grace upon grace.

 Many Bernardians had the honor of participating in Midnight Mass with the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. All fourteen of the seminarians served and three lay students read. And all the rest of the Bernardians got prime seating in the diplomatic section. I cannot even begin to describe what a profound experience it was, proudly watching my Bernardi brothers and sisters take a direct part in Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s. They all humbly fulfilled their roles for the greater glory of God, whether it was reading, holding a microphone for the Pope, or being a candle-bearer. We rejoiced in one another’s joy at receiving this incredible grace.

 Then Christmas day was full of caroling, a hilarious “Secret Santa” gift exchange, lots of good food, calling family in the States, relaxing, movies, and more food.

 Yet most importantly, sadness was not present within us, because, as Pope St. Leo proclaimed: “…At the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: Glory to God in the highest, and they proclaim peace to men of good will as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?”

 I pray that you all had a Merry, merry Christmas and that you were able to greet the New Year with hope and joy in your hearts. God bless.


“Get cultured or die trying”


Thursday rolls around, and my excitement grows as I hop on the plane to Paris for the weekend. What could be nicer than taking a short trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world?

 Well, one of the first things you learn while traveling is that nothing is ever quite as you expect. We woke up Friday morning, all ready to see the sights of Paris, walk out the door, and it’s raining. It’s windy. It’s freezing cold.

 So we had to make a decision. Sit in our hostel all day, dry and warm? Or go out, see Paris, and risk hypothermia? Obviously we chose the latter. I mean, we were in Paris! So we adopted the motto, “Get cultured or die trying.”

 Ok, to appease all of the worried mothers out there, no, we did not “die trying” by contracting hypothermia. Paris has many charming cafes that serve wonderful warm beverages of which we took full advantage. But we did get cultured; we did have an unforgettable experience.

 I’ll always remember looking up in awe at the Eiffel tower, with all of the dark clouds swirling about as my umbrella flips inside out. I’ll always remember seeing the main plaza of the Louvre, with the glass pyramids glistening in the rain as I slip on the slick pavement. I’ll always remember walking into Notre Dame, hoping that it would be warm inside, and then realizing that 13th century Gothic churches don’t exactly have central heating.

Ah, but c’est la vie. That’s life. That’s the adventure in traveling. And it really was a wonderful weekend in Paris.


The Immaculate Conception

There were no classes last Thursday. Shops were closed; people had a day off from work. All for the national holiday—the Immaculate Conception.

Now to what degree the celebration is cultural vs. religious is out of my scope, but, regardless, it was interesting to experience what it’s like to live in a not completely secularized country.

So what was it like? A party was thrown in Mary’s honor across the city. I went to the beautiful church Santa Maria del Popolo (Saint Mary of the People), which was a fitting place to go given that people were streaming in and out of the churches every hour for mass. The piazzas were crowded with people. On one of the busiest streets, Via del Corso, all of the church doors were thrown open, and people were pouring in and out to pray and light candles. I took the photo above as I was walking down Via del Corso. I was just struck by the serenity of Mary, watching the people as they swirl by on the street.

But the center of the party was Piazza di Spagna. There’s a large obelisk/column with a statue of Mary on top, and so every year the firemen of Rome get out their huge ladders to place a wreath of flowers on her arm. The base of the column is just covered with flowers, wreaths, and bouquets that people leave. Then, to crown the day, the Pope makes his annual appearance at the Piazza. I waited for two hours to get a prime spot, and it was well worth it. There was a wonderful sense of unity when the crowd prayed the Rosary during the last half hour of the wait. Pope Benedict XVI, or “Papa Bene,” gave an address about the Immaculate Conception based on the daily reading from Revelation. 

All I can say is that the Italians really know how to celebrate Mary in style.



DSCN1024It’s always a good time in Naples.

We took a day trip there this weekend, and to start the day we walked through the dark narrow streets, lined with shops and stands, packed with people. Vendors were yelling advertisements for their wares, people were talking loudly, music filled the street—pouring out of shops and coming from street musicians. I could have sat in the piazza all day, watching people go by, listening to the musicians play, and just soaking in the fun atmosphere Continue Reading


Buon appetito!

PastaBeing the week after Thanksgiving, I think it’s a fitting time to talk about food. So what do we eat here in Rome?

Well, every morning we have breakfast provided at Bernardi: cereal, yogurt, pastries, and most importantly—coffee. Then during the week we have two typical 3-course Italian dinners provided at Bernardi, on Sunday and Wednesday evenings. For all other meals we are on our own!

Most of us do a lot of our own cooking in the kitchen at Bernardi. If you open the cupboards you will quickly figure out the staple foods of broke college kids living in Italy: pasta, pasta sauce, Nutella, and bread. Opening the fridge you’ll see jars of pesto, stacks of cheese, cartons of eggs, and a variety of vegetables.

But we still make sure to experience authentic Italian cuisine. Eating out at local cafes Continue Reading



DSCN0503You know, sometimes it feels like I’m living a selfish semester. I feel like I’m constantly receiving, receiving, receiving. Taking in new sights, traveling to wonderful places, eating pasta, getting spiritual formation, taking fascinating classes, having fun with my fellow Bernardians, etc. And so the challenge is to find ways to give.

Luckily we have a built-in opportunity to give of ourselves in service. Bernardians are able to serve at either the Missionaries of Charity or the Little Sisters of the Lamb once a week. So on Thursday mornings myself and 4 other Bernardians walk toward the center of Rome, past the Forum, past the Colosseum, to the Missionaries of Charity house in Rome. Once there, we say hello to the Sisters and they tell us what they’d like us to do. Then we drop our bags and get to work!

The last two weeks we’ve been cleaning the common room on the floor of dormitories where homeless men can stay. Donning long aprons, we lug pails of water down the immaculately clean corridor to the common room where we start work sweeping, dusting, mopping, and tidying. Other weeks we’ve swept and mopped dormitories, done dishes, and hung laundry on the terrace.

It’s very simple work that we do; it’s not glamorous. But as Blessed Mother Teresa said, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.” And just as the Gospel said this past Sunday, “Whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Because He thirsts for our love in action; He thirsts for us to give. The photo above was taken in the chapel at the Missionaries of Charity. “Ho sete” is Italian for “I thirst.” So it’s a beautiful thing, to mop floors for Jesus, no?


Night at the Vatican Museums

Vatican MuseumsYou know, this was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life. And by “coolest” I mean fascinating, profound, splendid, grand, and enthralling.

We had the opportunity to have a private tour of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums. This is a big deal. I visited the Sistine Chapel earlier in the semester, and it was packed, wall to wall, with people. There were security guards yelling, “No photo,” and “Shhh.” It was chaotic, crowded, rushed, and when I looked up at that big ceiling I had only a vague idea of what I was looking at.

So this visit at night was quiet. We were the only people Continue Reading


Frisbee at the NAC

If you were looking forward to this week’s blog as delving deeper into the beauties of Rome—art, churches, history, etc. I’m sorry, you’re just going to have to wait till next week. I’m going to discuss the glory of…ultimate frisbee. 

Last Tuesday we didn’t have classes due to the celebration of All Saint’s Day, and so some of the seminarians at the North American College Seminary (NAC) invited us to play ultimate Frisbee on the NAC’s field. Compared to when some of us Bernardians went to play ultimate frisbee a few weeks earlier in Villa Borghese (a park near Bernardi) on a dusty patch of ground, dotted with bushes, holes and sticks, the artificial turf of the NAC field was heavenly. It’s incredible how much better Continue Reading