Rome, September 17
Last week was filled with orientation and introductory tours of the city, two of which I skipped because I have been here enough to more or less know where I’m going. Having said that, however, Wednesday evening I got lost and didn’t get home until 11:45 p.m.!
There are nine hundred and sixty churches in this city, and after a while they tend to fade into one another. Three churches, however, have gotten my attention, not because they’re so spectacular, but because of their history. One is Santa Sabina where since the fifth century the popes have celebrated mass on the first day of Lent, even before it was called Ash Wednesday. A second is the small, medieval church of San Benedetto in Piscinula, which is built on the site of a place where in the sixth century St. Benedict prayed and did penance before deciding to lead his life as a monk. The third is Sant’ Anastasia where in ancient times St. Jerome often said mass.
Wednesday I, along with ten thousand other people, attended Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly audience. While the pageantry and the presence of the Holy Father never fail to inspire, in truth I lost interest about half way through, as the Holy Father kept reading his message over and over in eight different languages.
I spent Saturday in Padua, the city of St. Anthony and another place I can finally cross of my bucket list. Another day well spent! The highlight was undoubtedly the frescoes of Giotto that cover the walls and ceiling of the fourteenth century Capella degli Scrovegni. The low point was probably the relics of the tongue, mouth and vocal cords of St. Anthony in the Basilica del Santo. I don’t know what to make of things like this, but there is surely a lot of truth in the old proverb “Times change and we are changed in them.” At the same time I was genuinely moved by the thousands of photographs that are pinned, stapled and scotch-taped to the message boards next to the tomb of St. Anthony. A powerful reminder that we really do belong to the communion of saints and that those who have gone before us and are now with God really do care about us and pray for and with us.
The most humorous even so far took place outside the ruins of the Theater of Marcellus. I walked past a group of Spanish-speaking students who were being given a tour of the ruins, and when one of the students spotted my Cincinnati Reds baseball cap, he pointed at me and said, “Caesar!” I gave him a thumbs up.
I learned with sadness of the death of Dr. Al Gibson. Al , his wife Jeanne and his son Mark have attended daily mass on a regular basis in the six plus years that I have been at STA. He was a good, kind and wise man. Let us all pray for Al and Jeanne and their family. RIP.