Friday, October 23, 2009

We Go to See-See Assisi

My time in Rome has been very different than my previous European experiences. When I studied in London, I traveled nearly every weekend to another country or at least to another place in England; I was constantly on the move and seeing as much as I could. In Bosnia as well I travelled often and split my time between Vares and Sarajevo. Since I've been in Rome (except for the quick weekend trip to Florence at the very beginning) I have been in Rome. I haven't been gallivanting about the country as I had become used to doing in the past. On the contrary, I've spent my weekends cleaning the house and wondering around Rome. There is nothing bad about this, as there is certainly plenty to see in Rome. Already I have my Sunday plans set for the next 4 weeks. But it is different to be in a foreign place and to just stay there.

That said, this past Tuesday our group went on a pilgrimage to Assisi, that lovely hill town in Umbria home to such famous saints as Francis and Clare. Sr. Sandra, the Superior of the community that VOICA resides in, brought out the old van and drove Sr. Angela, Diggy, Lydia, and me up to Assisi. The picture is Lydia, Sr. Angela, and me in Assisi.

Our first stop was Santa Maria Degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels, or Santa Maria de los Angeles- do you see a connection with a certain large city on the West cost?). This gigantic Basilica is home to the tiny Porziuncola where the first followers of St. Francis gathered. It is also home to a rose garden that has miraculously grown roses without thorns since the day Francis plunged himself into the roses to avoid temptation. It is also the site of his death. After this we made our way into Assisi proper and wandered about. In the summer, the town in packed with tourists, but now in late October it was quite pleasant, although still busy. We visited Francis's original house, now a church; the Basilica of San Francesco, which includes his tomb; and the Basilica of St. Clare, which is home to her tomb, a number of relics from both saints, as well as the crucifix from which Jesus spoke to Francis and inspired his mission. We then stopped for pizza at Francis's favorite pizza joint in the center of town. Let me just say this, I like Italian pizza. Next, we made our way to just outside town to visited San Damiano where the crucifix spoke to Francis, where Clare and her sisters lived, and where Clare died. Finally, we visited the hermitage, up above Assisi on a neighboring hill. This was where Francis and his brothers would retreat for prayer. There was a lovely path through the woods that led to a number of caves where the Franciscans would retreat to pray in solitude and in nature.

This trip to Assisi was a great way to once more experience the history with which every corner of Italy is seeped in. So many famous people, from Emperors to Saints, have been a part of Italian history. It seems that almost every small, unassuming town in home to this or that saint. Indeed, Assisi is a small unassuming town and is home to TWO great saints.

It was also nice to leave Rome for a bit, although this trip reminded me that there is so much of Italy that I want to see, but I do not have the time to right now. It simply means that I will have to return to Italy at some point and be a proper tourist!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thanksgiving: Part I

Monday we celebrated Thanksgiving.

Now I can imagine what you are thinking: "Gee, I've always felt like the holidays were getting earlier and earlier every year, but Thanksgiving before Halloween is a little extreme!"

Have no fear, Thanksgiving is still safely situated at the end of November where it belongs. However, our friendly neighbors to the north believe in an earlier version of Thanksgiving and so celebrate on the day that we traditionally call "Columbus day." Since Lydia, my fellow going-to-the-Congo mate, is one of those friendly neighbors to the north, she cooked up a fabulous Thanksgiving feast for us all. Which is just fine by me because it means that I get to celebrate Thanksgiving twice this year. That's twice the food, twice the gluttony, and twice the deliciousness (although none of the football).

Having Thanksgiving in a foreign country is hard. First, there are no cranberries, sweet potatoes, or even turkey to be found round about here, so we had to make some adjustment. Lydia made a tasty chicken roast, mashed potatoes, a fabulous chestnut and apple stuffing made with chestnuts gathered from the Italian hills, and steamed vegetables. For dessert she made a pumpkin pie from an actual pumpkin. Here in Italy, pumpkin pie doesn't come in cans. You actually have to get a pumpkin, cook it, mash it, and make a pie yourself.

All in all it was a fantastic feast and made me look forward even more to Thanksgiving: Part II.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Il Santo Padre entra"

Il Santo Padre!! Il Santo Pardre!! Si, si!!

I will begin my saying that my Italian is really improving. I figured out, all by myself, that "il Santo Padre entra" means that the Pope is entering. Pretty good, eh?

This weekend was the height of excitement when it comes to living in Rome. I saw il Sant Padre, not once, but twice, as well as celebrated mass with il Santo Padre in St. Peter's Basilica and said the rosary with, guess Santo Padre. He was also about 5 feet away from me at one point. In fact, he was close enough that I could have, had I really long arms, reached out and touched him.

So why was I stalking the Pope all weekend, you ask? Well, besides being what one does on the weekend in Rome (really, can you think of a better diversion then following a holy man around?), this weekend Rome was also celebrating the synod of African bishops as well as the canonization of 5 new saints. We were blessed enough to score tickets to 2 awesome events with the Pope!

On Saturday evening the Pope prayed the rosary for Africa and with Africa. It started with songs from a variety of African nations then a parade of African flags. Several nations offered prayers and young people gave testimonies (although I'm a little unsure of the details since only Kenya and South Africa spoke English). Then "il Santo Padre entra." We prayed the rosary live with maybe 5 African nations. The Pope began with the Our Father, then the African congregations led the Hail Mary's in their own language (English, French, and Arabic, with a bit of Latin thrown in here and there) followed by a prayer by the bishop. It was an awesome event to be praying a truly worldwide rosary.

On Sunday morning the Pope celebrated mass for the canonization of the 5 newest saints: Damien of Molokai, Jeanne Jugan, Zygmunt Felinski, Francisco Guitart, and Rafael Baron. Lydia and I got there pretty early- about 7:30, but there were already hundreds of people surrounding St. Peter's square. Eventually we were let in and we actually made it into the St. Peter's Basilica. We were at the very back in the front row of the standing section. Now, remember, St. Peter's is the largest place of worship in the world, so when I say we were at the back I mean we were REALLY far from the front. But we were inside. The upside of being at the back is that is where the procession to the front begins. Meaning "il Sant Padre entra" directly in front of us. For about 30 seconds the Pope was VERY close. Then he started the long procession to the front of the altar and became a tiny gold speck about 1 mile away. About 2 hours later he came back, right by us once more, so overall it was a pretty good spot. The mass itself was really amazing. The pope canonized the new saints (although I'm not entirely sure what happened since it was in Latin), and then celebrated mass.

What struck me most about this weekend was the worldwide nature of the Catholic Church. On both Saturday and Sunday I heard many different languages and saw people from every corner of the earth, from Hawai'i to France and from South Africa to the Philippines. It was a very special experience to take part in these events and celebrate in such a worldly manner.

I don't know what Roman adventures this next weekend will hold, but surely it will be something fun!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Day in the Life of Formation

I've been in Italy for a few weeks now and am happy to be settling into a routine.

It goes something like this:

7am: We go to mass (luckily it's close so I can stumble out of bed at 6:45)

7:25-8:30: Breakfast (cornflakes and tea, maybe toast if I'm feeling gourmet)

8:30-9:30- Household chores (food shopping, tidying the house, gardening, sweeping the cockroach carcasses (Okay the last one is not really true...cockroaches are swept before breakfast))

9:30 to 11ish- Morning session with Sister Angela, the director of VOICA and Diggy who volunteers at the office here and has been to Papua New Guinea and Togo. So far we've been talking about the Canossian sisters, St. Magdalene and her charism, methods of prayer, and the Bible. Other topics will include the four pillars of the program (spirituality, formation, service and community), mission life, and stuff like that.

11ish-3- Lunch and siesta!! We (there are 3 of us, me and Lydia going to Congo with me and Diggy) take turns cooking lunch and dinner everyday. After lunch together we are free to ramble about the gardens, mosey across the street to the gigantic park, or sit on the roof and take in some sunshine and the view of St. Peter's (the third option has so far been my overwhelming favorite).

3-5: French lesson-one hour with Diggy and one by ourselves. Our French lessons also include attending mass at San Louis (a French speaking parish) in Rome once a week. Plus we try to speak in French from lunchtime until 5 o'clock, more or less (usually less, but hopefully more as time goes on)

And then we are done for the day. Someone makes dinner and we hang out until bedtime.

On Saturday morning we clean the house from top to bottom and then have lunch with the sisters at the convent (my favorite meal of the week, they have an AMAZING cook up there!).

After that we are free until Monday morning to explore Rome, ramble about the gardens, mosey to the park, sit on the roof, etc.

I have much more to tell about my adventures in Rome so far and will write again soon. I am hoping to have a lot of late night free time as I attempt to follow the Rockies through the postseason :)