Well, I guess some of you may like to hear some about what it was like being in Rome. First of all, the whole experience was very awesome, and I really hope that the Lord should allow me to return (and stay!) some time. I was tempted to "miss" my return flight and let the immigration police take me home.
A close to eight hour flight from Newark, NJ landed us in Rome around 7:30 AM (jet lag is purgatory). There at the airport we met our wonderful tour guide Maria, who did above and beyond her job. As you saw in the slide show we visited all 4 of the Major basilicas in Rome: St. Paul outside the Walls, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and (of course) St. Peter's. My favorite of course would be St. Peter's, as there is nothing like it. It is so huge (never knew that sooo many huge statues existed) and beautiful. In addition we saw many smaller (certainly NOT small) churches (including St. Peter in Chains and the Holy Cross Church---the latter containing relics of the true cross) which were very ornate and awesome. In one church (you kind of lose your memory after church #5) there was buried most of the remains of St. Catherine of Sienna.
We also visited the Vatican Art Museum which was fascinating. Connected to the museum is the Sistine chapel (no pictures are permitted), and further is the burial place for the pontiffs. Included in the papal burial area was the tomb of Pope John Paul II.
The highlight of the trip was most certainly the Masses that were celebrated in those holy places. Our spiritual director on the trip, Fr. Malin, beautifully celebrated the liturgy (and allowed me to serve at almost every Mass) at St. Peter's (I didn't serve here), the catacombs, St. John Lateran, St. Paul outside the Walls, Santa Maria di Angeli, and others. It was soo cool when he faced the "ad orientem" (away from the people for the Eucharistic prayers) position in some of the churches where the altars are placed against the walls.
We also visited the "Scala Sancta", or "Holy Stairs", which was one of my personal favorites parts of the trip. To see so many people devoutly ascend the steps only their knees was just something else. To think that I was touching the stairs that Our Lord walked up on and down when He was condemned is unexplainable.
Many miracles seemed to have happened while we were there. At the Vatican Fr. Malin and about 5 other people from our group (not me unfortunately) went to confession at the Vatican to a Carmelite priest. This priest was not in anyway connected with our group, but was simply a priest that was hearing confessions in English at the Vatican in one of the confessionals. As Fr. Malin told me, this is what happened to him: Fr. Malin went into confession and named a sin. Then, before he said the rest of his confession, the priest went on to name some of his other sins! He asked Fr. Malin, "Is this correct?" He responded, "Yes, I was about to say these." Furthermore, Fr. Malin likes to make a "General Confession" (an Ignatian devotion---a confession which goes through your entire life) every year around August but had unfortunately not been able to this year. Fr. Don of course had not brought this up to this priest, but the priest anyway said, "So, you have not been able to make your general confession this year, and so I will allow you to do that now." (Please remember confessions there are always behind the screen) This priest must be one of those unheard of living saints.
My "Rome miracle" was perhaps not quite as exciting, but showed me how much it is necessary to trust in God. On a Saturday we had a free afternoon from the usual schedule of tour guides and activities. Since everyone seemed to have their own un-exciting or expensive plans, I made my own which was neither un-exciting or expensive. I happen to know a Legionaries of Christ seminarian named Br. Edward who used to be my spiritual director, and of course is a personal friend. He has been in Rome now for a couple of months and so I decided it would be fun to try to see him and have him show me around the Legionary seminary in Rome. I had emailed him like a day before we left, but of course that doesn't leave him enough time to get back since I wasn't able to check email much. I sent him my cell phone number which did no good as my cell phone didn't work in Rome (long story), and I tried calling the seminary from a local phone, but after trying every area code combination I could think of, I could not even get a single ringing phone on the other end. Okay, so I decide I'll risk it and hope he happens to be at the seminary and available to visit on the only afternoon I had available. Since taxis charge the amount to send their kids to college I was counseled to travel on the buses which are very cheap. I got specific directions from Maria (God bless that amazing woman!) who made sure I understood them. So I get on the correct first bus, but got off late and ended up on a wrong second bus (yes, I am navigationally challenged among other things). After about 2-3 hours of getting myself lost, walking up and down streets, and having no clue where I was at, I finally spotted my bus! I ran and missed the bus of course, and so I'm waiting at this bus stop hoping that this bus will be the right one (BTW, my directions only get me to an area "very close" to the school, and so I am supposed to ask for directions afterwards) I was praying during this whole time to Jesus, Mary and of course our navigator St. Anthony. It seemed the line was busy for awhile, but I started the Divine Mercy Chaplet (while I'm waiting at this bus stop) and within about 2-3 minutes I see two Legionaries of Christ guys walking right by me---one of them "happens" to be Br. Edward. Sorry, but I'm just not one of those guys who knows he's going to be the next cereal box winner to Hawaii---this was a miracle (BTW, did I mention that there are about 450 Legionaries just in Rome, and about 3 million people in the city). I placed my trust in God and He worked His own plan in. The priest that was with Br. Edward informed me that I was going the wrong way to the seminary (LOL--boy, do you have to rub it in?). Anyway, after a wonderful visit with my seminarian friend, who showed me around the seminary, I gave up on my new directions back to the hotel and took a taxi--hey some Italian kid will be going to college thanks to me!
Later we visited the most beautiful city I've ever been to--Assisi. This town has not changed much at all since St. Francis lived there in the Middle Ages. The Franciscan nuns and brothers are still very traditional and strict there. Parents will do as much as send their daughters to court rather than allow them to enter the cloistered convent there, as they will probably never see their daughter again. It was very cold and drizzling while we there on Monday but that didn't stop the Franciscan brothers and sisters to wear sandals and bare feet. The churches there are very beautiful as well but in a very different way than Rome. In Assisi the churches are simple and draw their beauty from that simplicity, while in Rome it is screaming decoration everywhere. I would love to live in Assisi one day.
I cannot explain with words or pictures what it is really like to go there on a pilgrimage, and I hope one day each of you will have an opportunity to go there. I have left out a lot of what happened during the trip, so if you would like you can leave a comment asking for something else you would like to hear about---I don't wish to bore you to death!!!
May God Bless!