Here's the belated second write-up on our trip to Rome. Hey, I've got a schedule to obey and a computer to share...
We were up at the crack of dawn to go to Subiaco for Fr. Alex's day trip away from Rome. It's the place where St. Benedict began his monastic life, living 3 years in a cave on bread and water. Now there is a Benedictine monastery there. A truly incredible situation guaranteed to increase anyone's disposition to holiness I should think... We celebrated Mass in one of the chapels in the monastery, and saw all the beautiful medieval frescoes on the walls (which are apparently scarce in Italy). There was a portrait of St. Francis of Assisi which is probably an accurate likeness, because he visited the monastery and because the portrait does not show the stigmata so was obviously done while St. Francis was still alive. There is a beautiful tradition that St. Francis saw the thorn bush which St. Benedict jumped in to rid himself of temptations of the flesh. St. Francis planted roses among the thorns, and they still grow to this day.
On Sunday we saw Papa Benedetto at the Angelus in St. Peter's Square. And he mentioned us! Here's the extract of his English address:
To all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims here today, I extend affectionate greetings. In particular I welcome the Board of Trustees and administration of Saint John’s University, New York, the students and teachers from All Saints Catholic High School in Kanata, Ontario, and the young people from Saint Patrick’s Evangelisation School in London. Upon all who are here today, and upon your families and loved ones at home, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.
So the School is now officially sanctioned by the Pope... As a result of that mention, we met a student from the Emmanuel School of Mission in Rome - E. S. M. is sort of what Fr. Alex based SPES on, a year of spiritual and academic formation as well as outreach and community life. We met up with four students in the afternoon at St. Paul's Outside the Walls and had time to ask them about what they do and how it compares with SPES. Sounds like they're pretty skint for free time as well - they actually sacrificed their semi-free Sunday to meet us at the last minute, which was very generous if not crazy of them! It was rejuvenating to meet other young people like us who are seeking to grow in their faith and bring it to others, and we are reminded that as much as it seems sometimes in Soho, we are not alone.
In the morning we went to the last of the major basilicas, St. John Lateran's, which is the Pope's cathedral. There are relics of Peter and Paul's heads here. Then we did the Scalla Santa. These are traditionally the steps from Jerusalem, brought to Rome by St. Helena, upon which Jesus would have walked when he was scourged at his trial. You go up these steps on your knees, saying a prayer on each step, which is a good penance because the wood that covers the original steps really hurts! In some places there is a piece of glass in the wood to reveal where a drop of Christ's blood is believed to have fallen on the marble. Another part of the penance is that everyone goes at different speeds; we had some older Italian ladies weave their way between us, making a break for it whenever we opened a gap. It's a lot like their driving actually...
For lunch we met His Eminence Cardinal Pell of Sydney, who took us to Da Roberto's near the Vatican. Fr. Alex says he tried to dissuade him, but the Cardinal insisted: 'I know how you treat those young people, rationing them on bread and water...' We had some interesting conversations about World Youth Day in Sydney, the new translations of the English Mass which Cardinal Pell is working on (nothing top secret I'm afraid), and Christianity in the modern culture. The Cardinal was going to give a talk the next day to students of the University of Dallas on the challenges of being a Christian today. 'What should I say to them?' he asked us. LOL. For himself he said one challenge to Christianity was mistaken notions of conscience, specifically that people do what they like and then say a little prayer on their own and think everything's alright. Fr. Alex and Cardinal Pell lost us though when they started talking about cricket. I suspect Fr. Alex has to bottle it all in until he sees the Cardinal as none of us have the slightest clue.
In the afternoon we met another Australian, James the seminarian again, who gave us a tour this time of the North American College where the American and Australian seminarians study. It was immediately different to the English College, most of all in size. They have around 170 students there at the moment, 220 people including staff and sabbatical residents. One of the feathers in their cap is the bowling alley which was donated by Pope John XXIII, who himself had received it as a gift and naturally enough had neither the time nor the inclination to use it. The seminary also has one of the best views of Rome:
The third from the left in the picture is Mark, an American seminarian who came with James to stay in St. Patrick's during Christmas. Both are not far off ordination to the diaconate, so keep them in your prayers.
Last day of the pilgrimage. In the morning we celebrated Mass at St. Gregory's and saw the papal chair of St. Gregory the Great. 'So guys, what do you think,' the Padre is saying, 'Wouldn't this chair go nicely in the presbytery?'
We then said hello to the Sisters of Charity next door and saw the room where Mother Theresa slept when she was in Rome. Afterwards we went our ways to spend the day as we pleased. Some of us went in search of good coffee. Some of us went in search of good gelatti. Most of us went to the tomb of John Paul II, and most of us got over to San Maria Sopra Miverva where St. Catherine of Sienna and Fra Angelico are buried. It was a good finish to a very packed and rewarding pilgrimage. We came back on a late plane dead tired but feeling very privileged to have had Fr. Alex shepherd us around the historical fold of the Church. Grazie Padre!