Heather in Rome

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. - St. Augustine

Monday, October 31

Service and Taking Time to Relax

The last few days have been really nice to rejuvinate the soul, but before I get to that, I wanted to write about the service project I did a week ago. Yvonne, Reggie, Fr. Thierry, and I went to the Brothers of Charity (the male branch of Mother Teresa's group) and helped out in the afternoon. Yvonne and I peeled fruit and cut it up to make a fruit salad. It was good to have 1 on 1 time with her because we haven't had the opportunity to find out much about each other. Yvonne is from East Germany and we talked about the fall of the Berlin Wall and how that affected her life. It was only a week ago that I made the connection from her life to the events we read about in history books. Something that is far removed history for the young people of America is living history for Yvonne and part of her story.

Besides getting to know Yvonne better, the best part of the afternoon is when we served the 15 homeless men who live there. There was one guy who looked so sad. He didn't even acknowledge me or look up when I took his plate to fill it. Later the man in charge said Yvonne and I could eat if we wanted so we got our plates and started looking for a place to sit. Yvonne led us to the sad man and we sat with him. He started smiling and calling Yvonne beautiful and telling her all the words he knew in German. It was moving for me because something as simple as sitting with him lifted his spirits and made him happy for a night. We have been hearing that whenever we do something for the poor, we do it for Jesus (Mt 25:37-40) so we made Jesus smile.

Now to relaxation time. Thursday the group split by sexes and we ladies went to the Schoenstatt Sanctuary, a shrine basically that had flowers and grass and a small chapel that would be perfect in a German village. We talked a bit about womanhood and the models in our lives. It was good girl bonding time and of course there was chocolate.

Oh, yeah, let me comment on breakfast. After a month of straw-berry jelly spread on white bread with hard crust for breakfast, what we had for breakfast was heavenly. Cornettos (smaller sweetened croussiants), chocolate cream (like nutella) spread inside of it, bananas, hot chocolate. Ah, it was soooooo good.

After the breakfast and lunch with chocolate, we left in the afternoon to Pamphili Park for a little toss of the frisbee. Twice it was thrown into a pond/fountain and two of our girls hiked up their skirts and waded up to their thighs in the water to get the frisbee. As if that wasn't funny enough, the frisbee got thrown into a tree that was behind a 9-10 foot high wall. Before I knew it, two girls had their hands clasped for me to put my feet in to lift me up the wall. With their hands at their waists, I was barely reaching the top of the wall, but with the foliage and the vines from ivy, I couldn't get a handhold. So I started grabbing branches, vines, anything I could to pull myself up. After about a minute maybe of me pulling and them pushing and laughing and my shoving my face into the plants, I finally got to the top and rescued the frisbee. Everyone was laughing and Italians passing by stopped to see what was causing all the commotion. People took pictures so I'll update this post when I get them.

Now today, two days later, is a free day. Those don't come around often so I'm enjoying it. I slept in until 9 am (hard to believe that that counts as sleeping in considering that was my normal time to get up last year) and took my time at breakfast to chat with the ladies. Then I ran to Pamphili Park (it's becoming my favorite free time place) and once I got there, I strolled through the park. It's so big so everytime I go I head somewhere new. I found a path that reminded me of the San Bernardino mountains, trees lining both sides and shading the leaf-covered path. It was wonderful. I get all dreamy eyed just thinking about it. I sat down against a tree off the trail and wrote a letter. Then I walked around some more and sat on a bench near old timers playing bocce ball and wrote a postcard to the sounds of happy children at a play ground. Man, let me tell you. Sometimes the citiness of Rome gets to me, the graffeti, the loud street we're on, the exhaust from the cars, but all I have to do is walk in Pamphili and I find refuge, my haven of peace. My soul is joyful and content.

Monday, October 24

Many Pope sightings

Hi everyone! What a week. It has been a challenging one emotionally and mentally (for reasons that will probably never get written about in this blog), but it has been a good one for Catholic pride and excitement. Wednesday the ESM group left our hotel at 7:30 am to walk to the Vatican to get a good seat for the Wednesday general audience, also known as the Wed. address. The Pope gives a short teaching repeated by him in many languages and an assistant reads out to the Pope the names of groups that are pilgriming in Rome at that time. The square is always full of people for the audience and it looks quite impressive when it is full.

Anyway, the Pope talked about Ps. 130 and about how the mercy and forgiveness of God is neverending. It can reach and heal even the worst sin. Comforting to know. When it came time for him to speak in English, the assistant announced that the Emmanuel School of Mission was present, we cheered loudly, and the Pope waved at us. It was so exciting!

Then yesterday was the end of the Synod (gathering) of Bishops on the end of the year of the Eucharist. They have been meeting for 3 weeks and today was a huge Mass in the square to tie into the end of the synod, but mainly to canonize 5 new saints. The square had even more people than it did on Wed. and tons of flags from the countries where the saints were from. Half of Chile must have been present. I even saw a group of Americans sporting small flags, which is a first in the 26 days I've been here. I've been commenting that even though the rest of the world is not found of us Americans, I should be able to represent my nationality with pride. I'm Catholic and American, that's right. So I was glad to see the USA represented finally.

Anyway again, we left even earlier today (7 am) and the Latin Mass started at 9:30. It was beautiful. It's been raining most of this week and we had perfect weather today; the choir was complete with young boys singing the high parts (no priest jokes); the Pope presided over the Mass. It's been a week of Pope sightings.

That's all for now. From Nov. 5-13 we will be in Portugal on a mission so we are preparing for that. Keep that adventure in your prayers please. And if you could, pray for new beginnings, a fresh start to jump into this year and really focus on what I came here for, to get closer to God. And for healing. Not only for me, but for everyone here who may need it. This year may cut deep at times, but growth comes out of it. Peace all! You're in my prayers, especially the Newman Center and the success of its mission.

Friday, October 14

The Group Makeup and a Vespa Ride!

I've been meaning to outline the group that I am living with. There are 20 students and 4 full-time staff members. First, there are 7 Americans: Reggie, 25, San Diego, engineer; Janelle, 25, Seattle, law firm secretary; Marco, ~27, Boston, barber; Michelle, 23, New York, theatre; Chris, 26, New York, Franciscan volunteer youth worker; Monty, 23, Riverside, music student; and myself. Then there are 3 French: Carole, 22, engineering graduate; Jean-Francois, 30, management accountant; and Yves (sounds like Eve, he's a guy), 23, nursing graduate. Two from Indonesia: Alvin, 25, engineering graduate and Fransiska, ~25, secretary and English tutor. Two from Australia: Teresa, 26, Sydney, NET volunteer and WYD worker and Therese, 25, Melbourne, public relations. The rest: Paul, 32, Ireland, engineer; Yvonne, 26, Germany, WYD worker and human resources graduate; Ramzi, 34, Lebanon, technical sales; Matteo, 23, Italy, communications graduate; Anne Marie, 22, Netherlands/Holland, phyiscal therapist graduate; and Anna, 29, Slovakia, child care.
So that's the group. Everyone is very different, but we have a common desire to grow in the faith and that unites us.

More related to daily life. I'm getting up between 7 and 7:30 am every day and it is rough sometimes. I've been getting to bed earlier than at home so I'm getting close to 8 hours of sleep each night, but not always. We started classes this week so we've practiced Italian a few times, listened to lectures on living in a community and how to follow Jesus and how to present one's faith story in a way that gets to the heart of the matter. Overall, the classes have been very good and entertaining. This week the relics of St. Margaret Mary, who is the person Jesus revealed the image of His Sacred Heart to, were in Rome so we went to Mass at St. Peter's (wow!) with them there and then invited people in the Square to visit the relics and pray in front of Jesus at the youth center.

Let me take a side note to talk about St. Peter's. We were only there for 2 hours maybe, but it was amazing. We are going back today and I am looking forward to it. I think I could wander in there for hours, staring at the magnificance of it all. It blows my mind to ponder how a church that large and beautiful was created hundreds of years ago without cranes and other machinery. And Michaelango's Pieta took him 2 years to create. Two years spent working on one piece! Such dedication.

Well, I'd better wrap this up. One final thing, yesterday I got to ride on the back of a Vespa. When I got here in Rome I figured I would have to ride one to complete my year in Rome, and I've already gotten to. It was so crazy! Passing cars, riding people's bumpers. It was wild. I would not want to drive here. But the good thing about the drivers getting to do whatever they want is that the pedestrians get to do the same. Jaywalk to your heart's content, cross on the red. Don't worry though, Mom, I'm being safe. Hehe.

Monday, October 10

Six Days in Assisi

From Oct. 1 to Oct. 6 we were in Assisi. It was the official beginning of the school year and we were there for an openning retreat. Oct. 4 is the Feast of St. Francis and being in his home town, we celebrated that special occassion with the rest of the pilgrims. By the way, I heard a definition of "pilgrim" that is really good. A pilgrim is someone who leaves her home to seek out God. This is definitely a pilgrim year.

Anyway, let me describe Assisi. The retreat center where we were sits overlooking the valley below and a grove of olive trees were immediately below our buildings. Some days we would gather among the olive trees to pray, sing, or walk around. The retreat center is outside the city walls, for Assisi is a walled city to protect it from the enemies of old. Once inside the city walls the streets are narrow and some are made of brick or cobblestone. The buildings are 2 or 3 stories tall, the windows have open shutters, and flower boxes hang from balconies or windows. There is a castle at the top of the mountain/hill and there is a great view of the city from there. Everything feels very old, but in a good way. It feels like stepping back in history, perhaps all the way to St. Francis' time of 1200.

The churches are full of history. The most meaningful for me was San Damiano, the run down church where St. Francis heard Jesus speak to him from the cross. Jesus told him, "Rebuild my church." St. Francis thought He meant that actual church, but it was later that we realize St. Francis had a call to rebuild the entire Church. We also visited the Basilica of St. Francis where his body is buried, the Basilica of St. Clare where her incorrupt body is displayed, and the Basilica of St. Maria delgi Angeli which protects the Porziuncola, the small church where St. Francis and his Friars lived and where St. Francis died.

We spent one rain-free day hiking 3.5 miles up to Eremo delle Carceri, now the site of a hermitage, but it once was where St. Francis and his friends would go to pray. It is near the top of the mountain in a beautifully wooded area and it is very peaceful. While hiking up we were asked to mediate on Jesus walking to Jerusalem, to his death. The hike was steep and sweaty and I thought it and the imagery were very appropriate to begin the year. This year will likely be a death to self, a death to my will to open myself up to God's will like St. Francis did. For it is only after suffering with Christ on his way to Calvary that we can experience the joy of the resurrection, the joy of new life. This year will have its difficult times, its sufferings, but I look forward to the new life that will be formed in me. I will still be me, but I will be a fuller, more joyful version of me. I will be closer to the person God wants me to be.

Well, there are some thoughts on what Assisi was like. I really like St. Francis after growing up in a Franciscan-led parish and it was wonderful to experience the city. He really lived a radical lifestyle, complete trust in God to provide for his needs. Wow!