Heather in Rome

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

Friday, December 23

Merry Christmas!
I pray that your Christmas celebrations are joyful and full of family and friends,
as we celebrate Jesus' coming into the world 2000 years ago.
May He come anew into our hearts!

Sunday, December 11

Roman Graces

When I started the year here, the staff said there would be events that are special to our year. Each group has a different experience of the school because of the special events that can happen in Rome or elsewhere. Like last year when JPII died or this year when all the new ecclesial communities gather in Rome for Pentacost. Already there have been events unique to this year and to this place that I have been able to experience and since I have a few minutes to spare, I wanted to write about them.

For example, a week ago on Sunday, four of us from the school played music at a private Mass for the royal family of Belgium. It was the 50th birthday of Prince Lawrence and his wife surprised him with a Mass in his honor at Centro San Lorenzo, St. Lawrence's Center. The King and Queen, Princes and Princesses, everybody was there. It's funny because when I found out we would be playing for the royal family, my only reaction was, "I better not play badly." No real excitement about the royals, I didn't know them from Adam. After the Mass it was more exciting because we could come back to the Domus and tell everyone else about who we had just met and they were excited for us. The family was really nice, totally down-to-earth. They spoke French so I joked around with Carole that she should meet the prince closest to our age and marry him so she could be a real princess. She wasn't very excited about that idea.

Other Roman graces. On Saturday the school visited the tomb of Pope John Paul II and St. Peter in the crypt level of St. Peter's. We had Mass in a small chapel down there. In the afternooon we visited the Redemptoris Mater Chapel inside the Vatican. It is a chapel commissioned by Pope John Paul II in honor of our Mother of the Redeemer. All the walls are mosaic pictures portraying Jesus' baptism, ascension, second coming in glory, etc. The images were so strong and bold in color. At the end of the visit the priest who was explaining everything asked us if we wanted to sing a song before we left. A priest from the Emmanuel Community has written a song on Totus Tuus, JPII's motto, so we sang that. It was so beautiful and perfect for the place. I'm sure JPII was proud.

Sunday we went to the Angelus with the Pope (I dreamt about him the night before too). At night some of us went to a Christmas concert in St. John Laterine Basilica . I hadn't been there before, even though it's one of the four major basilicas in Rome (going made it 3 of the 4 basilicas visited in 3 days: St. Paul outside the Walls, St. Peter's, and St. John Laterine). It was the first official church building, commissioned by Constantine I believe. After four days with the Milano school and having the missions at the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona, I easily could have stayed home and rested, but I decided to expand my horizons by going to a classical concert. In the end, I was so glad I went. Now it feels like the Christmas season. I knew at least 2/3 of the songs because they were sung either in English or in another language but the tune was recognizable. O Holy Night, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, the Little drummer boy, and more. We haven't been singing any Christmas songs here and Rome isn't big on decorating the city with lights, so the feeling of the Christmas/Advent season is harder to pick up. But the concert put me in the mood. The baby Jesus is coming!

That's all for now. I don't know if I've put in here yet what I'm doing for Christmas. As a school we'll be going to 4 Masses on the Eve and day of Christmas: 8 pm and midnight, 6 am and 10 am. Craziness! On the 27th I fly to Barcelona and stay until the morning of the 30th. Then I take a bus and train to Lourdes and will be there until the night of the 2nd (that means I hope to celebrate the ball drop on the 31st in the basilica in Lourdes). then I take an overnight train to the east side of France to Grenoble, where the family of a friend from here lives. I'll hang out with Carole and her family from the 3rd to the 6th, then I fly to London and visit Canterbury where Neil from the Newman Center is studying abroad. On the 9th I fly home. Plane tickets are dirt cheap compared to the States, but the train costs more than I expected. Got to go. Happy Advent!

Friday, December 9

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Ciao! Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception ( a holy day of obligation so all you Catholics should have gone to Mass) and the school hosted a mission at Piazza de Spagna, aka the Spanish Steps. It's a big tourist site, although I don't know why. It's not very impressive, just a bunch of wide steps that lead up to a French church, la Chiesa Trinita dei Monti. Anyway, every year the Pope goes there to lead the people in prayer at the first statue in Rome to the Immaculate Conception (which is the dogma of Mary preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception). Lots of people show up and wait for an hour or more and once they see the Pope, most leave.

We were there to talk to people while they waited, pass out flyers for the night's events, etc. We were supposed to perform skits, but that never came about. I had a really good view of the Pope when he came down the street and captured it with my video camera. maybe I'll get creative and make a little video with my software to send out in an email.

After the Pope was finished praying, we went into the church and had one and a half hours to pray and bring our intentions to Mary. My mission team played music during this time and led everyone in prayer. Afterwards there was Mass and after that there was Adoration and the opportunity to go to confession or receive a blessing. Sometimes I was playing music for that, other times I was in front of the church telling tourists about what was happening in the church, then a group of us went on the steps and performed a dance routine while singing "Come magnify the Lord with me" in English, Italian, and French. I have the chorus down in all three languages so I'm very proud of myself.

Speaking of languages, there is a part time mission school from Milan with us for the weekend and some of the students don't speak much English so I've been practicing. I can't say much, but they say I speak Italian very well considering I haven't taken any classes in it. Rock on! My ear is getting better too and I pick up phrases in Italian and French even. In no way will I come back fluent though, at least I don't think so.

It was a good mission with many people coming to the church to pray (the rain helped drive them in). Tomorrow we got to Piazza Navona and just talk to people about the faith I guess. That's always harder (at least for me) because you don't have anything to advertise, like the event yesterday.

Thursday, December 1

Special Events

Hi everyone, I've been on a tw-day silent retreat and we just finished at lunch. We didn't go away to a retreat center, but stayed at the Domus Aurelia. This way we can learn to take times of quiet in the midst of ordinary life (that is, when we return to ordinary life. We're so very sheltered here in our Catholic bubble).

We have had some great celebrations in the last week. One week ago was Thanksgiving and all of us Americans brought Turkey Day to Italy. So while most of you probably have been sad for me, thinking I was missing out, I didn't miss out at all. In fact, it was a very special Thanksgiving, full of blessing and things to be thankful for. We set the room for 50 people, the students and staff and the families of the people who work in the hotel. The tables were done very nicely with Pilgrim and Turkey placemats, fall leaves, orange napkins, etc. Dinner was the norms: turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green beans, broccoli, dinner rolls, pumpkin and apple pie. It was yummy and we ate it the next day too. At the beginning of dinner I was called over to a table that didn't have any Americans sitting at it and so I got to explain our Thanksgiving foods to Belgians, French, and Canadians. We opened dinner by singing the Star Spangled Banner and ended it with America the Beautiful. Before dessert, we Americans put on a skit about the history of Thanksgiving, complete with pious Pilgrims, Indians, and a turkey hunt. For additional fun, we threw in stereotypical French, Irish, Italian, and German narrators. Man, it was so much fun. We even played "Hot Potato" with oranges for some reason. No Thanksgiving tradition there, it was just something fun to do.

When I looked around the room that night, I saw the spirit of America. We had people from Canada, Belgium, France, Ireland, Slovakia, Germany, Slovenia, Scotland, Italy and more singing songs celebrating America, the land of the free. We are a country of immigrants, where all cultures mix to form American culture, and that is so amazing and unique. So I really didn't miss home much on this special day because it was special here too. I could look around at people that I have known for only two months who have become close friends, family really, and share an American holiday with them. There is much to be thankful for.

So that was Thanksgiving. Four days later was my birthday. Again, celebrating special events in community is so great because any celebration is 10 times bigger because there are so many people attentive to the fact that it's your special day. The night before my birthday, Therese kept telling me, "One more sleep, birthday girl." Then the group tells me to arrive for breakfast at 7:15 so I know there's a breakfast planned. So it's funny because the celebration is supposed to be secret, but you know something is going down.

Monday morning, Carole comes to my room to get me. There's a Happy Bithday sign taped to my door. It was another girl's birthday too, Janelle, so we stood outside the door to the table room until we were told we could enter. We walk in and all the drapes are drawn so the room is dark and there are candles lit on the tables. I could see everyone crouched behind the tables and then they jumped up and yelled, "Happy Birthday" like a surpise party. It was so funny and great because a lot of people were there. Usually, the household of the birthday person is the only group that participates in the morning event, but this time almost the whole community was there. For breakfast we had crepe pancakes (in the fact that they were too thin to be called pancakes and the French said they were too thick to be crepes) with Nutella (Italy's finest food creation), scrambled eggs, and more. It was so good. Janelle and I each got crowns woven from ivy vines so I felt like a forest fairy princess. I wore the crown all day, even to Mass at the youth center near the Vatican.

For lunch we had birthday cake/pie and everyone sang Happy Birthday. Then some of us girls and Alvin went to the bar downstairs and had cappuccinos, hot chocolates, leftover cake. For dinner I walked into the dining room and people were decorating, blowing up balloons, stuff like that. I laughed and walked out. That's sort of how it was here, I would catch hints of what was coming later and just laugh. So many times I saw the group passing our birthday cards arond the classroom. But you have to love it. It makes you feel special having everyone put so much effort into your special day. So back to dinner. We ended up having dinner by candle light and there were balloons and streamers hanging from the walls. The tables were decorated very nice again. We had ice cream for dessert.

After the dinner, some of the girls wanted to pray over us in the chapel, but that didn't end up happening because it was study time and the director cracked down on following the schedule. But they wanted to, which is what counts. When it was time for bed, people wished me a happy birthday again. At every turn there was someone remembering the birthday. Wow, it was so great. So much love. And I got birthday cards and emails from home. But I must go. There is a line waiting for the computer. I'll attach pictures when I get them.