So I’m sitting outside a little cafe near our apartment on Cola di Rienzo which, blessedly, has free wi-fi. It’s crazy how much we’ve been able to pack into just 3 days being here in Rome, especially with 7 more days to go. When we arrived we were a little worried as there were not any obvious public telephones, we didn’t now where to go to get international calling cards, and finding our way around was a daunting task. Luckily, our good friend Dan is here in Rome studying at one of the Pontifical universities and came over to start taking us around.
On Friday night Dan took us for a moonlit walk around the Vatican and the outlying area. We walked on past Castel San Angelo and on to St. Peter’s. I can’t really relay how humbling an experience walking into the piazza is. Everything is so magnificent, and awe-inspiring. The huge statues of Sts. Peter & Paul, the obelisk, and St. Peter’s itself. Simply stunning.
Yesterday the guys and I set out to find the grocery store, walked the wrong way on our street two blocks and found ourselves at the edge of the Tiber River. I couldn’t help but make a crack about Pope Formosus and asked if we could hold a Cadaver Synod. Nobody found it funny but me. Oh well…
We crossed the river, abandoning our search for the grocery store till later, and walked into the Piazza del Populo and were greeted by a Michael Jackson impersonator. I should also mention that we cannot escape America, and by extension HC/HC (more on this later). We walked from quite a while and went into the Basilica of St. Ambrose and St. Charles.
We continued walking toward the Pantheon as Dan lives near there and enjoyed some time at the church. Just looking at it you know how ancient it really is, thousands of years old, yet still breathtaking. I was amused to see that the old Latin Altar Cards were still on the altar, and the miracle-working icon of the Theotokos above the altar was radiant with light and silver and gold.
In the evening one of my friends and I went with Dan for gelato and to walk to the Trevi Fountain and the Colosseum, with the Arch of Constantine. It’s funny how you’ll see pictures of something all your life and suddenly find yourself there. It’s a very odd feeling one gets. And to walk on the same road that St. Constantine himself once walked on leaves you feeling like this isn’t really happening, you’re not really in Rome. But you are, and it is wonderful.
This morning we went to liturgy at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church on the Via Sardoni. Getting there was a bit of a trek because the buses weren’t running in much of the city due to the Rome Marathon, but we got there in time for the Orthros Gospel. It was a really lovely parish, the chanter invited one of us to chant the Epistle. It really felt like home when a monk came in and chanted in Arabic for a few things during the service. Turns out he is Fr. Parthenios, an Antiochian, like myself. The small church was full by the Our Father and the priest welcomed us warmly. Afterward we went to lunch at a small restaurant near the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in the Piazza di Trevi.
This afternoon was the highlight of the trip for me so far. We went to St. Paul fuori le Mura. Let me just say that I took about 100 pictures of the place, so that might give you an indication as to how I liked the church. I’ve never been in a church like it before. Sure, I’ve been in big (and ancient) cathedrals, but nothing like this. The portraits of the popes lined the upper arches, and the tomb of St. Paul himself is the central focus of the church. I was able to go and venerate the chains that St. Paul wore while in prison, and pray at his tomb. I lit a candle for everyone back home and prayed there.
I realized that because it is Sunday they would be having Solemn Vespers at St. Paul’s so I elected to stay while the others went and got coffee. There is nothing like hearing a choir of monks chanting Vespers in Latin (and Italian). The organ was lovely, and the organist (a monk of the monastery there) provided a really fine accompaniment to the Gregorian chant. I also managed to visit the chapel of St. Stephen there, and said a prayer for my little parish assignment back in Springfield MA.
And now I’m sitting at a cafe with Vikentios enjoying the evening. We’ll be heading back to the apartment in a minute and making ourselves dinner. Tomorrow, our 4th member joins us, Michael, and we’ll be starting to plan the rest of our stay. A few things are definitely planned already. On Wednesday we’ll be going to the Papal Audience with “Uncle Ben” (Pope Benedict XVI) and on Friday we’ll be going to Divine Liturgy at St. Andrew’s again for the feast of the Annunciation. Some of our little group might be going to Assisi on Friday, and the rest of us might take a day trip to Florence. We shall see what we shall see.
As always, keep us in your prayers (as you are in ours) and I will update the blog tomorrow at some time (God-dilling). For now, I’ll leave you with the last picture of the day.