Wednesday, August 18, 2010

With Rome in my sights

I'm just a couple of weeks away from my trip to Rome. I'll be blogging here throughout that trip, with photos, observations and more. I hope. As long as the high-speed internet in my hotel room exists, as promised. (That's my hotel on the left -- Hotel Della Torre Argentina.) Here's my August Life Lines column about this upcoming trip:

For the past couple of years I’ve been obsessed with traveling to Italy. I made a promise to myself to get there, somehow, before I turn 50, which is in two years. I didn’t really see how it was going to happen, but the longing was so strong I kept holding out hope that a minor miracle would occur. I realize that international travel does not typically rise to the level of miraculous but that’s pretty much how I see it from where I stand, not having made it past Mexico or Canada since my college trip to China in 1984.

I’ve worked for the Catholic press for more than 25 years (starting as an intern at Catholic New York in 1984), so I felt a visit to the Church’s home office was a logical destination choice. Add to that the fact that my grandfather was born in Naples and my grandmother’s family hails from Avellino and, well, Italy just seemed like a place I had to visit at least once in my lifetime.

Then, a couple of months ago, I received an email from a Catholic writers’ group. It explained that a seminar for journalists who cover the Church had extended its deadline and there was still time to apply for the program, which would be held in…wait for it…Rome. At the time I didn’t even have a valid passport.

To make a long story short, I got the passport, was accepted into program, received a scholarship and booked a flight. In just a few short weeks I will be headed to Rome for ten days of what promises to be part professional opportunity, part spiritual pilgrimage and part personal adventure. The Church Up Close program, which will be held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, is filled with in-person “encounters” and classes with high-ranking Vatican officials as well as visits to the usual tourist haunts – St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel – and some not-so-common sights as well. We will be among the small number of daily visitors allowed into the Scavi, the excavation site beneath St. Peter’s Basilica believed to contain the tomb of St. Peter and others.

But even more than those “official” events, I am looking forward to simply being in Italy, wandering the streets, stopping in churches, sipping cappuccino, and soaking up a culture that runs through my veins even if it has not been part of my life up until now. The idea of walking through the incredible history of the Eternal City is beyond what I can imagine, even as I devour travel guides and Vatican journals and novels set in Rome. I can’t wait to be a pilgrim -- to walk in the footsteps of saints, to stand in St. Peter’s Square, to attend a papal audience, to experience the land of my ancestors.

Pilgrimage has always been an important part of our faith. Since the earliest days of Christianity right up to the present, believers have traveled to the places critical to our faith story, places that allow us to enter into a long-ago moment in time so that our spiritual lives can receive an infusion of courage and strength and inspiration.

In their book “The Journey: A Guide for Modern Pilgrims,” writers Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda and Michael Scaperlanda remind us of the significance and power of the pilgrim journey: “Although pilgrimage is often lonely travel, it is never unaccompanied. Whether we see them or not, or know them or not, others journey with us.”

Although I will travel to Rome alone in September, I will not be “unaccompanied.” I will be surrounded by thousands of other pilgrims walking the same path, by the spirits of untold numbers of pilgrims who have made this journey for century upon century, and by those unseen pilgrims who have not yet set foot in Italy but have promised themselves that they will some day.

5 comments:

Fran said...

Mary, this makes me feel a little teary! I love this tale of how our dreams, when they are from the deepest chamber of our heart and most sincere and God's will align. What grace, what gift!

And as the saying goes, it couldn't happen to a nicer person.

I, for one, will be at the edge of my keyboard waiting for your reports and updates. I have already been praying for you about this trip and those prayers will continue.

As someone who has done a lot of travel, thanks be to God, I can tell you that when undertaken as pilgrimage, transformation will come. God bless you on this journey.

(I am at work so my usual id is not popping up. Now I better get to work, but when I saw this update, I had to check out your post!)

Fran

Anonymous said...

Best wishes for a wonderful and spiritual journey. Sounds like a fantastic opportunity.
I stayed at the Argentina a few years back. It's a fine hotel, within walking distance to everywhere. Be sure to go around the block and have a dinner in Campo de Fiore, one of the highlights of Rome.
I'd love to talk about having you blog with the Times Union. Having your blog on our site will make it easier for many more readers to find you. Take care, Michael Huber, mhuber@timesunion.com

Jess Espinosa said...

Mary, I had been wanting to visit Italy for the longest time and my first trip there did not happen until 1998, when I was 57 years old, and that was God's time, not mine. So this trip of yours to Rome for the very first time is God's time as well. In any trip, my most exciting moment is when I step out of whatever place I am staying in on the very first morning, when adventure after adventure lies ahead.

There are two places I would recommend not to miss, both of which are near St. John Lateran. The first one is the Sancta Scala which, tradition says, was the same stairs that Jesus climbed during his audiences with Pontius Pilate and was transported miraculously by angels from Jerusalem to Rome (fact check please). Pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees, including the very old and the very sick.

The other is the Church of Sancta Croce, where relics of the cross are displayed, nails, thorns, the King of the Jews board and the good thief's cross. I had some emotional moments here in this church. During my first visit there, I was all alone and praying and crying, when all of a sudden, I heard beautiful male voices singing. I looked up and saw a group of German men singing a spine-tingling hymn, and they made my time there even memorable. I am sure you will have many such special occasions like that.

And for earthly pleasure, gelato! Be sure you look for the signs that say "artigianale" or "produzione propio," which signify that they are not store brand but their own concoctions. Whenever I am in Italy, I walk a lot and burn calories so it gives me a good reason to have two scoops in the morning and two scoops in the afternoon.

And so I wish you buon viaggio and may the Lord lead you to the special places there where He will let you know He is there with you.

Jess

Jess Espinosa said...

Mary, my first trip to Italy did not happen until 1998, when I was 57 years old, and that was God's time, not mine. So this trip of yours to Rome for the very first time is God's time as well. In any trip, my most exciting moment is when I step out of whatever place I am staying in on the very first morning, when adventure after adventure lies ahead.

There are two places I would recommend not to miss, both of which are near St. John Lateran. The first one is the Sancta Scala which was the same stairs that Jesus climbed during his audiences with Pontius Pilate and was transported miraculously by angels from Jerusalem to Rome (fact check please). Pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees, including the old and the sick.

The other is the Church of Sancta Croce, where relics of the cross are displayed. During my first visit there, I was all alone and praying and crying, when I heard beautiful male voices singing. I looked up and saw a group of German men singing a spine-tingling hymn. You will have many such special occasions like that.

And for earthly pleasure, gelato! Lk for the signs "artigianale" or "produzione propio," which means they are not store brand but their own. In Italy, I walk a lot and burn calories so it gives me an excuse to have two scoops in the morning and two scoops in the afternoon.

And so I wish you buon viaggio and may the Lord lead you to the special places there where He will let you know He is there with you.

Jess

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

Thank you, everyone, for these wonderful comments and wishes. I am just about one week away from my trip.

Michael -- I'll email you separately, but if you have any restaurants or other recommendations near the Argentina, please send them along.

Jess -- Thank you for sharing your story and your suggestions. I can't wait to visit the places you mentioned.

I promise to do my best to post photos and other highlights of my trip as I go. I take all of you with me in prayer.

Ciao,
Mary