Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Eternal Rome

Five years ago today, I saw Rome for the first time.

The purpose of the trip was the pilgrimage for the canonization of Katharine Drexel, foundress of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, this town's second saint. 1,400 strong went over from the Motherland for the event, and I'm still amazed that I got to be one of 'em.

It was such an exciting moment.

The flight -- as a taste of the future, it was Lufthansa -- was more like the Continental Hyatt House at 30,000 feet. Or a chancery in the sky, if you will. I was at the back holding salon at the back with a gaggle of courtiers and hoping that we wouldn't hit a jet pocket.

Hitting the ground was a culture shock... Definitely one of those "Somebody pinch me" moments -- and I don't mean the kind of pinching one gets on the 64 Bus.

Coming around the bend in Fiumicino Airport, I heard a voice screaming in English. It was just our Master Builder from Philadelphia, standing at the baggage claim, making sure all the priests were accounted for and asking for order. In the process, he was fighting with travel agents in two languages as they were speaking into cellphone earpieces.

Hopped a bus to the hotel, and within half an hour we were at the Aurelian Wall -- right down the street from the Capuchin Generalate. There was just enough time -- not much, but enough -- to clean up before heading out for dinner. And, running out of the hotel, the input overload ride of my life began....

My friends who had been there before were pointing out things to look for along Lungotevere as the sun was setting when, out of nowhere, the illuminated dome of St. Peter's appeared against the dusk light.

Surrounded by the priests and mentors of my childhood, I almost passed out at the sight. I did freak out -- I couldn't believe I was actually there. It was just terribly exciting beyond words.

Through the days that followed, I got to explore the countryside, experienced peace in Assisi, an epiphany in a Florentine rose garden, and the weight of mission while passing through the Holy Door and entering S. Pietro for the first time. I was blessed to see John Paul II at close range on two consecutive days, and even more thrilled to get a wink and nod from Dziwisz. And my people excoriated me for throwing four coins in the Trevi fountain -- but, hey, I had an extra wish to make.

Then, as now, as with a jigsaw, the trip helped put together some pieces of something larger. I haven't been back since, but I fell in love with the city during my days there, and I also found a greater love and appreciation for the things I had left behind at home.

Where did the time go? Regardless of the place it disappeared to, it was a cherished, mind-blowing experience. And I know I'll be back there again real soon.

Hey, it's a perk of the job.