Thursday, May 5, 2011

Part I: Arriving in Roma

I promised a full account of my recent pilgrimage to the Eternal City, and I have finally made up my mind to pound furiously on my keyboard until the story is on paper (or more accurately, on the screen). What a trip! It was really a whirlwind, with only 4 days in Italy and 2 travel days. I suppose a benefit of barely sleeping on a trip in a different country is that jetlag is nonexistent. Exhaustion takes its place, but in this case was well worth it.

On Wednesday, I departed from Cincinnati to Dulles, where I awaited my transatlantic flight. While we sat on the runway, seconds from take-off, the pilot informed us that severe weather was upon us. When sitting on a runway, at the window seat, this is not the most welcome news. In my mind, I heard my great aunt, who spent Easter weekend recounting the stories she had heard about a plane in St. Louis that was picked up off the runway by a tornado. So, I sat slightly amused and maybe a little worried, watching the torrential rains and staccato lightening, while feeling the plane sway a bit from the wind. After three hours of waiting on the runway, we finally took off into a lightning-studded sky. It felt a bit like landing in a war movie, with bombs lighting up the evening sky. It didn’t take long for me to decide to close the shudder on the window, so as to not watch my impending death.

And of course the impending death did not occur. I landed in Rome, mid-morning on Thursday. There is something almost breathtaking about walking away from an 11 hour flight, groggy and disoriented, and then looking up to see a poster of John Paul II’s beaming smile, with the words he spoke to the youth from his death bed: “I have looked for you. Now you have come to me. And I thank you.” That was all the confirmation I needed that the long journey was worth it. (And that the subsequent blisters, sleeplessness, cramped quarters and crazy adventures would be worth it too.)

John Paul was everywhere in Rome – in the airport, on the sides of buses, smiling from lampposts, waving in church doors. Souvenir stores were bursting at the seams with JPII memorabilia – postcards, key chains, medals, stickers, candles, bookmarks, prayer cards, mouse pads, pens, pins, tapestries, T-shirts. And lines of people waited to buy items with John Paul’s face or with the date of his beatification imprinted.

St. Peter’s Basilica was the place to be, even days before the beatification. And the area nearby was the place to see people – Carl Anderson (Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, who I was able to thank for his support of my alma mater, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family), papal biographer George Weigel, Catholic evangelist Fr. Robert Barron. There were friends from college who I would “randomly” run into, and thousands of strangers from around the world. Poles were everywhere! I think I saw more red and white flags than the Italian red, white and green.

In the days before the beatification, I was able to spend some time praying at various sites in Rome – St. Cecilia’s tomb, St. Paul’s tomb, St. Mary in Trastevere (where I was able to spend time with some dear Italian friends and attend Mass for the benediction of the new office of the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships).

On April 29, the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, I prayed at her tomb in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. They open the back of her glass-enclosed tomb on her feast, allowing pilgrims to step inside the glass, resting their hands and rosaries on the cement that covers her body. Only in Rome!

Part II: Getting to the most crowded beatification in history …


  1. Emily - amazing! Thank you for sharing =) Are the Italians in the picture the ones that you taught Theology of the Body to?

    - Bethany

  2. Thanks, Bethany! Yes, they are. It was so good to see them again.