I’ve been home for over 24 hours now, so I guess I’m finally rested enough to write this blog post!
Friday was my last day in Rome, and as is typical for me, I tried to cram a lot in. It’s as if I just can’t drink in enough Rome to last me until my next trip.
My final classes in the morning went well. People ask me if I’m fluent in Italian yet. Oh brother, not at all! I’m pretty good at “restaurant Italian,” and I can buy stamps and groceries in Italian. In fact, the day before, I was buying a super cheap lunch at the local Pam grocery story (yes, that’s the actual name of the store), and the girl in front of me was buying a sandwich and a dessert. The clerk behind the counter asked if she wanted the “menu.” (That’s what we would call a “value meal.”) The girl had no idea that the clerk was trying to tell her she could get a free drink with her sandwich and fruit. I had figured it out based on the Italian sign hanging in the store.
“Parli italiano?” asked the clerk.
The girl just looked at her. So I tried English. “You get a free drink,” I said to the girl and held up my beverage.
The girl looked at me.
“It’s free,” I repeated. “You get a free drink when you buy the sandwich and the dessert. Do you want the free drink?”
Finally, the girl seemed to understand what we were saying, but she just shook her head and said, “No, I have aqua.”
Oh well. The clerk behind the counter thanked me, and then when it came time for my transaction, she talked to me in Italian. Hooray! My words in English didn’t trick her into thinking I didn’t understand Italian!
Still . . . despite my little victories, I still struggle a lot with spoken Italian. It’s like my brain is on slow translation speed. I need a moment to separate the sounds into syllables and then figure out which syllables go together into words, and then finally translate the words into English ones!
When class ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, I headed over to St. Peter’s Square. I had some postcards to mail to fans who follow me on Instagram (What?!? You’re not follow me on Instagram yet? For heaven’s sake, why not?).
Then I hopped on the Metro line A and went to visit Santa Maria Maggiore. I hadn’t been to this basilica in two years, and there’s another holy door there. There are four holy doors open in Rome this year for the Year of Mercy. I’d already been through the St. Peter’s holy door, and I wanted to get at least one more in.
The church was very crowded. With World Youth Day coming up in Poland, a lot of youth groups were stopping in Rome first, so I saw two youth groups holding Mass in the side chapels at Santa Maria Maggiore.
Then I walked over to Santa Maria in Via because I promised an Italian classmate that I’d do so. Along the way, God sent me this little surprise . . . a church dedicated to guardian angels! Pretty cool for this author of a guardian angel story.
Then I booked it down to Trastevere. I hadn’t yet visited the Basilica of St. Cecilia, and I couldn’t image a trip to Rome without stopping in to see one of my all time favorite saints. St. Cecilia was actually my mom’s favorite saint, and my very first published article was on St. Cecilia. Plus, on the previous Saturday, I’d just seen the actual spot she had originally been buried in in the catacombs, so now everything had come full circle to me.
My only slight problem with stopping by St. Cecilia is that I was also on my way to another church in Rome. You may remember that my Loyola classmates and I had been introduced to a man named Paolo from the Community di Sant’Egidio. They pray together every night at Santa Maria in Trastevere at 8:30 p.m., and I had even gone back there on Wednesday to pray with them a second time.
Well, on Friday night, I was invited to pray with their seniors group at 5:30 in a small church just around the corner from Santa Maria.
I was running short on time to visit St. Cecilia before that, so I’m sure I must have made a little bit of a scene in the church. I dashed through the courtyard that leads to the church, in my head I heard the words, “Sono qui, Santa Cecilia! Sono qui!” (“I am here, St. Cecilia. I am here!”) as if for some reason she needed me to announce my arrival. But it was a happy announcement, a joyful proclamation of thanksgiving that I had indeed made it back to her on this trip to Rome.
I composed myself–a.k.a. slowed down–as I entered the church, but I knew I couldn’t stay long, so I walked straight down the center aisle, threw myself onto a kneeler in front of the altar, said a quick prayer, and dashed right back down the aisle. I can only imagine what the other people praying the church must have thought. Man, that girl must have had an urgent request! Or She looked pretty happy. Maybe she was just offering a quick thank you?!
Back on the cobbled streets of Trastevere, I dashed through narrow streets to get to St. Calisto where I was supposed to meet Paolo. I arrived at 5:32 and heard music already playing in the church.
I stepped inside and was immediately greeted by a friendly Italian woman about my height. “Are you Paolo’s friend?”
She lead me toward the front of the church and headed me a prayer book and a song sheet. There were maybe 20 people in the pews and about eight members of Community at the altar leading the prayers, my friend Paolo among them.
The prayer service was very similar to the other two I had attended. There was lots of singing, a litany of saints, a Scripture reading, and a reflection by one of the Community members. The main difference between this prayer service and the previous two was that most of the people in the pews were seniors (anziani in italiano).
Afterward, I was invited to join them for fellowship (and ice cream sandwiches) at a local community center. We sat in folding chairs (or wheelchairs) in a circle and talked. I found out that the woman who greeted me at the door of the church was Paolo’s wife. I also got to meet his parents and several of the senior members of the community.
Paolo kept introducing me as his “amica americana” because he said I looked too Italian, and everyone would just think I was his Italian friend instead of his American friend. Ha! I consider this a high compliment to be mistaken as a real Italian woman!
It was wonderful to talk with them and learn more about the Community and what they do. There is already a Community di Sant’Egidio at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and there may be one in Chicago before too long! I will keep in touch with Paolo to find out more.
After that, I had plans to meet up with a classmate from Scuola Leonardo for dinner, but I had a little time first, and I had some prayer intentions left to pray, so I decided to find this church Paolo had pointed out to me. On the way there, I passed another church. I didn’t see a name outside, so I headed it to see what church it was. Turns out it is the church of Santa Dorotea (St. Dorothy). This struck me as the perfect place to say my remaining prayer intentions. You see, my Aunt Dorothy past away last year while I was in Rome. My mom and she were close, and my mom passed away just a few months later.
I felt a great sense of comfort in this church, like my mom and Aunt Dorothy were praying with me, so later, I let everyone know that if they sent me a special prayer intention that I’m sure they can count on my mom and Aunt Dorothy praying for them, too.
I did eventually make it to that other church (San Pietro in Montorio), which was way up on a hill, but there was a Mass going on, and I had little time to admire it before heading back to the historic center to meet my Scuola Leonardo classmate for dinner. She’s a middle school teacher from New York who has spent time living in Italy. Like me, she sees Italy as a second home, so we were rather kindred spirits. I had also received a text message from one of my Loyola classmates who had just returned back to Rome after visiting other Italian cities with her husband and mom. So all five of us (three of us teachers!) had a wonderful dinner at one of my new favorite restaurants in Rome, Monte Vecchio.
After dinner, I took a brief last stroll past St. Peter’s. Unfortunately, they’ve taken to kind of blocking it off at night, so I couldn’t sit around the obelisk. I just said a quick prayer of thanks for another wonderful trip to Rome and headed back to the apartment to pack.
The next morning turned out to be a bit of an adventure. I was scheduled for an 11:20 a.m. flight, but when I woke up in the morning, I found out my flight was delayed . . . 10 hours!
My Italian landlady couldn’t believe it. She turned on the Italian news. There had been talks of strikes at the airports, buses, and trains, and sure enough, they talked about it on the news that morning, but they said the flights were all “regolare.” So why was my plane so late?
I had already missed the 8:00 a.m. shuttle bus I was supposed to take to the airport, but my ticket was good all day, so I headed out on the 9:25 bus. By 10:15, I was at the airport and standing in line at the counter.
To make a long story slightly shorter, I found out the pilot had called in sick. They were flying in a new one, but by regulation, they had to let him rest before flying us back for 9 hours.
The airline compensated us by sending us to the very nice Hilton airport at the hotel. We got free lunch, free rooms, and free dinner. I got to take a two-hour nap and a shower. It was heavenly!
The flight left at 9:05 p.m, which meant I didn’t land in Chicago until after midnight, but at least I wasn’t like many of the other passengers who had missed connecting flights or trains and were going to have to spend a night in a hotel in Chicago.
Well, I’m home and fairly well rested, which is good because tomorrow the Catholic Writers Guild Conference starts, and I’m a presenter.
On to the next adventure!