Friday, June 20, 2014

Italy 2014… A great way to start the summer!

 A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter,
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy
Sirach 6: 14-16a 

Currently, I am on a plane heading back to Dayton, Ohio from 10 days in Italy. Part work, part play… a great way to begin the summer. What a gift!

First, my meetings…. I am on a team of Marianists who have been asked to plan an international gathering of Marianists Brothers and Sisters that will happen in the summer of 2016. This gathering is called Horizons and it is a 25-day formation program for those who have been perpetually professed for 1 to 10 years. The planning team consists of 2 Brothers from the US, 1 Brother from Spain who is a priest, 1 Brother from Kenya and me. We are quite the group – diverse skill sets and backgrounds, different ways of working on projects, and very different personalities. But, we did very well together and I look forward to our next meeting in July 2015.

The Horizons team celebrates Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's. 

I decided to stick around for a few days after the meetings to spend time with friends… One of our Sisters (my former novice director) from the US serves on our General Administration in Rome, 2 friends of mine are Marianist seminarians living in Rome, and another American Marianist Brother serves as vice rector for the seminary. We had a great time! A day in Florence… a day touring Rome… a close encounter with Pope Francis… and a day in Assisi. What a week!

There were many highlights from my time there. To list them all would be too much – and perhaps a little boring for the reader. However, on this trip I can say that I did gain a little insight. Allow me to share some of these (in no particular order)…

1.     Churches, parks, museums, oh my!

Some people are thrilled by big cities – all the sights, sounds, impressive buildings, and fast moving people going a thousand different directions. Big cities are fine and I can enjoy them. However, when I’m in one I always crave or seek out the places that offer some sort of refuge from the noise – Churches, parks, museums… or an out of the way cafĂ©/restaurant somewhere.

On this trip to Italy I didn’t get to any museums… there were too many Churches to see! But I saw some magnificent Churches… St. Peter’s, St. Maria Maggori, the Duome in Florence, St. Maria degli Angeli outside of Assisi…  However, it’s not all the gold or the size that impresses me. It’s the smaller, quiet places that bring a sense of peace. Take St. Alphonsus Liguori for example. No tourists. No crowds. Just quiet pews with people praying. The image of Mary there is the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. It’s a beautiful icon and a lovely place for prayer. Or St. Maria di Trastevere… also a quiet Church and the only place I’ve seen an image of Jesus with his arm (apparently) around Mary’s shoulders.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

Santa Maria di Trastevere

One afternoon my friend, Bob (one of the seminarians), and I walked in a park in Rome I had no idea existed - the Villa Borghese. This was after our visit to St. Alphonsus Ligouri. Anyway, the park, set on a hill with beautiful views of the city down below, is a true gem. There were not a whole lot of people there. Maybe because it had rained most of the morning, but regardless… I was happy to know a place like that exists in Rome – fresh air, beautiful trees, away from many of the tourists… I highly recommend it.

The view of Rome from Villa Borghese.

2.     Some places are holy and there’s no other way to describe them.

My favorite place by far was Assisi. The place oozes peace. It’s a small, quaint kind of place – more like a village than anything – set in the mountains of Italy’s Umbria region. Walking through the city and its Churches felt like walking through a museum and a park. There was an overwhelming calm that set in while praying at the tomb of St. Francis… taking in the breath-taking beauty of the hillside… walking up and down the narrow cobblestone streets… praying in the tomb of St. Clare and before the San Damiano cross (in front of which St. Francis received his call). It is difficult to describe. I will visit Assisi again someday. Maybe then I can find the words to describe it.


3.     Being in close proximity to someone “famous” can cause a serious  case of being star-struck

Pope Francis is a good example of that. Bob and I went to the audience on Wednesday morning. We had fantastic seats right on the aisle (because we arrived 3 hours before the audience was scheduled to start). The Pope drove by us not once, but twice. And I mean… very close. I couldn’t speak. I barely remembered that I was trying to take a picture or video. And I almost cried because I was so excited.

What a great morning this was! (excuse the finger at the top…) :) 

4.     There is such a thing as a social introvert. But there is a limit…

For many years people have questioned whether or not I am really an introvert. Being a person who enjoys spending time with friends, people confuse that with extroversion. It’s not. There is such a thing as a social introvert – I am one. And there comes a definite point at which I hit my wall and maybe speak 2 words in the space of an hour. I suppose that’s appropriate if you’re headed to Assisi for the day… but a little unfortunate for the travel companions.  

5.     Thirty-nine years old feels the same as thirty-eight as did thirty-seven.

While in Italy I turned 39 years old. THIRTY-NINE! One more year of my 30s left. This is about the time that most people call “midlife,” (well between 39 & 45). Seriously? I hardly feel older than 30! And yet, here I am. I am older. Wiser? Who knows? One can hope, I suppose.

One great thing about my birthday happening while I was in Rome with many different people is that I celebrated it at least 3 different times. Our meetings were held at the General Administration community of the Marianist Brothers in Rome, which also houses the seminary community. The second night we were there the seminarians were celebrating the June birthdays. Being the hospitable people they are, they included me in the celebration. I have a card and a picture of the seminary community – so that I remember to pray for them. … Our meetings ended the day before my birthday. So the team with which I was working went out to a neighborhood pizzeria to celebrate. Then on my actual birthday I traveled to Florence (or Firenze as it is known in Italy) with 3 wonderful people. It was a fantastic way to begin my last year as a 30-something.

6.     I am naturally a skeptical person – especially when it comes to legend and lore.

Some people might call this cynicism. I don’t think that’s accurate. While in Rome I saw many things that made me roll my eyes and say “Really?” To be honest with you, I feel a little guilty about it. 

7.     I must ask 1000s of questions everyday – not all of them are spoken out-loud.

When I was in middle school my classmates teased me some. One of the names I was called was “Pinocchio.” Not because I lied, but because people thought I was nosey and asked too many questions.  Yes, I know this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but they were middle school children. Often as middle school kids we did not make sense… and often we were unkind.

Anyway, at some point my filter got a little stronger. Well, to make a long story shorter I think the pendulum swung too far in the other direction. So, my inquisitive nature only comes out when I’m in a very comfortable situation. Then I ask more questions per hour than most people ask in a day… “What’s the symbolism of that?” “What is the translation of that word?” “Why would someone do thus-and-such when it’s not logical?” “What does that statue represent?” “How come all the cars are hatchbacks?” “How long has this Church been here?” “What’s the derivation of that word?” “Why are there booths on the shore of the Tiber (or Tevere as the Italians call it)?” “What’s that building?” “What were those ruins?” “Who is that poet?” “Who wrote that?” “What’s story behind that painting?” I want to know and to understand everything, it seems. It’s insatiable, really. (Too bad my memory holds on to almost nothing of the information I am told)

Yes. This is a part of who I am. I’ve come to accept it. I hope that I don’t drive too many people crazy! And if I do, these people should be thankful that not all of my questions actually get verbalized.

But here’s a question that must get asked… See the picture below:

What does this sign mean???

I saw 3 or 4 signs like this walking back to the train station from San Damiano in Assisi. Can anyone please tell me what it means? It’s driving me crazy…

8.     Friends are a gift from God and important for a person's well-being.

This statement is self-explanatory. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful people in my life that I am blessed to call friend. And although I do not have the opportunity to talk with them as much as we would like and I don't have the opportunity to see some of them very often, they are a great blessing to me. I should tell them that more often…

I tried for 10, but came out with 8. That’ll have to do. :)

Many blessings on all who read this!
Sr. N