Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rome Trip!

Hi everyone, and Happy Holy Week!

Last Thursday, we had a game against a team from Cluj-Napoca, Romania.  After the game, we had 3 days off!!!  Since we had been given a few weeks notice about these days off, Jen and I took the opportunity to plan a trip.  It just so happened that everything worked out perfectly for us to take a trip to Rome.  The timing could not have worked out any better.  We found a flight leaving Cluj just a couple of hours after our game which meant that we would arrive in Rome on Thursday night and be able to enjoy 3 full days of traveling.

As we were getting on the plane in Cluj, we met an American man who had been traveling for a while doing some different kinds of humanitarian aid in various countries.  He sat by us on the plane, and we enjoyed a nice two hour conversation.  I have to admit that I dozed off for about 30 minutes, but Jen picked up where I left off :-)

When we arrived in Rome, we had a shuttle already arranged that would take us into the city.  Once we were in the city, we were able to make our way around like we were locals :-)  Maybe not quite that well but pretty close :-)  We really did remember a lot from our trip a few years ago so it was pretty easy to navigate around the city.  We had reservations at a hostel near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.  It turned out to be a great location for us.  We had two roommates in the hostel, a Chinese guy and an Indonesian girl (they were friends who had met in France while studying abroad).  They were great roommates, and we got along really well.

We were informed upon our arrival at the hostel that there was going to be a transportation strike all day Friday.  Our plan had been to venture outside the city on Friday morning to go see the catacombs.  We were a little unsure about how things would go without the aid of public transportation, but we decided to go for it anyways.  We were told that buses would run very early in the morning (until 8 am) so we woke up really early and made sure to get to the bus stop by about 7:15.  We arrived at the catacombs right around 8 am, but since they didn't open until 9, we just walked around the beautiful grounds and enjoyed the morning.

As soon as the ticket office opened, we bought our tickets and made it on the first tour.  It was a great experience.  It was amazing to be so close to our Christian brothers and sisters who lived in the first few centuries.  This particular catacomb was the burial site of 16 popes in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.  All throughout the catacombs, you can see Christian art drawn on the walls - a dove, a symbol of a fish, the Alpha and Omega, the Good Shepherd, the phoenix, etc.  It's beautiful seeing the historical roots of the faith.  There is a particularly beautiful statue of St. Cecilia that is now in the place where her body once was (her body is now in a church in Rome called Santa Cecilia in Trastevere).  The statue is a depiction of how St. Cecilia's body was found - she was laying on her side, slightly curled up.  If you look closely at her hands, you will see that on one hand, her thumb, index, and middle fingers are extended while her other two fingers are bent.  The 3 fingers together represent the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) while the 2 fingers together represent Christ's humanity and divinity.  On her other hand, she had her index finger extended to show her belief in one God.  Here's a picture so you can see what I'm talking about:

After we were done with our tour, we walked a little further down the road to the catacombs of St. Sebastian.  We didn't go inside these catacombs, but we did go inside the church that is built there (the Basilica of St. Sebastian).  It was beautiful.  St. Sebastian is the patron saint of athletes so we spent a little time there asking him to intercede for us as we finish up our season.

Next, we began our journey back towards the center of Rome.  Since there was no public transportation operating at this time, we knew we were going to have a little hike ahead of us, but we were fine with it.  It was beautiful outside, and the experience of walking along the Appian Way was pretty cool by itself.  We made one more stop along the way, and that was in the Church of Domine Quo Vadis.  'Domine, Quo Vadis?' means 'Lord, where are you going?"  If you look at the pictures below, they will explain why the church is called this and why it was built here.

Once we made it back to the city, we spent the rest of the day visiting churches, seeing the Colosseum, eating some pizza, and just enjoying the city.  At about 5:00, we started making our way to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) because we wanted to go to 6:00 Mass.  On our way, we saw a religious store so we went inside because we wanted to buy some rosaries.  As it turned out, this store was run by a community of religious sisters (Disciples of the Divine Master).  We talked to them for a bit learning more about their community and explaining what we were doing in Rome.  Then, we told them that we had to go because we didn't want to be late for Mass.  About 5 minutes into Mass, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see one of the sisters that we had just met.  She told me that she needed to talk to me so I walked out of the chapel with her.  When we were in the store with them, I had explained that one thing we were really excited to do was attend Palm Sunday Mass with the Pope.  In broken English, she told me that if we wanted to attend Palm Sunday Mass with the Pope, we needed tickets (the tickets are free, but they only give out a certain number to ensure that there won't be complete chaos inside St. Peter's Square).  She said that the sisters had extra tickets, and we were welcome to go with them if we wanted to.  I said that would be great, and she gave me her phone number.

The next morning, we woke up because we had a reservation for a 9:00 Scavi tour.  When we initially decided that we were going to go to Rome, one of the first things that we did was send a request for the Scavi tour.  We had tried to do this 2 years ago when we were in Rome, but there were no available spots by the time that we made our request.  Depending on the time of the year, you sometimes have to request tickets months in advance.  (Because this place is so important and so one of a kind, the Vatican only allows about 250 people each day to visit the necropolis as a way to preserve and protect it.)  This time, we were almost certain that we did not make our request with enough notice so when we got the email confirming our spots, we were ecstatic!  (Since many people have never heard about this, I’m going to explain it a bit.  I’m sorry if it’s too long or not long enough :-)

The Scavi tour is a tour that goes down to the necropolis (‘city of the dead’) below St. Peter’s Basilica.  It is very similar to the catacombs outside of the city, but what is especially important about this particular catacomb is that it is the burial place of St. Peter, the head of the apostles and the first pope!  The place where St. Peter’s Square is now was the former site of Emperor Nero’s Circus (the huge obelisk in the middle of the square marks the center of Nero’s Circus).  St. Peter was crucified just outside of the colonnade to the left of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and she welcomed questions which was great.  I would probably need to go on the tour about 20 more times to really grasp most of what she was saying because it was just an overwhelming amount of information.  The tour began with an explanation of how the site of St. Peter’s Basilica and the necropolis below it had changed throughout the centuries.  Next, we began walking through the necropolis and stopping to look at different tombs.  Our guide pointed out all of the ancient “graffiti” on the walls along the way that gave us insight into the people’s lives who were buried there.  I could go on and on and on about different things that we learned, but I’ll just skip to the main highlight.  After about an hour of exploring the underground ‘city,’ we finally arrived at the place where St. Peter is buried.  Some decades ago, archeologists thought that they had discovered the bones of St. Peter only to later find out that what they thought were St. Peter’s bones were actually bones from three different people, one of them a woman.  Now, however, they have almost complete certainty that the bones that they now regard as St. Peter’s bones are, in fact, the real deal.  The only way that they could have absolute complete certainty would be to test and try to match DNA samples, but since we don’t have a DNA sample from St. Peter, that just isn’t going to happen.  There were about 10 “proofs” that our guide told us helped to confirm that the discovery was authentic, but I can only remember about 5:

1.  The bones date back to the correct time period.  St. Peter lived in the 1st century, and it is believed that he probably died when he was in his 60s.  The bones match.

2.  No feet bones were discovered.  After Peter had been crucified (because he had been crucified upside down), it was believed that the way that they removed his body from the cross was by chopping off his feet.  Therefore, it makes sense that no feet bones would have been discovered with the rest of his body.

3.  We have very early references to the fact that Peter was buried near the place of his crucifixion, but until very recent years (mid-20th century), archeology was not considered very important so nothing was ever done to verify those claims.

4.   When archeologists were excavating the necropolis during the 1940s and 1950s, they came upon a tomb that had a great deal of “graffiti” on it including phrases such as, “Peter is here,” and “St. Peter, please pray for so and so,” and “Please bury my son as close as possible to the tomb of St. Peter,” and “St. Peter, please obtain the grace for such and such.”  St. Peter’s name appears over 20 times on the wall near his tomb.

5.  St. Peter's Basilica was built on this spot for a reason.  The Emperor Constantine originally had a church built here during the 4th century to honor the prince of the apostles (St. Peter).  That church remained until about the 16th century when the new (and current) St. Peter's Basilica was built.

There is a great deal more that could be said about this, but since I am quite uneducated about archeology and things like that, I’m going to stop there.  All I can say is that it was an amazing experience.  Our guide gave us time for prayer and silence, and we each had an opportunity to see the bones of St. Peter.

After this, the guided tour was pretty much over.  We were led to another part below St. Peter’s Basilica that holds many tombs of popes who have died.  We were free to walk around at our own pace, learning about the different popes and praying.  All in all, it was an amazing experience, and we are so grateful that we had the opportunity!

After the Scavi tour, we went and had lunch at a little Italian restaurant not far from St. Peter's.  It was delicious.  We relaxed for a bit after lunch, then jumped on the metro to get across town.  Our first stop was at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, in particular, the crypt below the church.  We had first heard about this crypt on Catholic Answers Live so we looked it up and thought it would be cool to go there.  It is commonly referred to as the 'Church of the Bones' because all of the chapels are "decorated" with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks.  Before going into the crypt, there was a pretty cool museum that talked all about the Capuchin order, and that was really interesting.  We learned a lot.  Before going into the crypt, I thought it was going to be pretty creepy, but I didn't really have that feeling at all.  It was interesting, and it was a good reminder of our mortality.

After the Church of the Bones, we walked a little way to the Trevi Fountain.  Since we saw it last time, we didn't think it was essential for us to go back here, but we decided that it was essential to go to the gelato place nearby :-)  And while we were in the area, we took a few pictures in front of the Trevi fountain and threw some coins in to ensure that we would go back to Rome someday :-)

After that, we walked some more to the Church of St. Ignatius (St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Aloysius Gonzaga are buried there), the Pantheon, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and a couple other churches that we stumbled upon along the way.  There are more than 800 churches in Rome so you don't have to walk far to find a church :-)

At this point, we decided to head back towards our hostel, and since we were staying so close to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, we timed it up so that we would make it there in time for Mass.  I think that this church is one of my personal favorites in Rome.  It's just beautiful inside and out, and it was amazing to be able to go to Mass there.  

After Mass, we made a quick stop at McDonald's for some cheesecake!  Delicious!  It's something that I really crave over here.  As we were walking back to our hostel, I called Sister Maria Josephina to talk about the Palm Sunday Mass.  She told me to meet the sisters at 6:30 the next morning.

We found the sisters without too much trouble.  We were introduced to the rest of their community, and then we spent the next hour or so getting to know them better as we waited to be allowed in to St. Peter's Square (Mass didn't start until 9:30, but if you wanted to get good seats, you had to be there early).  It was incredible getting to talk to these women.  One of my favorite things about Rome is seeing all of the priests and men and women religious.  It is so inspiring to see their "yes" to love and serve God totally by giving Him their whole lives.  

We ended up getting great seats (much better than when we attended the beatification Mass for Blessed John Paul II!!!) :-)  Mass was beautiful.  The procession with the palm branches, the readings, the prayers, everything was amazing.  And of course, it was incredible to be able to see our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.  It was so neat that our trip coincided perfectly with the beginning of Holy Week and so neat that we were able to go to Rome just a couple of weeks after the election of a new pope.  Thanks God!

After Mass, as expected, it was chaos trying to get out of St. Peter's.  We were trying to find a place to have lunch, but everything was packed.  We got on the metro to try to get away from the crowds, but all we found were more crowds.  Eventually, we headed back to St. Peter's because we still wanted to go inside the church.  When we got back to St. Peter's Square, there was a pretty long line to go through security, and we couldn't imagine standing that long (we were pretty exhausted at this point).  We found some chairs and sat down in the middle of the square for quite a while.  After we had regained some energy, we headed inside.  That church is magnificent!  We stayed in one place for a while just staring at the beauty.  They were getting ready to celebrate Mass so once Mass started we headed over to the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  It was the perfect way to end our trip to Rome, just sitting with the Lord in adoration.  At one point, we looked around the chapel and the chapel was filled with young men and women about our same age.  It was so beautiful to see that!  Many people today think that young people don't care about the faith or  that the Church needs to "get with the times" in order to attract the younger generations, but in reality, the Truth is attractive.  Young people today don't want some sort of watered-down, modernized version of Christianity.  They are hungering for orthodox teaching, guidance and leadership, unchanging truth, hope, and most importantly, a real encounter with Jesus in the Sacraments and in the Church that He founded.  It's a beautiful thing to be Catholic!  It is our prayer that everybody will come to experience the joy, beauty, and Truth of the Catholic faith.

We hope you enjoyed reading about our trip to Rome.  Here's some pictures to help tell the story better: 

Waiting for our bus to the catacombs.  We found out on the night we arrived (Thursday) that there was going to be a transportation strike on Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.  So in order to not have to walk all the way to the catacombs, we had to get up nice and early to catch the metro and this bus.

We made it to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.  The catacombs of St. Callixtus are some of the largest in Rome (4 levels and about 12 miles).  It is estimated that about 500,000 Christians were buried here.  These catacombs are particularly notable because many popes in the 3rd century were buried here.  Also, several saints and martyrs, including St. Cecilia, were buried here.

Walking towards the entrance...very peaceful

Holding some leaves to try to get the sheep to come near her...didn't work

After our visit to the catacombs, we walked a little further down the Appian Way to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.  We didn't go inside these catacombs, but we did go inside the big church that was built there (aptly named the Basilica of St. Sebastian).  

St. Sebastian lived during the 3rd century.  He was a Roman soldier and a Christian convert, but at that time, it was illegal to be a Christian.  St. Sebastian boldly proclaimed the faith, making many converts in his lifetime. It was later discovered that he was a Christian, and the emperor ordered that he be killed.  He was shot with arrows.  Here is where St. Sebastian is buried.  He was originally buried in the catacombs, but when the church was built, he was moved here.  

Walking down the Appian Way :-)  Since all of the bus drivers were on strike, we had to walk back to the city after we were finished at the catacombs.  This actually turned out to be a highlight of the trip.  It was a beautiful day, and the walk was relaxing (although a little dangerous at times because the street is rather narrow and there are no sidewalks) :-)

Inside the Church called "Domine, Quo Vadis?"  That is a Latin phrase that means, "Lord, where are you going?"  

Inside the Church of Domine, Quo Vadis?  This Church has a very cool story to go along with it.  Sometime in the mid-60's AD, the Christian persecution of Emperor Nero began to increase in intensity.  In order to escape the persecution, St. Peter decided to leave Rome.  As he was walking away from the city along the Appian Way, he encountered a vision of Jesus walking towards the city.  Peter asked Him, "Domine, quo vadis?" which means, "Lord, where are you going?"  Jesus answered, "I am going to Rome to be crucified anew."  This gave Peter the courage to turn around and go back into Rome where he was ultimately crucified by the order of Emperor Nero.  

At the front of the church, you can see a picture of Peter being crucified upside down.  Tradition tells us that St. Peter asked to be crucified upside down because he did not feel worthy to be crucified like the Lord.  Here is a quote about St. Peter's martyrdom that was in the church:  "When he reached the cross, Peter said: My Lord Jesus Christ who came down to earth from heaven, was crucified on the earth with the cross standing upright, and now he deigns to call me, who come from earth, to heaven.  For this reason, my cross must be placed upside down, so that my steps may point towards heaven.  I am not worthy to be crucified like my Lord."

Directly opposite of the picture of Peter is a picture of Our Lord's crucifixion

Jen loves touching ancient things :-)

Almost back to the city.  Here we are in front of Circo Massimo.  Circo Massimo was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome.  Today it is a public park.

Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth) - The legend has it that the Mouth of Truth is sort of like a lie detector.  If you put your hand into the mouth and you tell a lie, the mouth will bite your hand off!

Inside the smallest church in Rome (or at least that's what we were told).  It's a tiny little chapel below the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  St. Cyril was buried here for a time, but his body was later moved to the Basilica of San Clemente.

Looking out over the Roman Forum

Outside of the Mamertine Prison.  It is believed that this is where St. Peter and St. Paul were imprisoned for a time.  Last time we were in Rome, we went inside the prison so we were able to see what sort of environment they had to endure.

Walking towards the Colosseum

Outside of the Colosseum

Jen writing a "secret note" for my Dad and my brother who will be going to Rome in a couple of months

This picture is supposed to be the "map" for them to find the note :-)

The Basilica of San Clemente is built on top of a well-preserved 4th century church.  You can go down below the main church to see these ancient excavations.

Inside the Basilica of San Clemente.  It's a little difficult to see in this picture, but the main image above the altar is a crucifix with vines growing out from it.  This beautiful Christian imagery depicts the cross as the Tree of Life.  "I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me, you can do nothing."  -John 15:5

Inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. John Lateran.  Every diocese in the world has one cathedral.  In Rome, this is it.  The word 'cathedral' comes from the Latin word 'cathedra' which means "throne" or "elevated seat".  Since the Pope is technically the Bishop of Rome, this is the Pope's sort of "home" church.  

Outside of St. John Lateran

Inside a kebab place near St. Mary Major.  We ate here a couple of years ago when we were in Rome, and we remembered it being pretty good so we made it a point to go back this time around.  Jen left a secret note for my Dad and my brother under this table.  

In the 'confessio' (the sunken area in front of the papal altar) in the Basilica of St. Mary Major, there is a relic of the Holy Crib.  St. Jerome, the great Scripture scholar and Doctor of the Church, is also buried here.

Jen in front of St. Peter's Basilica

Jen with a couple of the Swiss guards :-)

Walking alongside of St. Peter's Basilica on our way to the Scavi tour office

After checking in for our Scavi tour which was AMAZING!  Definitely in the top 3 things that we did on this trip.  St. Peter, pray for us!

We found an Italian restaurant that we really we ate there twice on our trip.

Taking a quick nap after lunch.  We woke up earlier and earlier each morning we were in Rome.  There's so much to see and do, and we didn't want to miss anything!  But we did have to take a few breaks to rest throughout the day :-)

Inside the 'Church of the Bones' - it's a crypt below the Church of the Immaculate Conception which is "decorated" with the bones of over 4,000 Capuchin monks.  Upon entering the crypt, there is a sign that says, "What you are now, we used to be.  What we are now, you will be."  It is a good reminder that we are all going to die someday, and none of us know when.

Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain.  The legend says that if you throw a coin into the fountain, you will be sure to return to Rome.  It worked the first time...hopefully it works again ;-)

Getting a gelato.  We exercised much better self-control on this trip than we did on the last :-)

In front of the Pantheon.  The Pantheon dates back to 125 AD.  It was originally an ancient temple dedicated to "all the gods," hence the name "pan theos."  When it was converted to a church, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs.  Today, the official name of this church is Santa Maria ad Martyres, but it is still commonly known as the Pantheon.

Inside the Pantheon

Taking another break.  My legs had had about enough.

On the side of the Pantheon

Inside the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  This church has that name because it was built directly on the foundation of a temple to the pagan goddess, Minerva.  In the 8th century, the ruined temple was "Christianized", and a church was built in honor of the Virgin Mary.

St. Catherine of Siena is buried here.  Jen chose St. Catherine as her Confirmation saint when she was confirmed a few years ago so she was excited to come here when we discovered that St. Catherine's body was in Rome.  We were in Siena a few years ago so we knew that St. Catherine's head was in Siena, but we didn't know where the rest of her body was buried.  Now we know :-)  (If the idea of relics seems strange to you, feel free to read a little more about it in this very short article: .  The last section of the article talks specifically about relics in Holy Scripture.)

On the bus trying to save our legs - we couldn't walk anymore!

Rome has so many ruins and excavation sites - sometimes we have no idea what we're even looking at, but it's still amazing to see it.  This was one of those times :-)

Waiting for the subway.  This time in Rome, we were able to make our way around without any problems.  It definitely felt like we had been there before so that's nice.  It allowed us to do/see a lot more since we didn't waste time getting lost :-)

The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Enjoying the beauty before Mass started

Jen and St. Paul

After Mass

With our new friends, Sister Maria Josephina and Sister Maria Rosa and thousands of others :-)

Waiting for Mass to start

Everybody raising their palm branches and olive branches so that Pope Francis could bless them.

There was a big procession from outside of the colonnade toward the obelisk in the middle of St. Peter's Square.  Here, we read the Gospel reading about Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey while the people laid palm branches on the ground in front of him while singing "Hosanna."  "On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."  -John 12:12-13  After the reading, they processed again towards the altar in front of St. Peter's.

After Mass had ended, Pope Francis rode around the square.  All of the people were standing on their chairs, chanting, and waving flags.

Here is the group of nuns that gave us tickets and allowed us to sit with them....sweet, sweet people!

Sister Maria Rosa and Sister Maria Josephina

Hanging out in St. Peter's Square...really needing a nap :-)

About to go inside of St. Peter's

Matthew 16:18 "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Standing outside of the Basilica of St. Peter's with St. Peter's Square behind us

During our Scavi tour, we learned that the seashell is a Christian symbol of baptism.  Holy water fonts inside Catholic churches are often shaped like seashells.  Drawings of seashells can be found in many of the Christian catacombs throughout Rome.

St. Peter with the keys to the kingdom.  Pope Francis, the 265th successor of St. Peter, now has the keys.

"Habemus Pizza!"  We liked the name of this restaurant because 'Habemus' is a Latin word that means "We have."  When a new pope is elected, one of the cardinals announces from the balcony in St. Peter's Square, "Habemus Papam!" or "We have a pope!"  Famous words :-)

Enjoying our last meal in Rome.  After a nice meal, we realized that we had not really managed our time well so we went into full out hustle mode trying to get to the metro, change lines, run to the hostel, grab our bags, run back to the metro, and ultimately catch our shuttle to the airport.  It was a stressful way to finish up, but it was pretty funny once we realized we were going to make it in time.

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