I thought I knew why I came to Rome. I thought it would be a nice break to get away before the onslaught of Lent and Easter at the parish. I thought I would reward myself with an overseas trip on someone else’s dime. I suppose God had other plans. God always has other plans. And God is not obligated to tell me about them.
I landed in Rome an hour ahead of schedule on Friday, 25 January. I didn’t sleep well on the plane as I used to, must be a sign my traveling days are coming to a close, but must not let that stop me, not yet anyway. Br. Ephrem SDB (he was a couple of years ahead at the Salesian College Seminary in Canlubang, Laguna, Philippines) met me and with Br. Giuseppe (who only spoke Italian) we drove to the Salesianum on Via della Pisana (the Salesian Generalate, home to the order’s major superiors) where I would be staying through Monday. I met some of the local community and some of the superior council. I joined them for meals. I walked the grounds. It made me miss the freedom that comes with having a car, knowing your way around, not being dependent on someone else’s schedule. I suppose that’s not a bad thing entirely, especially at a time like this, when I’m supposed to be resting my body and renewing my spirit. While staying at the Salesianum, Br. Ephrem took me to see the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, the Pyramid (yes, there is a famous one in Rome), the Dominican University — Angelicum, and join a community of Franciscan sisters from Indonesia for lunch on Sunday.
I arrived at the Pontifical North American College on Monday, 28 January, with three other priests who had been picked up at the airport. It was a rainy day. We were welcomed by Msgr. Anthony Figueiredo, the program director. After finding my room at the Casa O’Toole, home of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education, I looked out my window and this is what I saw: the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew we were close. I didn’t know I would live in Rome for three weeks with a view like this.
Tuesday, 29 January, we headed out to St. Peter’s on foot for our opening liturgy in the Chapel of the Lithuanian Martyrs, in the Grottoes, just a few steps away from the tomb of St. Peter. After mass, we had some official group pictures to take: at the crèche inside the basilica, at the crèche out in the piazza, and individual pictures for the institute directory. We then made our way back to the PNAC for our first orientation at 10:30am.
Since most of the institute participants were staying for the entire 3 month long program, we had to be oriented to many aspects of life here at the Casa O’Toole: matters administrative and practical, where to exchange money, where to do laundry, where to pick up and send off care packages from home, the fitness center, the playing fields, the various chapels, the dining room. Then we were introduced to the seminary program. We were taken on a tour of the main building by seminarians, met the seminary faculty, and joined them for lunch (pranzo) in their huge dining room.
The next day, we rose early again and headed to St. Peter’s for the general audience with the Holy Father at 10:30am in the Paul VI auditorium. I haven’t been saluted by Swiss guards as much since I was last in Rome last summer! We had great seats, three and four rows from the front. I took an aisle seat and was able to take wonderful close-up shots of the Holy Father.
We didn’t have a lot more on the schedule. We began our spiritual retreat later that afternoon with conferences given by Msgr. Gerry Vincke from the college. Meanwhile, I have volunteered to play the guitar to accompany the singing at mass. Have guitar, will play!