Hello from Florence, Italy!
As some of you know, I started my semester abroad adventure almost three weeks ago! SO much has happened in the first three weeks that I figured it was time to catch up…and I finally figured out why my computer wouldn’t upload any of my pictures into this post 🙂
I cannot even describe the excitement of flying into Rome. The sun was just rising in this beautiful country and I had two hilarious Italian guys sitting next to me who were trying to explain EVERYTHING about Italy to me in their broken English…talk about a welcome to Rome!
We met up with a couple other Benedictine students and then headed to our residence in Rome. In an effort to keep us all awake, Fr. Scott (an awesome priest who lives in Florence and ministers to all the American students studying abroad) took us into the city for a bit. We saw a lot in just a few hours including the Basilica Di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri and the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.
The next morning we woke up to get a better look at the city of Rome itself by first heading to a hillside with an amazing view of the city. We then continued on to the normal tourist stops including: the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon with a quick stop at a gelato stop with 150 different flavors. One of my favorite moments of the trip so far was in that shop. One of the employees was scooping gelato when he looked up to see a group of 70 German kids walking in and quickly exclaimed “MAMMA MIA”. I still laugh thinking about how “Italian” that moment was. 🙂
Then we headed to what I was most looking forward to: THE VATICAN. There’s no way to explain the feeling of walking up to St. Peter’s Square, especially after learning about it in Catholic school my whole life (not to mention it’s the center of the religion I love so dearly). I knew I would probably cry and I was entirely right.
After eating our sack lunches in St. Peter’s Square, we went on a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica led by Fr. Scott. It was wonderful to have him with us because not only did he give us historical background to what we were seeing, but he turned it into a spiritual journey as well, connecting everything to our spiritual lives…as it should be.
My second favorite moment: walking in the Holy Doors (because WOW we were blessed to visit while they were open due to being in the Year of Mercy) and seeing everyone taking pictures of something to my right. As I walked closer I saw what they were in awe of: the Pieta, which is one of my favorite statues ever. I had no idea I would see it immediately when I walked in and I’m so thankful for this because the surprise made seeing it so much more special.
Okay well that was just day one (or two I guess)! Day three I spent my 20th birthday touring the Roman Forum and Colosseum. We were excited to be the first group from BC to see the first Christian chapel called Santa Maria Antiqua inside of the Roman Forum since the exhibit just opened after being under excavation since sometime in the 80’s!
Day four was another amazing experience for a cradle Catholic because we went to the Wednesday Papal Audience!! As we were standing in line, Fr. Scott advised us “just run to a barricade…this is the one time you’re allowed to not act like a Christian” ;), so sure enough as soon as I got in I booked it with two other girls and we got seats on the barricade!!! Again, as expected, I cried as Papa passed us…I tried to get a close picture but when he drove right past me, I just had to put the camera down and enjoy the moment.
The next day a group of us woke up early with Fr. Scott to see if we could get an altar in St. Peter’s Basilica for mass. We have all jokingly described that experience as “Catholic Black Friday” as we couldn’t help but laugh about the way all the priests tried to kindly skip each other in line to be the first to ask for an open altar. But it worked out for us because Fr. Scott got us an altar in the crypt of St. Peter’s! Later on, we went to the Vatican Museums to see many things including the Sistine Chapel, again an amazing moment after learning about it my entire life, and ended the day with the Scavi Tour underneath St. Peter’s.
On day six, our group from Benedictine College got to discover our roots by visiting the Benedictine monasteries in Montecassino and Subiaco. Montecassino was the location of St. Benedict’s first monastery. It was destroyed in a bombing however in World War II, so the current building is an exact replica of the original. The monastery in Subiaco is built into the mountain where St. Benedict lived as a hermit in a cave for three years of his life. Both were amazing places with beautiful views of the Italian countryside.
We had a free day on Saturday, but a group of us went to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian and then Fr. Scott celebrated the Mass of Martyrs for us in a chapel above the catacombs, giving us an awesome perspective on the blessing of being able to freely go to mass.
Then, our final full day in Rome was what helped many of us decide to study abroad this specific semester by having the opportunity to attend the canonization of SAINT Teresa of Calcutta, a truly once in a lifetime experience that I know none of us will ever forget. Again it was somewhat of a “Catholic Black Friday” as we all did any thing just to get into the square. We all made it, anxiously stood for three hours in the heat, then witnessed a beautiful historical event. There was so much joy in St. Peter’s on Sunday that I tear up just thinking about it, and really that’s all I can say about it. There is so much that happened but there’s no way to explain it in writing. All I can say is it was incredibly joyful and that the Universal Catholic Church is AWESOME.
And well, now we are in Florence starting to get used to everyday life of classes, looking outside and seeing the Duomo at every turn, and trying to figure out what the two daily communicants in the local church are saying during morning mass.
More to come about our first few weeks in Florence. Most of us spent the first weekend exploring our new home and the whole region of Tuscany, but I’m going to do one post about last weekend in Florence and this next weekend in Venice! For now please keep us in your prayers!
St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pray for us!
(Future posts will be much shorter, but Rome was just a week full of awesome things!! NEXT STOP: Venice!)