Travel: Italy (Days Ten and Eleven)

The last two days have been remarkable in all that I’ve seen but also in who I’ve been “with”.

We began yesterday with a taxi ride that took us about 3 miles from our apartment to the Borghese Museum and you’re thinking, “How fabulous,” but I left Heidi and Scott to view the magnificent pieces there, because I was on a mission. I continued on northwest for another mile, which led me through the park and then a very upscale neighborhood and finally to Our Lady of Peace, Prelatic Church of Opus Dei. Entering, I took one flight of stairs down and came to the chapel where the mortal remains of St. Josemaria Escriva are held until the Great Day or Our Lord.

I went up and sat on the right at the front and spent time in prayer with this great Saint and then prayed my Rosary.

After my time here, I headed back to the museum to meet my friends and then take another cab ride (about three miles) to the Appia Antica Caffe for lunch and then a walk down the Appian Way to the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.

The Appian Way was one of the earliest Roman roads and very strategic with construction beginning around the year 312 b.c. The stones you see here are the original and in places you can see where the ruts have cut into them. It is also very likely that Peter and Paul would have traveled this very road and also where Peter is said to have had a vision of Jesus and asked him, “Domine quo Vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”) You’ll be able to find the entire story if you don’t already know it.

The road led us to the Catacombs where we took the tour leading us down into the tombs. Until Constantine was Emperor, Christians were not allowed to be buried inside the city walls, so the catacombs provided such a place. There are no pictures allowed, so I’ve pulled some from the internet. There are 12 km of tunnels under the church and an estimated 65,000 people were buried here. I couldn’t help myself from touching the walls and soil. Many of the people buried here were some of the earliest Christians in Rome. In addition, when the barbarians were sacking Rome, the remains of both Peter and Paul were brought to these catacombs for safekeeping. We know this because of the graffiti on the walls, many of which reference the two Apostles… amazing!

Finally, another taxi took us to the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and the tomb of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. I could not believe how empty the church was compared to the Vatican, but it does require a bit of an effort to get to. You are able to see exactly where Paul was buried.

That’s me about to get my head lopped off by Paul.

I was fascinated with the columns in this place.

That ended our day with the exception of a really nice meal out and when in Italy you’ve got to eat Italian and the Ravioli and wine were wonderful.

Today was another early day and I went back to the Vatican for the tour of the dome. Heidi and Scott had taken this one before, so we went in different directions.

To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about this because of the number of steps involved and I do confess to being a wee bit winded at the top, but I did make it and the view was spectacular.

This is a view from the lower rim of the dome looking through a wire safety mesh into the church below.

After coming back down, I had one final stop to make and after a little research last night, I knew where to find him: Pope John Paul II. You come across the tombs of so many great people, but then, like with Escriva, you come across one of your heroes and the world kind of stops.

The Rosary meant so much to him that today I stopped in the midst of all the crowds and prayed mine. So moving to be so close.

At this point my legs were jello and the crowds were massive, so I made my way back to the apartment where I’ve spent the remainder of the day napping and reading. I’m fixing supper tonight, so I’m off to do that, but one final thought: I keep talking about praying with these great Saints, but remember that some of the other great saints are your friends and your family. Take time to pray with them as well.

I’ve no idea what’s on the radar for tomorrow, so it will be a surprise to us all. Blessings.


Travel: Italy (Day Nine)

Today was the Vatican and there was so much that it is difficult to know where to begin. The morning was a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and the afternoon was a tour of the Scavi (below the main altar of St. Peter’s). You are not allowed to take pictures of the Sistine or the Scavi, so the ones I have were pulled from the internet. I just want to show you what I saw and will comment a few times along the way.

The room dedicated to the pronouncement of the Immaculate Conception of Mary along with the supporting documents in multiple languages.
Look closely and you will see the conquest of Christianity over paganism.
The Transfiguration by Raphael. You see Jesus being transfigured in the upper half and the boy who was demon possessed in the lower right that Jesus would come and heal following the Transfiguration. The Disciples are on the bottom left and were unable to heal the boy.
The Sistine Chapel… “Can we talk?” There is so much more going on here than I was aware of. Our tour guide was brilliant in helping me to understand parts of it, but it is definitely worth more time in study. Jesus, Moses, Heaven, hell, Saints, Prophets… I was not here long enough to pray my Rosary but I prayed as much of it as I could before we were ushered out. Yes… I prayed a Rosary in the Sistine Chapel and I felt it. Amazing.

I exited the Vatican at this point and hooked up with Heidi and Scott for lunch. Lunch was nothing to take a picture of but it did fill the hungry zone. We wandered for an hour and then returned to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Necropolis (aka – Scavi). These are the catacombs below St. Peter’s that go back to the time before Christ and come forward to the time of Constantine.

It is a fascinating piece of history where you can begin to see the transition from Paganism to Christianity, but after walking through the narrow hallways and low arches…

…you arrive at a darker area where you peer through glass to a small niche about ten feet away and there in an unadorned brass/bronze box are twenty-two bones belonging to The Rock, St. Peter. The inscription above reads, Petros Eni (Greek) translated, “Peter Lies Within”. I teared up then and I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. Catholic/Protestant, the roots of our Faith are rooted deeply in this place.

We returned through to the surface by walking through the grotto where the remains of so many Popes are in interned and came into the Basilica of St. Peter. It is just… I got nothin’. I’m so glad that I get to go back on Friday because I just wasn’t ready to take more in. I was spiritually fried after being so close to one who had been so near to Jesus.

Tomorrow will likely prove to be as moving. I will be visiting the tomb of St. Josemaria Escriva in the morning and St. Paul in the afternoon. I’ll think about that then. For now, I will leave you with a picture of the Queen who is apparently doing quite well.

St. Peter may have his throne but this Queen is the one that currently rules. She is eating well and doing well.

May the Lord bless you all.

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