I am in Rome. After a flight cancellation, delayed luggage, and a fairly typical (read: nail-biting) taxi ride from Fiumincino airport to my new residence, I arrived at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas at about 1700 (5pm for us non-Europeans), just over 24 hours after Nancy dropped me off at SeaTac. Just in time for a brief tour, a moment to admire the view from my room, and a short nap before venturing to the nearby church of Santa Maria in Domenica for Mass and then dinner with the other residents.
With this blog I hope to regularly update family, friends, and insomniac internet wanderers as to my life in the Eternal City, as well as to provide reflections on the courses, research and other theological or ecclesiastical goings on. My intent is to save your inboxes but keep in touch, and to provide either catechesis or opportunity for theological discussion, depending on the reader. Please feel free to respond publicly or privately! I’m looking forward to a view of the church from Rome, though I have a long way to go on my Italian before it becomes unfiltered!
Some initial observations:
Technology: I am seriously considering investing in trans-Atlantic homing pigeons and a stock of quill pens. Our wireless connection at the residence has only worked for a few hours a couple of times over the last week and a half, apparently because of some issue with the electricity – twice the routers have been fried by the electrical system in the monastery! Likewise, the wireless at the Angelicum University has not been connected to the internet any time I have tried it, but I was able to ‘borrow’ a cable from a physics conference on campus last week. Not that it mattered too much, as my laptop crashed literally the first time I turned it on in Rome. Thankfully my files were backed up, but I left some important software backups at home, like my Italian lessons from Rosetta Stone…
Liturgy: My first Sunday Eucharist was the Pontifical Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for the opening of the Synod of Bishops for Africa. If you’ve been there, you know San Pietro is “in the round”, albeit in a cruciform shape, with the altar in the center – much like St. Brendan’s in Bothell. And, like St Brendan, the presider (in this case the Holy Father) was able to celebrate both ad orientem and versus populum, simultaneously. That is, to face east, one must also face the largest section of the assembly in the long nave adjacent to the piazza. Communion was taken in the hand, along the center aisle, with the Eucharistic ministers moving back and forth between about five or six rows. The cup was not offered, and we stood during the Eucharistic prayer. The mass parts were in Latin, given the international character of the liturgy, but readings in English and Portuguese, with prayers in the languages of Africa, from Ge’ez and Arabic to Swahili and French. Most other liturgy has been in the community; more on that momentarily.
Diet, Exercise, and Environment: The university is just about a 35 minute walk from our residence, and the Centro Pro Unione (Center for Union), which serves as the library for my department, is another 30 minute walk beyond that. Though, as I walk around in my shorts and shirtsleeves sweating enough to flood the colloseo, I no doubt stand out like a sore thumb, as the Romans are all dressed in black, some wearing coats already, all in long pants, and never seem to break a sweat. It must be 75 and its very humid, but apparently it’s a big relief from summer! As for food, I have never eaten so well in my life! After just a few days, I actually feel healthier. Even the cappuccino seems fresher, smaller, and less addictive.
I also really appreciate the pausa – or siesta – the break from about 12:30-3:30pm which is especially necessary on hot days. You just cannot get anything done in the heat, so why not nap, and save your energy for the more active evening time? So classes are held 830-12:30, then 3:30-7:30, and many businesses are on similar hours.
To orient yourself to my daily route, look at a map of Rome (google maps is good), start just south of the Colloseo at the monastery of Sts. John and Paul (on the site of the Temple of Claudius), follow Via Claudia north along the east side of the colloseo, then along the Via dei Fori Imperiali past the Foro Romano and the Foro Augusto to the Monument for Vittorio Emmanuele II. Turn right at Trajan’s Column, up the stairs to the church of Santi Domenico e Sisto – that’s the Angelicum “campus”. From there to the Centro Pro Unione, head back west and somewhat north to the Piazza Navona, passing the Church of the Gesù, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and the Pantheon if you like. Just behind the Palace Pamphilj, the Society of the Atonement has their headquarters and the Centro. Rest assured, I have already been shown the famous Gellateria La Palma nearby!
Community: I am staying at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, which has an interesting history. Foyer Unitas was originally founded in 1962 by a small Dutch religious order of women known as the Ladies of Bethany as a house of hospitality for any non-Catholic in Rome, just off the Piazza Navona in the same building as the Centro Pro Unione. The Lay Centre is the brainchild of Dr. Donna Orsuto and Riekie van Velzen, who had been connected to the Foyer Unitas, as a college for those of us coming to Rome who did not quite fit in to the ecclesiastical residences. The NAC, for example, houses only seminarians and priests, leaving religious to live with their orders, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, along with other lay students, to fend for themselves. Founded in 1986, it was housed first at Foyer Unitas (hence the name) and then in the English College, the Irish College, and now at the Passionist Monastery of Sts. John and Paul.
We are 21 residents this year, from Albania, Canada, Germany, Greece, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Serbia, Turkey, and the U.S. Three Muslims, three Eastern Orthodox, an Anglican, and the rest of us are Catholic. We have a medical doctor, a lawyer, and a nurse all studying for new vocations. Breakfast and lunch are self serve during the week, with dinner at 7:45 followed by Compline (night prayer). Wednesdays are our community nights, with mass at 7:00pm followed by dinner and usually a presentation. During our first several days, we’ve had brief presentations during dinner each night, and a day of reflection on Sunday. We’ve already had some orientation to community life from a Jesuit, a Benedictine, an Augustinian, and a Marist, in addition to our director (Donna Orsuto) and assistant (Robert White).
The location is a profound blessing. We are in the historical center or Rome, within the Aurelian walls, but with large enough private gardens that we are removed from the street noise – something unheard of almost anywhere else in the city. We sit on top of one of the famous Seven Hills of Rome, Monte Celio, and my bedroom window looks right down on the Foro Romano, the Colloseum, and the Capitoline Hill with the Monument for Vittorio Emanuele. From our patio ledge, we can see the dome of San Pietro.