Ok, so I'm finally back from all of my travels. Praise God first and foremost that throughout our journey no one got lost, injured, or pick-pocketed! Our travel was safe and it seemed like everyone had a great experience.
Before you ask, I haven't even begun to download my pictures yet. The most common question that I have been asked so far is probably the hardest one to answer in thirty seconds or less: "So, what did you guys see when you were over there?" Let me see if I can give a summary that leaves you longing to see my pictures (...gee, I really hope that most of them turned out!).
We started off in London where we in broad strokes reviewed the history of Christianity, and particularly of the Reformation, in England. To do this we visited the National Portrait Gallery and got a visual history of the Tudor dynasty and those that followed it. We visited the Tower of London and Tyburn convent, where thousands of Christians were murdered for being on the wrong side of the Catholic-Protestant divide (which side was the wrong side depending on who was in power at the time). We visited Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral (both Anglican) to see "High Anglican" churches at their finest (even if one of them is a former Catholic monastery). We visited John Wesley's house and learned about the history of Methodism. We prayed at the splendid Brompton Oratory, as well as at the tombs of St. Thomas More, St. Edward the Confessor, and at the martyrdom site of St. Thomas Beckett. We visited Oxford to see Bl. John Henry Newman's old stomping ground and Canterbury, the very place where Christianity began in England. We also enjoyed contemporary culture in London, enjoying plays and musicals on a couple of evenings. I also enjoyed exploring some of the most charming pubs in London (more on these "walking tours" later). If it wasn't for the dreadful weather (cold and damp most days), I would have loved to stay longer. Alas, to Rome!
In Rome... well, in Rome it felt like we saw it all. If there was a theme it probably was, "From Constantine to High Baroque in Ten Days." We began by exploring the ruins of the Roman Forum (i.e. the splendor of Constantinian Rome) and continued to explore basilica after basilica... so much so that the nuances between Renaissance and Baroque styles of architecture started to become abundantly clear. We explored the architectural "duelling banjos" that was splendidly played out throughout Rome between Borromini and Bernini (let's just say that Bernini won that duel). Once we were cross-eyed with the High Roman Baroque, we toured Florence for something completely different... the Renaissance. After many of these tours I found myself playing the line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off in my head:
Ferris: Cameron, what have you seen today?
Cameron: Nothing good.
Ferris: Nothing good? Wha... what do you mean nothing good? We've seen everything good. We've seen the whole city! We went to a museum, we saw priceless works of art. We ate pancreas!
Side note: Google "borghese gallery" and "bernini"... most incredible sculptures ever! Then Google "trippa romana" and figure out what "trippa" really is... I ate that. Once you've done that you'll know why this quote was so prominent in my head :)
We toured the beautiful hill town of Assisi and I was able to complete my pilgrimage to Turin... which brings me to my most important point. We were able to pray in front of the tombs of many our Christian heritage's greatest saints: Saints Peter and Paul (I saw Peter's bones!), Saint Francis and Saint Clare, Saint Lawrence and Saint Cecilia, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Timothy, Saint Monica and the soon to be beatified John Paul II among many others. Two places were of particular interest to me: first, I climbed the stairs (on my knees, because that's the only way they let you do it) that Jesus climbed to meet Pontius Pilate in the Praetorium before where he was condemned to death; second, I was able to pray before the tomb of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom I looked to for help while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. It was truly moving to pray before his tomb in Turin, since I have been devoted to him for so long.
We also saw the Pope, of course, and ate lots of pizza, pasta, and gelato and drank our fair share of wine. Oh, and did I mention that it was 50-60 degrees and sunny every day we were there? I was sooo tempted to ditch the group and become a gypsy king just so I could stay in that perfect weather for a little while longer. Alas, I could not overcome my sense of duty and I returned home with the group. But that's not all...
Two days later, we were in vans heading to Washington D.C. to March for Life on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in our country. Given my weariness with travelling, I really had no interest in going, but God's grace helped me to offer my tiny sufferings for all of those babies who have been murdered and the men and women whose lives have been permanently disfigured by abortion. Once again, hundreds of thousands of men and women, many of them youth from throughout the country, converged to stand in protest of the unjust laws protecting abortion as a right in our country. While laws protecting abortion are nothing to be proud of, we should all be proud of our country and the freedom we enjoy to speak out against our government when we feel justice is being ignored. I carried the Stars and Stripes during the March and felt proud to do so.
If I can describe all of these adventures in a nutshell it is in two words: blessings and grace. I have been truly blessed to have seen all that I have seen and to have come in contact with so much of our Catholic history, especially as I prepare to be ordained to the transitional diaconate in the spring. Grace has touched me throughout all of this (both in joy and sorrow) and I will be unpacking it all for months, I'm sure. I will try to share some of the specific blessings and graces with you here as I do.
Thank you for all of you who prayed for us as we traveled. They were felt! Stay tuned for more soon. Ciao!