Editor's Note: Here is Part Four of the Italy Trip...sorry for the late post! Kevin provides info on days three through five, with a few pics to boot.
After Mass, we headed over to the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, which contains many important relics of the crucifixion. In particular, we saw pieces of the true cross, thorns from the crown, and some of the nails that held Christ to the cross. There is also a replica of the Shroud of Turin, where it is believed you can see the image of Christ on his burial shroud. I saw it once before, but this time I was surprised that I could actually make out a faint outline of his face...truly incredible.
Next up was Scala Santa (the Holy Stairs). These are the stairs that Christ walked up and down on Good Friday to stand before Pilate. When Constantine legalized Christianity, his mother, St. Helena, had the stairs brought over from the Holy Land to Rome...can you imagine lugging all those marble stairs all that way? They now sit enclosed in a building to protect them from the elements, and the stairs themselves are covered with wood so the thousands of pilgrims climbing up them will not damage them. Since you have to climb the stairs on your knees, praying at every step, it can take some time and be painful. Let's just say the crew (who had climbed the stairs before...except Maureen) wasn't too excited to repeat the experience. Well, except for Ryan. However once Lino saw that most of our group had done it, he caved to peer pressure and followed suit. My wife had bruises on her legs within hours of climbing the stairs, but according to her it was well worth it.
Then we hit St. John Lateran...well, we didn't hit the church, but we did visit it. The church is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist, and is named after the Lateran family. It is the seat of the diocese of Rome, and is the seat for the bishop of Rome (the Holy Father)...so in reality St. John's is more important than St. Peter's, as odd as it is to hear someone say that. Anyway, it's a beautiful church, with giant statues of the apostles lining the inside of the church. The heads of Peter and Paul are present (though not visible) at the top of the baldachino, and the table believed to be used at the Last Supper is in one of the naves. Really amazing to see.
That afternoon, we visited the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. We all thought it would be nice to spend the afternoon indoors in air conditioning. Unfortunately, they apparently don't use air conditioning at the Vatican Museums, so our three hour tour (insert Gilligan joke here) was very hot, very tiring, and just felt miserable. Lino tried to cool himself off by rolling up the legs of his jeans into shorts, which was a really, um, "great" look. I put a picture of it on Facebook and tagged Lino if you want to see his "classy" jean shorts. Anyway, the rest of us tried to keep cool however we could. I think I can speak for most of the group when I say that by the time we got to the most important and beautiful parts of the museum - the oldPapal apartments painted by Raphael and the Sistine Chapel - we were too hot and tired to really care. It sounds bad, but you have no idea how hot it was! We did get a few, illicit photos of the Sistine Chapel though.
After all that fun, Lino and Fr. Rob announced they would be walking to dinner in town if anyone wanted to join them. Of course many of us wanted to. Fr. Rob kept telling us it would be a 30-35 minute walk. We got started almost 30 minutes late because Mr. Rulli decided he needed his beauty sleep more than he needed to be on time...and then the walk took more like an hour than 35 minutes! The entire walk, Fr. Rob kept talking about the carbonara, and how we all must order it. Imagine listening to him repeating himself over and over in his Brooklyn accent saying "carbonara". Hilarious! (He was right though...Norvina (my wife) said it was excellent.) Anyway, since we didn't have a big group reservation, we got split up into several groups of 6-8 people. Lucky us, we ended up having dinner with Lino and Maureen! Aside from the fact that I was feeling terrible and kept having to excuse myself to get some air, it was really fun. I think the best way I can sum up the conversation is that listening to Lino and Maureen talk felt like a live, in-person version of the show. Great fun! They were both very personable, funny, and just generally great to hang out with. Their on-air personalities don't seem like schtick...it seems to basically reflect how they are in "real life". It was also great to see that Lino, as successful and popular as he is (and let's not forget the 3 Emmy awards!) is still down to earth and just a regular dude...who happens to be Catholic.
We started day 4 with Mass with Fr. Rob at Santa Maria Maggiore, the fourth major basilica of Rome. It's the largest church in the world dedicated to Mary, and was built after the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream and said that snow would fall in August, and in that location where the snow fell, a church should be built. As you can probably guess, snow did fall in the middle of August, and the church was built there. The most important relic at the basilica are pieces of wood from the crib of Christ...pretty cool!
After Mass we headed back out into the heat (with Fr. Rob in his collar no less...which I'm sure he was none too thrilled about) to visit the Roman Forumand the Colliseum. It's amazing to see what the Romans could do so long ago and that it's still more or less standing today. The Colliseum in particular is amazing. It's simply huge, and when built held 55,000 people. More than 2,000 years later, it's still there and though not in perfect condition of course, is still used from time to time for concerts and such. Really amazing.
The last bit of sightseeing for the day was a visit to St. Peter's. Since the line to get in was so long when we finished the Colliseum, Lino and company decided to adjust the schedule and give us some free time, with the plan to visit later in the day when it's less crowded. I'm sure you can guess that when we arrived later, it was not any less crowded... While we waited in line, Fr. Rob gave us a very thorough history of St. Peter's Square, and had a little "bet" with Lino in the process about who built the fountains. Tune in to the show next week to see who won! Unfortunately, although they normally allow tours inside the basilica until 5pm, they apparently decided "not today" and told Fr. Rob he couldn't lead a tour. And he was even in his collar! He was a good sport and tried to subtly continue to inform us of key information about the basilica, as did Lino. Oh...and while in line to enter the basilica, yet another "incident" occurred that will be talked about for sure during next week's shows. Only this time instead of Fr. Rob, it involved one Mr. Angelo Rulli. Tune in to Sirius 159/XM 117 to hear more!
The day ended with a group dinner at a restaurant near the famous Piazza Navona. There were some "bus issues" getting there that could only happen inItaly. And we managed to forget Ryan...these Catholic Channel guys and their beauty sleep! He caught up to us at the restaurant though. We had no main course, just 16 appetizers, coming in rapid-fire. This time we got to sit with Maureen and Fr. Rob. That was a good time! Fr. Rob is absolutely hilarious and a great dude. I couldn't stop laughing most of the dinner.
After dinner we went on a group night walk. First stop was Piazza Navona to see all the artististic folk, listen to music, and enjoy the fountain and lights. Next up was a Gelato shop near the Pantheon with a ridiculous number of flavors - 100 to be exact. I'd say most people enjoyed it. We then saw the Pantheon, an old pagan temple that is now a Catholic church...but it's under renovation and half-covered in scaffolding, so not a great photo op. From there we wandered over to the famous Trevi Fountain, where superstition has it that if you toss a coin over your left shoulder with your right hand into the fountain, you'll return to Rome. Superstition or not, I think we all did the toss. Finally, we walked over to the Spanish Steps. Not much to say about them...they're just steps in front of the Spanish Embassy. From there it was back to the hotel except for those that wanted to hit the bars.
Day 5 started with another "bus issue" that can only happen in Italy, so we were delayed a couple hours leaving Rome. The group made the most of the situation though, as Julie played piano while everyone sang along. Lino even took a quick turn at the piano. One thing about this group: we're all having fun regardless what happens. Tune in next week to hear clips of our musical stylings while waiting for the bus (you'll probably get to hear Maureen and Ryan sing! And possibly Lino. Lou however would have none of it.) When we finally hit the road, we had learned we'd be skipping our stop in Orvieto because of the delay, and going straight to Assisi - the home of St. Francis and St. Claire.
As the bus carrying what Lino has already dubbed "the best and worst pilgrimage of all time" headed down the Autostrade (freeway), we were treated to some Q&A with Lino and Fr. Rob which was hilarious. I suspect you'll hear clips on the show next week.
After settling in Assisi, we visited the Basilica Santa Maria Degli Angeli to see where St. Francis received his calling to start the Franciscan Order, the place where he died, where he lived his last days, and the rose bushes where story has it that he jumped into after removing his clothes to fight off temptation, and that no thorns have grown on those bushes since. Fr. Rob celebrated Mass with us in a private chapel, and everyone loved the intimacy and simplicity of the small chapel, as many people have said they were really moved by today's Mass.
We ended the day with dinner at the hotel on a patio overlooking some of the valley below Assisi. Assisi is a very nice break from the hustle and bustle of Rome, and everyone has said they're looking forward to relaxing and enjoying the scenery of this quaint town.
That's it for now...stay tuned for the next report which should wrap up Assisi and introduce Florence!
Kevin the Pseudo-Catholic