As promised, here is part two of the Italy trip, complete with photos! Tomorrow we'll have more reports from group members, and photos from Phyllis. Vi preghiamo di non rubare mia nonna di biciclette!
To all the Catholic Guy Show listeners worldwide, Buon Giorno from Italy!
Kevin and Norvina Sage reporting from the hotel here in Rome, a stone's throw from Vatican City (well, maybe not with my arm...). We volunteered to send in some reports from the Italy pilgrimage with Lino and crew. And after only two days, there's already so much to talk about. I'll try to be brief, but probably won't be. After all, we are talking about Lino.
Let's start off in New York... We were told by Mountain (our tour guide) to meet up at the gate at the JFK airport (which was sweltering hot due to weak air conditioning). But since Mountain was already in Rome and none of use knew each other, he basically said "look for Lino". As I suspected, Lino arrived kind of late, not too long before our scheduled takeoff time, and stopped by just long enough to say hi to the small group of us that were already there. I jokingly said that I was surprised he wasn't in the VIP lounge. His reply: "That's where I'm heading if I can find the rest of the crew!" He also told us that Father Jim was not coming anymore because he had "other commitments" and that Ryan Stewart - ex-producer of the Catholic Guy Show and current producer of Fully Alive - was taking his place. Exit Lino. Lou dropped by a few minutes later looking for Lino, said hi, and took off looking for Lino. All I could think was that this seems really organized...
As we were waiting, the loudspeaker started calling for an "Angelo Rulli". They had bumped him to first class. The listeners...and crew...were all in coach of course. When he arrived back to us common-folk again, Norvina and I gave him a couple bottles of Purell, which he loved and immediately used since he'd just shaken hands with everyone. As we boarded the plane, I saw Lino sitting in the back row of first class and asked how come he didn't save us a seat there...at which point the flight attendant turned to Lino and said, "wow, everybody hates you!" I guess others were giving him grief too. Flight was uneventful (though late), but Fr. Rob was "running hot" because he had a window seat and the dude next to him wouldn't move to let him get into or out of his seat...so he stood for an hour in the aisle.
Fast forward something like 14 hours later, and we were all standing outside St. Peter's Basilica, ready to do the Scavi tour. This is a tour which is very hard to get onto, which takes you below St. Peter's to the old pagan necropolis underneath. Wandering through the old tunnels and tombs, you get to see two major spots: the original tomb of St. Peter, and his current resting place, where you can actually see fragments of his bones sitting in a hole in a dirt wall, underneath the original graffiti wall which reads "Peter is here."
The Scavi tour was REALLY cool. Actually it was horribly hot and humid, but totally worth it. They split us up into two groups and Lino and crew were not in our group, so I can't really say much about what it was like to tour the Scavi with them, but as for our group, we enjoyed it but were all working on 0-2 hours of sleep and were trying really hard not to pass out. Lou interviewed us afterward to get our thoughts on whether St. Peter's bones were real...we both said yes, but I totally blanked talking about other aspects of the tour. I hope he edits that out! He seems cool so I'm sure he will. He's also very easy to talk to and a great partner (hey-oh!) for Lino on the show.
We went to dinner as a group the first night. Maureen gave a quick toast and Fr. Rob gave the traditional blessing...because Lino had complained about his improvised prayer earlier in the day! End day 1. I think it's safe to say everyone crashed hard when they got back to their rooms.
Day 2: In addition to the unexpected treat of the Scavi tour on day 1, we had also learned a couple days before the trip that we were going to visit Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer home outside Rome) and would get to see the Pope for The Angelus at noon. We were all carrying bags of religious items (rosaries, crucifixes, etc.) to be blessed by the Pope...Lino's bag contained a pair of his pants! We all teased him about having his pants blessed, but he wittingly replied was "my pants are blessed everyday!". (Hey-oh!) Actually he only brought the pants in case he needed to change out of shorts later for mass at St. Paul's...
One of the funniest moments happened 5 minutes after boarding the bus. Lino got on the mic to explain that they were going to draw two names out of a hat each day, and the lucky winners would get to have a private (or in Maureen's words, "intimate") lunch with Lino. About 10 seconds later, Lino announced Maureen had forgotten the hat of names....then covered with "this tour is about as well-produced as the show!" They improvised by picking seat numbers instead. After announcing that "Lou just grabbed it for me" (hey-oh!), Lino read out the numbers that Lou had grabbed. And nobody answered for a few seconds. A defeated Lino complained that nobody wants to eat with him and retreated to his seat. Of course someone eventually realized they'd won and started yelling joyfully. Congrats Dee!
Castel Gandolfo was beautiful...it's up in the hills about an hour East of Rome set on Lake Albano. Not a bad place to spend the summer. The Pope makes his appearance for the Angelus in a small courtyard, packed to standing room only with sweaty Italians and other pilgrims. While waiting, we got to spend a lot of time talking with Ryan. He's a very friendly, funny, hard-working guy. To our surprise, he told us that not only is he helping Lino and crew with getting material together for next week's shows, he's also actually still producing Fully Alive this week from his Rome hotel room! So much for vacation!
The clock hit 12:00 and out came the Pope, to a thunderous applause, cheers, song, and chants of "we love Papa!" in numerous languages. It was great to see so many Catholics from so many countries all there to show their love for the Pope and the universality of Catholicism. I (Kevin) being the token non-Catholic of the entire group, found it really moving to see such enthusiasm and joy for the Vicar of Christ. After the Angelus, he addressed us in a number of languages to welcome us and bless us. It was great.
Norvina and I were standing with Ryan in the middle of the courtyard. Lino came by before it started to tell us we should move to the side for better pictures so we could see the Pope's legs... creepy. We figured the middle would be better so said no thanks. Although I didn't tell him to his face, I should say it here (since Lino Rulli is #1 here): he was right. Not about the legs, because that would be weird. But you could see better from the side because the Pope's face was not blocked by the podium there. Lino: 1, Kevin: 0.
We wandered around Castel Gandalfo individually for a while, had lunch, and checked out the parish Cathedral of St. Thomas of Villanova. And we took a group shot with Lake Albano behind us. Priceless. On the way back to the bus we got to chat with Fr. Rob quite a bit... he's just like you imagine him. Funny, honest, has a tendency to "run hot", and is just great fun to be around. (Did I mention he didn't wear his collar at all the first day? We all clapped in the bus when he showed up in the Roman collar on day two.) Anyway, he's a great guy and is a tremendous source of information about Rome (and Catholicism of course).
Later we visited the Basilica of St. Paul's Outside the Walls, located over the tomb of St. Paul, where you can even see a piece of the chain that imprisoned St. Paul. Inside, Fr. Rob celebrated Sunday Mass with the group in a small chapel inside the church. Contrary to what Lino has hypothesized on the show, Fr. Rob is a great homilist...he's engaging, to the point, and relates it well to everyday life. And he's quick, which is a true blessing when it's 100 degrees and 90% humidity. We fist-bumped Lino during the sign of peace, which he appreciated...and immediately after mass, out came the Purell. So no, the Purell comments on the show are not a joke!
We also visited the San Callistus Catacombs before St. Paul's...however, you should tune in next week to the Catholic Guy broadcasts from Vatican Radio to hear about it, because I can guarantee that there will be much discussion of the visit to the catacombs. There was an absolutely hilarious, um... incident... involving Fr. Rob (the priest in the group of all people) that you MUST hear to believe! I'll stop myself here before I divulge any of the details...let's just say Maureen has some audio from the catacombs of the incident... So tune into Sirius 159/XM 117 next week!
Hopefully by our next report we'll have gotten to have lunch with Lino (if I can win something for once in my life).
Until next time, Ciao from Roma!
Kevin "The Pseudo-Catholic" (and Norvina)