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Rome 2000 - World Youth Day


When I told them, (especially other Oblates or youth ministers), the usual responses usually went something like:
“Only a fool would go to Rome during the summer !” 
“What!  You’re going to Rome THIS summer?!  during the Jubilee Year?!  for World Youth Day?!  with that heat?!  Are you NUTS?!”
“You mean, after this Pilgrimage, all these kids, all this work, and then you’re heading off to Rome, with all those kids, with all that heat, in what is surely going to be all that confusion?!... you are a fool or a madman!”

Yes, Rome during the Jubilee Year for World Youth Day in the dog-days of summer.  Yes, after 9 months of putting together my own pilgrimage experience for some 500 people that had me hanging on by a slender thread throughout.  Yes, I am nuts, or a madman, or simply not willing to pass up an opportunity for another trip.  What can I say.... I’m Jef.  Insanity seems to be my specialty these days.

In mid-July I had seen 9 months of frantic planning and coordination come to fruition in the Oblate Youth Pilgrimage - July 13 -16.  It was the end point of a lot of work, all done more or less solo - getting speakers, arranging meals, devising schedules, dealing with hotel staff, grounds crews, food personnel, liturgists, folks who wanted me to do it their way (despite the fact they had not involved themselves prior), tents, water coolers, youth ministers and youth from across the country, finding musicians, designing liturgies, arranging transportation, answering questions, debating who should get scholarships and who should not, smoothing over hurt feelings, writing letters and newsletters, guidelines and registration materials, pilgrimage materials, etc., etc., and so on.  All those things that go into an event of that size - calling together young people from across the country, arranging for an event at a site that I visited only one or two days a month.... BUT IT WORKED!  It went great.  As I write this, it is early October and people are still talking about the pilgrimage, people are still excited about it, people are still telling me and e-mailing me about how much it meant to them... pilgrims, chaperones, Oblates and volunteers... all of them agree... it was a roaring success.  But, it also means that they are also asking “when are we going to do this again?”  I cuss silently to myself when asked that question, I smile, I pretend not to hear the question, and I get away as quickly as I can before being forced to actually answer the question.  I don’t know... don’t know when, don’t know if.  IF there were to be another... a lot more help (good help) would be appropriated before I ever dared say yes.

The biggest complaint of the Pilgrims were the ants.  We had rented two huge tents (capable of holding about 350 each) without floors.  We had told the pilgrims to bring sleeping bags and such, that they would be on the ground.  Now, I should point out that every morning for those 6 weeks that I was there prior to the pilgrimage I would go jogging in the early morning.  Every morning after the jog I would sit on the back porch of the house which I was staying at.  Every morning, as I sat there enjoying my post-run smoke, I also spent the time swatting and brushing off the ants that would climb out of the grass and onto my legs and shoes.  But, did it ever sink in that there would be such ants all over the grounds, all throughout the property, even where the tents were set up (and once the kids and their food and belongings got there... especially where the tents were set up)?  NO.  Not event he grounds manager of the Shrine, a competent and extremely helpful man did not think of it either ( in hindsight he thought it was a problem that could have been taken care of rather easily by treating the lawn a week or so before the kids arrived).  We had been talking about the pilgrims sleeping on the lawn for months... we thought of water, porta-potties, portable sinks, showers, misters to cool off under, we thought of lights for the tents, industrial size fans to help move air.  We thought of a loud speaker that could be heard in both tents, we thought of amusements and balls for the kids, we thought of marking off sleeping areas for each of the kids, chaperones to sleep with and take care of kids, of first-aid and flash-lights, sun block and mosquito repellant.... we did not think of ants.  Not until about 11:00 Thursday night (the first night) when the pilgrims went to bunk down... and from the midst of the boys tent and the girls tent alike arose the din and cry of surprised and bitten young people.... ANTS!!!  ANTS!!!

Not the big fire ants, not the little sugar ants, but the ants that get in your stuff, that actually bite (though not real seriously), that crawl all over you, get in your toothpaste, your snacks, your sleeping bag, everywhere.  Ants that don’t seem to be affected by mosquito repellant (unless they are drowned in it), that do die when sprayed with Raid (but how many cans would it take, and the living would simply return later to walk over the bodies of their brethren).  It was a nightly war, with not a whole lot that could be effectively done about it... but the young people saw that we were doing our best, that we were taking their problems seriously and I think that this went a long way in their great and understanding spirit despite the ineffectiveness of our efforts.  Ants, who would have thought... apparently not me.  And thank God, the young people did not let them ruin their spirits - they hung in there despite the creatures.

I had moved to Belleville on June 1st, driving from DC with my computer in tow.  I wanted to be “on-site” for that last 6 weeks prior to the event.  I was glad I made that choice, as there was much to be done and not being at the Provincial Offices allowed me to be free from constant calls to fix computers, take care of phone problems, and the newsletter and other communications tasks.  I sent out my last issue of the newsletter in the final week of May.  I got the office cleaned, my replacement’s computer loaded with the programs I found most helpful and then loaded my stuff in the truck and got out of there.  My replacement as communications director will not be responsible for the phones, the computers and other tasks that I had assumed while I was there.  He won’t even have the web-site as I have agreed to keep that up (I enjoy it in a hobby sort of way).  In fact, all the jobs I was doing there are now divided among three other people.... kind of nice to know it took three to replace me.

Fr. Andy Sensenig joined me in Belleville in the middle of June.  He is the 2nd member of this new Youth Ministry Team.  Although he came to help me, all I really had for him to do were the little things.. stuffing envelopes, making holders for crosses, tracking down balls and flashlights, buying bug-spray and all that sort of thing.  Not glamourous work, not the work of someone who was trying to share responsibility for the pilgrimage, but necessary work.  I kept regretting not having more “substantial” work for him, but it was sure a help to get the “grunt” stuff done.

During the four days of the pilgrimage, I managed a total of 10 hours sleep.  I was on the move every day, all day.  I was the only one who fully knew what was going on, what was supposed to be happening, where everything was supposed to go... and so I was “on call” all the time.  When the heat (and it was HOT... averaging about 100 degrees every day, with no breeze, no clouds, just heat) got to the kids, I had to make sure the ambulance got there, when the water jugs were empty I had to see that they got filled, when a blackboard wasn’t in a speakers room, I had to track it down.  I managed to have my 42nd birthday during the pilgrimage... and for once I actually felt my age (though that feeling has passed... I am back in denial.. 34 at the oldest).  I don’t mean to make this sound like a one-man show, maybe I am too controlling, but I did not have any help, I felt extremely responsible for everything going on, and so I worked my tail off.  I woke the kids up in the mornings, and mine was the last voice they heard at night(officially).  I had to preside at the major liturgies and make sure I was seen smiling and talking to as many kids as possible... after all I was the Oblate National Youth Director for the new Oblate Youth Ministry effort that marked its beginning with this pilgrimage.  I was “the face” of Oblate Youth Ministry, and thankfully I always looked happy (though it was more a case of the goofiness of sleep deprivation), and it worked.  It was a success.  We touched lives, we made a difference for a number of the young people, we shined as Oblates and we got young people excited about being part of us.  Now, my job is to capitalize on that excitement and interest.

It is really kind of difficult to write about the actual events of the pilgrimage itself.  It all blurs together for me and so much of what I did and what kept me going was behind the scenes - putting out fires, attending to the details and the problems, that I really did not get a lot of time to sit back and appreciate what was going on and what was actually happening.  A pity actually, since I have heard so many good things occurred.  I

The day after the pilgrimage was spent cleaning up, visiting the various department heads at the shrine who had worked so hard and packing up.  I sent Andy off to our new house in Chicago with almost all the belongings I had brought with me to Belleville (the computer, some clothes, some other house stuff) while I stayed behind to take care of the above.  I got all that work done, I got my truck packed and planned on a good night’s sleep and then take off early the next morning for DC where I would pick up the rest of my belongings and then take them to Chicago.  I was so “up” and anxious about leaving though,  (I had slept very well Sunday night) that around midnight, I thought “what the heck” and took off. 

The drive to DC was about an 18 hour trip and I arrived Tuesday afternoon.  I spent the rest of the day packing and boxing things up, throwing things away, packing and re-packing the truck to get as much in there as I could.  The next day was spent with the new communications director to (once again) go over how I did things, where things were, what the procedures are, how to use the computer, etc.  That night I went out with David Ullrich (from the Provincial Council) and then finalized my packing and took off ( I do love driving at night... less traffic, faster speeds, odder talk shows on the radio) arriving in Chicago about mid-day.

I spent the next two weeks trying to get the house as furnished as possible.  Andy was taking off for a couple weeks vacation - home to Maine - and I stayed behind to order beds, cleaning, ordering phones and utilities, cleaning, setting up my office, cleaning, contacting plumbers, electricians, cleaning, getting the gas turned on, cleaning, doing some plumbing, electrical work, organizing, painting, cleaning, etc.  The house is almost 100 years old.  It is 3 separate apartments sharing a common staircase - I think they refer to it as a brown-stone.  It has wooden floors, fire-places (that are not usable), old fashioned radiators, a basement with an unfinished floor, a small back-yard, windows that are for the most part painted shut, lots of wood-work with years and years of paint over them, high ceilings, built in china closets and very small rooms, with a very narrow hallway, and kitchens that should be torn out and completely re-done (but that is not affordable).  I did what I could, determined that I would at least spend the last night of my time there before Rome in my own room in my own bed.  I managed to fulfill that desire, though it meant taking a cold shower as the gas people had not yet come to turn the gas on.  At present, as I write this, most of the major things are taken care of.  There is still much painting to be done, the walls need some decoration, further cleaning could be done, but we are pretty well settled in and now doing what we can when we can.  Though we are still waiting for the plumber to show up and give us some estimates for replacing our clawed-foot bathtubs in the second bathrooms on the first and second floor with showers.  We are only occupying two of the three floors of the house.  We have our offices on the first and we do our living on the 2nd floor.  That is because the kitchen on the third floor was in the poorest condition.  If, however, other people were to come, I think Andy and I would move up to the third floor... don’t want people living above us.  We do have a couple of guest rooms for those of you who might be in the area at any time.

After two weeks of working like a mad man, I left for DC.  I had to leave from DC because my tickets were so much cheaper flying out of there, I still had some stuff in DC that I would have liked here at the house and I had purchased my Rome tickets before I knew for sure where I would be living.  It was another all night drive.  I am getting pretty good at those, really.

Boarding the plane in the evening of August 7th, I thought for sure I would get some rest.  It was a fairly long flight, I was not traveling with anyone that I knew or had to talk to.  I had some books with me, some correspondence to catch up on, some back issues of magazines that laid too long unread.  I was exhausted after the pilgrimage in Belleville, the days in Chicago, and the mental gyrations of trying to figure out what this new ministry was actually going to look like.  I was hoping for a leisurely, quiet, comfortable plane trip.  It looked like I was going to have my wish granted.  The plane filled, I was in the aisle of one of those 2-seat rows along the wall of the plane, there was no one sitting in the window seat.  No one else seemed to be boarding the plane and so I began to get comfortable, spread out a bit and relax.  Five minutes of this comparative luxury was granted me when I spied a rather abundant woman galumphing down the aisle, huffing and puffing, carrying too much carry on, looking at her ticket, looking at the seat numbers, and though there were other empty seats all through the plane, the tingling at the base of my neck told me exactly which seat she was going to take.  I did not even wait for her to verify my gut reaction.  Before she got within 4 rows of me, I simply stepped out into the aisle and proceeded to let her in.  How did I know, she asked me.  “Oh, just a feeling,” I replied ( a feeling of impending doom, is what I had wanted to say).  At least she took my burying my nose in my book as a sign of no desire to talk and she did not try to impose herself on me in that way (I really just want to sit quietly when I am flying), though her body was not as courteous.  I had been reduced to about 3/4 of my original seat.  Oh well, at least I could lean over into the aisle until the food carts and the stewards tried to make their by as well. 

I did manage a little bit of sleep on the trip, though it was not fully restful.  I arrived in Rome about 8:30 on the morning of the 8th, cramped and wanting a cigarette.  I was struck by the fact that I did not have to fill our a visa form for customs, and that customs itself was surprisingly smooth and fast - it seems to have changed a bit since my last visit - I wonder if it has something to do with this whole European Union thing.  Not sure, but am grateful.  I went outside, had my first smoke of the day, found a diet coke, stretched, and then called the Oblate General House for a ride into the city. 

The weather in Rome was gloriously warm (actually, hot) and clear.  I was looking forward to some heat.  Chicago had had some nice days, but were mostly rainy, wet and even cold (one of those days it had actually gotten down to 50!  In August!) and the DC summer had really been no summer at all.  Give me the heat!... at least during the summer.  That’s how it’s supposed to be after all.

I was picked up in short time and taken to the General House - a great rambling marble structure that houses the General Administration (the world-wide leaders of the Oblates), a group of seminarians (who were off on vacation at this time) and a number of other Oblates who either worked for the general administration or held other jobs and posts in Rome.  It is very much an institutional building - long halls, massive ceilings, rooms off the hall way, 4 floors (and a wonderful roof that gives a great view of Rome and is only about a 20 minute walk from St. Peter’s Basilica.  One thing that it does not have is a good air flow, nor air conditioners, not even fans... and so it was still and hot in all the bedrooms.

I cleaned up, settled in and was just heading out to explore the Eternal City when I ran into Don McMahon.  He was a teacher at our seminary in San Antonio when I went to school there (he taught me Hebrew - though I never did finish that course) and we were great friends.  He is now in Rome teaching.  Well, we had to catch up with one another, so it was up to the roof-top for martinis, the view, and catch-up.  This was followed by lunch in the dining hall of the house and then, of all things, a nap (almost 3 hours - I guess I was a bit tired from the trip and all - not to mention the strong martinis).

After my little beauty rest, I hooked back up with Don and we were off to the city for supper and fun.  We walked the piazza’s of the city, up and down the streets, some familiar, some new, laughing, looking in the windows, watching the many young people enjoy themselves in the fountains or restaurants, enjoying the street entertainers, making jokes and laughing a lot.  We finally settled at an outdoor table near the Piazza Navona watching the pedestrians pass by, drinking a good wine and continuing to catch up.  From there we made our way to yet another outside table and dined on calamari, veal and more wine.  A leisurely dinner, a leisurely evening.  We were enjoying ourselves so much, that even though we had by now consumed 2 bottles of wine and a great dinner, we took ourselves to one of the nightclubs near another piazza on the other side of the river for a night cap.  I wanted a real bourbon, and though it took some explaining (and a lot of searching behind other bottles), the bartender did manage to find a partial bottle of “4 Roses” (I believe) and was able to accommodate my request.  Since the bartender had such a hard time finding my poison of choice, I could not help but make the effort worthwhile to him by ordering two more of the drinks.  By the time I had finished my third it was almost 1 in the morning... and I was starting to feel the change in time, the long plane trip, and the heat - so we took ourselves home.  What a great first night in Rome!

I slept until 11:00 the next morning.  Don and I had agreed to spend the day sight-seeing together, but I guess he had other things to attend to, because I could not find him.  So, I left a note, put on my back-pack and headed out to wander the city... my favorite thing... on foot, in a foreign city, with no real agenda but to go where the spirit (and my interest) takes me.  Although I did have to buy a train ticket to Pescara.

The city was crowded.  The city is hot.  The city is cleaner than I had ever seen it before.   As has been the case throughout this Jubilee Year, there were many pilgrims in the city making pilgrimage.  Add to that the thousands of young people who were beginning to arrive for the World Youth Day celebrations and you have quite a crowd at all the major religious and tourist sites.  Much was being done to try to control and lessen the impact of the crowds, I don’t believe I had ever seen metal detectors at St. Peter’s Basilica before, but they had plenty of them up this time, with lots of barricades and roadblocks that would not permit a person to by-pass them.  Large gangs of young people were all over the place, most of them making their way towards or away from St. Peter’s.  Often they were dressed in matching t-shirts, bandanas or hats (and often all three) carrying their national flags and other banners proclaiming where they were from or what group they were part of.  It was not unusual to have these groups of young people break into song, and, when encountering another such group, to have a “cheer-off”, trying to see which group could sing or hoot and holler loudest.  It was a lot of fun to watch.

There were also a lot more vendors than what I had experienced before, selling their wares at much higher prices than I was used to ($3.00 for a ½ liter coke... ridiculous... but what could I do).

In preparing for the Jubilee Year and the Millennial event, many of the buildings, fountains, monuments, etc.  had been cleaned and restored to their clean-marble glory.  I had never seen Rome look so bright.  Decades of soot and exhaust remnants had been removed from buildings, the fountains de-scaled and the fungus killed off, it was truly beautiful.  Many of the more popular piazzas had been barricaded to car traffic of any sort turning them over to the pedestrians, more signs were in place to help people find their way and many of the ancient drinking fountains repaired and the water allowed to once again flow (thank God... it was REALLY hot).  The city really did itself proud!

The only thing that was missing were the Romans.  It seems that August is vacation month for much of Rome, and so it was not unusual to find restaurants, shops and stores locked tight and displaying signs indicating that they were on their 3 or 4 week vacation.  It seemed a smart move in order to escape the heat, but I also wondered at the amount of money and business that many of these places were missing with the increased crowds. 

My walk took me past the Vatican Museum, and a line that stretched for almost a mile.  It is odd that they did not extend their open hours at the museum to accommodate the thousands of people who are going to try and visit this year, but they did not... they continued to close at 3:30. 

I had thought that there was an American Express Travel office near St. Peter’s, and I thought I remembered where it was at.  If there is such an office nearby, I did not find it, but I did manage to find another travel office and was able to purchase tickets to Pescara without any problem, though the first class seats were all taken.  I eventually stopped to write a few postcards and send them out and then made my way back to the General House in order to try to hook up with Don and what I hoped would be another pleasant evening on the town.

I got home and Don was in a slight panic.  It seems some Oblates were coming with very short notice (that day) and bringing with them a group of kids and were asking for room for the night.  Don was busily creating and taping up signs indicating where the bathrooms, sleeping areas and dining hall were at.  I helped him post the signage and then we took off.

This evening we headed towards the Trastevere area.  My old haunt when I went to college in Rome.  They had the English-language theater there as well as one of the best fire-cooked pizzas I had ever found in Rome.  Well, the theater had been totally renovated and turned into 3 theaters, though I did not actually go in to find out, I imagine the renovations also means that they modernized the equipment - so much for the intermissions between reels and the soda/snack salesman who would walk up and down the aisles at those breaks.  Also, the pizza place had been changed to an oriental restaurant.  I guess nothing stays the same forever.  Don made an interesting purchase from one of the street vendors - a picture of the Sacred Heart of Mary and Jesus... with little blinking lights that outlined both figures and their hearts.  Really tacky.  The perfect gift for some of his more refined friends.  (I really wanted one to present as a gift to some of my friends as well... thought I could find one later on, never did).

We walked through the plazas and along the streets again.  We eat dinner at a Chinese Restaurant near the school that Don teaches at.  The wait-persons seem to know him and his likes and dislikes pretty well, apparently one of his favorite haunts.  We sit on the patio and watched the crowds, wondering why a Chinese restaurant in Rome seems so much stranger than a Chinese Restaurant in the United States.

After dinner, we wander about a bit and settle once more at an outdoor table and a bottle of wine.  Although there was no follow-up night-caps this evening, it was still 1 AM before we got back home.  The leisurely evenings, the people-watching and the fun comment-making really makes the time go by fast.

I was up and at it fairly early the next day.  I had not been to the Rome Train Station in about 15-20 years.  A sort of funky, very low-tech  place that was once a weekly familiar sight during college had become a heavily renovated and modern looking train, bus and Metro center.  Modern only in terms of glass, steel and facade.  At the heart of this up-to-date looking building, was still, at its heart the funky little station it was back in college.  Although the new, electronic time-table posted one announcement, it was still necessary to check with one of the personnel to make sure it was correct (and it never was), tickets still had to be taken from one window to another and then handed to the conductor on the train so that each person could put their stamp on it or punch a hole.  But it all looked good!  The sad part of the renovations is that it also made it more commercial - McDonalds was now there, as were several small boutique shops and some steel and glass food counters - in other words, it has become less “Italy” and more “train-station-anywhere-in-the-world.”

I found my seat on the train - in the smoking section (ahh, I am not a pariah everywhere...) in a cabin that I would share with 3 others - a large boned, overly painted woman in a too-short, too-tight red skirt - giggling like a school girl at the comments made by her pony-tailed, 50'ish, mustachioed, rancher-looking husband.  The woman was a trip... giggled throughout the train ride, delivered in a bored sounding Italian by her (I’m assuming this) husband.  The third person, a small, older, quiet guy seemed to want to just lay back and relax, but kept shifting his eyes toward the couple whenever she got a bit too loud and squeaky.

Unfortunately, I must have missed one of those people who needed to put a stamp on my ticket back at the station.  When the conductor came through to validate the ticket he pointed this lack of stamp out to me, informed me that he had the right to fine me several thousand lire, but that he was in a good mood and would let me get away with it.  I think I was supposed to grovel a bit more in gratitude and joy, but I failed to, but he didn’t seem too put off by it.

About 20 minutes into the journey, another passenger joined us in our cabin.  Unfortunately this took away all the room the other man and I had to stretch our legs across the car.  I think he must have been looking for a smoking seat, and he found ours.  He looked like the big, balding, sweaty and dirty rat of a man that always plays the down-and-out Italian brother-in-law in many movies.  He breathed too loud, his numerous gold chains and amulets hung out of his shirt and clinked against one another, reflecting the sunlight into the eyes of his fellow passengers.  He was sort of obnoxious - talked too loud and from the looks of my fellow seat mates - was rather boorish and boring.  He made a number of calls on his cell phone, talking way too loud and using phrases that seemed so cartoonish - the first time I actually hear an Italian use the phrase “Mama Mia”... it almost caused me to laugh.

At one point, as I looked up from my book, it was to see this man with his finger buried deep in his nostril, twisting and digging at what must have been gold, given the enthusiasm with which he carried out this operation.  Even though our eyes met, even though he was engaged in this particular activity, he did not seem embarrassed in the least... in fact, he just kept digging.  I think he was having to work extra hard as the digit seemed too big for the nostril and just kept folding in the sides of the nose.  I suppose I could have offered to lend one of mine, but I tend not to be that generous.

The cabin window was clearly marked AIR CONDITIONED - the heat of the cabin, the lack of cool air gave lie to the sign.  It was warm and stuffy, and even though I indulge in the tobacco habit, the smoke made the heat and closeness even worse.

The scenery of the trip was spectacular.  Mountains, valleys, beautiful rivers, dirty creeks, sloping orange-tiled roofs atop yellowish square buildings.  We passed farms and tree groves, huge squash or melons ripening in the sun, vineyards and fields of freshly turned soil.  It was all varied and beautiful.  Ancient churches sitting on hillsides with other buildings and homes(?) clustered around them.  Many older buildings - perhaps even ancient - with walls crumbling or new bricks making up for broken, older ones.  It was all quite fascinating and made the journey shorter - imagining how people had to live their lives in these sometimes out-of-the-way places centuries prior, or even today.

It was roughly a 4 hour trip to my destination - the coastal city of Pescara.  Pescara lies on the Adriatic Coast of Italy.  It is located almost directly across from Rome on the opposite coast just under the “calf” of the Italian “boot”.  It lies at the mouth of the valley of the river of the same name and is the most highly populated town in this region (known as the Abruzzo region).

It was home to ancient Italic peoples, was a fair-sized port in the time of the great Roman Empire (known then as Aternum).  After the barbarian invasions and Byzantine domination ti was destroyed by the Lombards, then re-founded as Piscaria because of the abundance of fish in its waters.  In 1140 it was conquered by the Normans, sharing historical events with the Kingdom of  Naples.  It was united to Italy in 1860 and became the provincial capital in 1927.  The town does not offer anything of particular artistic or architectural interest.  Although it is a large industrial area, it is best known for its beautiful beaches which attract a large number of tourists each year (a majority of them being Italian).

I was in Pescara to join with hundreds of other Oblates and Oblate youth from around Europe.  The Diocese of Pescara was hosting a diocesan World Youth Day celebration in the city prior to the pilgrims going to Rome.  The Oblates from across Europe (and other parts of the world) were going to join with the diocese and hold their own celebration in the midst of the diocesan activities.  The diocese was expecting 2000 young people for this event - ½ of them being part of the Oblate celebration.   Most all the other Oblates who were coming with young people, acting as chaperones, pilgrimage leaders, etc.  I had arranged to go solo.  I would not have the responsibilities or concerns of being a chaperone... and I could attend those things that interested me and skip the rest.  My main purpose in going was to meet other Oblate Youth Ministers from around the world and find out what they were doing for youth... what was working, what was not, how they structured their programs, what those programs were, etc.  It was a time for fact-finding and consultation, for discovery as well as praying and pilgrimage.  That, at least, was the plan.

In the information passed on to me by the organizers of the event I was told to be at the town’s sports stadium no later than 5PM that day.  Arriving a bit after 4, I was concerned about being on time and so I took a cab to the stadium (which I pronounced with a long “a” - giving the driver pause as to where exactly I wanted to go). 
I arrived at the stadium grounds and joined a large group of young people, chaperones, buses and bus drivers.  They were seated all around the grounds in little groupings, some playing musical instruments, some singing, some playing hackey sack or other such games.  They were from a number of different countries and the variety of languages was at times confusing.  I saw no clear indication of an Irish group (I had been making all these plans with an Oblate from the Irish province who assured me he and his group would meet me there) or any English speaking group at all.  After walking all around the buses and looking for them, after walking among the groups listening for English, and finding no one, I eventually sought out a shady spot along the fence of the stadium and joined the others in sitting, resting, smoking and seeking out a friendly face.  Each bus that arrived was another call to look and see.  People were arriving from all directions, so when I would spy a new cluster of people, I would make my way to them and listen to their speech, read their T-shirts,  hoping to find the elusive Peter Clucas (the director of the Irish group), but to no avail.  I did run into a group from Colorado who were there not for the Oblate celebration but for the Pescara one.

In these jaunts I heard Italian, French, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, German, etc.  But, other than the Colorado crowd, no English.  To my surprise, I did run into the group from Turkmenistan... a rather sizable group at that.  The Oblates have only been there a few years, (I was on the original scouting mission for that site) and here they were with over 40 young people from the parish.  Among the mostly Russian from the country, there were two native Turkmen - our first Turkmen converts, a mother and daughter, who had just been brought into the church this Easter past.  Wow.  I talked to one of their leaders, a Pole I had met during that prior jaunt to the country.  His English was not real good, my Polish was non-existent, but both of us were excited about re-connecting.  It made me think again about how great it would have been to have been part of that mission... that first bringing of the Church to a basically unchurched people.  Oh well, can’t keep crying over spilled milk.

After failing again to locate Peter or his group, I returned to my back-pack and bags and continued to sit under the trees... and wait.  It was now after 7PM - still no Peter.  The buses began to leave and I had no idea why they were leaving or where they were going.  Other groups of pilgrims began to walk away, it was starting to look as though I was going to be left all alone holding vigil. 

Not wanting that to happen, I picked up my bags and followed the walking groups, hoping they would lead me to Peter, or at least someone who could tell me what was going on.  As I walked along, I noticed that the groups were passing out name badges to wear around their necks, and meal tickets.  That must be where they were going - to eat.  But where did they get the name tags, the tickets?  Did Peter have mine, was there a registration center that I had missed?  What was going on?  Maybe Peter and his group would be wherever these folks were going.... so I walked on in hope (what else could I do?).

We walked about half a mile down the street and came to a large school dining room.  Those with tickets and name tags (apparently everyone but me) were getting in line, handing in their tickets and being allowed into the dining hall.  I posted myself near the doors, looking at name tags (which identified country of origin as well as name) and hoped.  I did manage to identify a few other OMI’s, but none of them were able to tell me anything about Peter... and I never thought to ask about registration packets, just assuming that Peter had mine.  After about an hour and a half of this, I was finally beginning to feel a bit discouraged and worried.  I left the school and returned to the stadium.  There I ran into a group of German Oblates and their kids who had just arrived.  These guys had not seen Peter either, but they were able to point me to the registration center, assuring me that I would probably find my meal passes and such there.  Now, why didn’t anyone tell me about this earlier?

I got to the proper desk and was given a tag and tickets from an envelope marked U.S.  I was a bit concerned about this because I was under the understanding that I was to be included in the Anglo-Irish group, but after pointing this out to the desk personnel and having them continue to insist that I would be part of the U.S. group, I accepted.  It was at that moment that I remembered that there was supposed to be a group from Texas joining us for the events.  I was not sure from what part of Texas they were coming, but I did recall that they were coming. 

After being given the tickets, I was told that Peter’s group had also just arrived and that they were already on their way to the dining hall.  I hurried to catch up with them, found them, and introduced myself to Peter and the other Oblate priests who were part of the group.  We got as far as the dining hall door when I excused myself.  Although I was quite hungry by this time, I was even more worried about my bags and equipment that I had left behind.  They were left under the tree and I did not want to leave them out and available to any who would walk by.

Just as I got to the stadium parking lot, I ran into the group from Texas... Weslaco, Texas.  Immediately I recognized them as this same group had been at the pilgrimage in Belleville.  We said hello, exchanged excitements and hugs, and then I directed them to the registration office where they picked up their packets.  As it turned out, I was indeed included in their group.  There were 11 of them... I was number 12. 

Not only were they given tickets, they were also told where it was that they would be sleeping... which meant I was to be there too.  It was in the gym of the sports stadium.  On the floor, with about 600 other people.  Not a problem - I had planned for this and brought my sleeping bag as directed.  I helped get the Texans situated, laid out my own stuff and then I pointed them in the direction of the dining hall.  By this time, I was no longer hungry, and after getting more situated felt free enough to go do some wandering around.  After walking around for an hour or so, I headed back to the gym as there were supposed to be some evening events there.

The gym was actually two gyms joined together by a patio between the two.  One of the gyms was reserved for sleeping spaces, the other was to be a dance hall.  The band was already playing when I got back - some rather raucous, high-energy rock band, with the attendant light show and lots of young people either gyrating and jumping around excitedly to the beat of the music or standing around looking at those who were dancing.  Typical young people dance.  I was enjoying myself, watching the dancers, watching the watchers and trying to figure out the Italian lyrics, when I noticed Peter in a rather animated conversation with someone out in the foyer.  I wandered over there to see what was happening.

It seems that there were some shower problems.  The boys showers were in the soccer field shower rooms - across the soccer field (no grass on that field, simply dirt).  The water was cold, the toilets had no seats, there was no toilet paper, and the sinks did not have drains, the water simply poured out on your feet (along with whatever toothpaste, soap and dirt a person might have been trying to wash away).   The girls were supposed to have been set up to shower in the gym shower rooms, but most of these had been converted into dormitories for the bus drivers, leaving the girls forced to share a single gang-shower room that allowed no privacy from one another.  I guess that this is a bigger issue for the girls than it is for the boys.  On top of this, access to their showers and access to the converted driver dorms were in the same small hallway.  Already some of the drivers had walked in on the girls, and one of them was even standing in the hallway, in his underwear, simply staring at the girls going in and out the shower.  Well, this situation needed remedy.

Peter, his fellow chaperones and the event planners argued about it for a while, I got bored and was pretty much a fifth wheel and so I went back to the dance.  Somehow, the showering and bathroom situation that I was sort of embarrassed about in Belleville began to look a whole lot better.

The dance ended about 11:30 PM.  I joined the Texans in their section of the gym (they had brought cots!) and tried to go to sleep.  It was well after 12:30 before the lights were finally turned off.  Thank God, despite the heat of the day, the gym itself was fairly cool from the night-time ocean breeze, and so it was not terribly uncomfortable - except maybe for all the bodies all around me, many of them restless and getting up and wandering around, the hall light blaring in my face, the street sounds coming through the open doors - not too uncomfortable at all.

At about 5:30 the next morning I was wide awake and unable to get back to sleep.  I decided to go try the showers.  It was at this time that I realized that I had failed to bring a towel with me, or toilet paper.  I managed to borrow a roll of paper from the Texans and used the t-shirt from the day before to wipe off with (yuck) deciding that I would buy a towel this day.  I had no Diet Coke, but there is something about a cold shower early in the cool morning that really helps to wake a body up.  After getting dressed, and since most everyone else was still asleep, I went on a soda hunt, had no luck, so returned to the gym to await everyone else to begin their day.

No one was real sure what the day’s schedule was.  The Anglo-Irish group finally got moving and I joined them for their morning prayer.  It seems Peter knew the schedule and informed us that our group (the English speaking group) were going to be going for a tour of PESCO SAN SONESCO, our buses scheduled to leave at 8:30.  But, of course, the buses were late and then there were not enough of them and so we were forced to wait for some others that company was calling in.  We finally got going about 10:00.  To add to the problems of this trip, Peter announced that he and his group (the group I was traveling with) would have to get back by 2 in order to practice for the presentation that his group were going to make that night.

This trip was part of the Diocesan effort.  It was their way of showing off their local shrines and sights.  Our first stop was at a very small church tucked away in the woods.  It dated from the 7th century.  It was quite simple, made of stone, square, somewhat, other than being from the 7th century, I never quite caught on to the purpose of the stop. It was a short stop, and then we headed up into the mountains.  The road at times seemed too narrow for our bus, much less the other traffic on the road, but we wound our way up and around taking in some breathtaking sights of steep drop-offs, scenic valleys with beautiful mountain rivers running through them and rocky crags.  As we got higher and higher up we began seeing more small farms and houses, many in the valleys, but also quite a few on the sides of the mountains themselves.

This road took us to the town of Pesco san sonesco itself and the Sanctuary of Blessed Nunzio Sulprizio, a local saint, quite popular in the area, especially because of the waters that flowed through the church and were said to be curative.

The church is a series of concrete squares, very reminiscent of the kinds of churches built in the mid-70's - trying to be open and simple, but still reflecting a sense of the sacred.  The church is literally built in the side of the mountain, with the mountain wall forming the back wall.

As we approached the church, the bells began to ring and echoed resoundingly off the mountain walls.  It was rather dramatic and nice, quite easily inspiring.  The view from the church was incredible, granite mountain tops, tree lines, pine trees, the red-tiled roofs of the white stucco houses and buildings, the roads and rivers winding through the valley.  All picturesque and very, very beautiful.  There were a number of dilapidated stone buildings as well, ancient buildings, often with new thatched flat roofs, at least those that still had four walls standing - which was quite often not the case.  The stones that had fallen from these walls were left where they had fallen, the crumbling walls sometimes having plants growing from their niches and cracks.  Who knows how old these structures were. 

The church itself was not as impressive as the country side, and they would have done well to have gotten rid of some of the concrete walls and replaced them with glass.  There was a very large water font in the back, against the mountain wall, that the natural springs ran through... this was the water that was said to heal, and as evidence of that, there was a small chapel dedicated to the saint off the main sanctuary with crutches and braces that were left behind, pictures and letters offering testimony to the miracles coming from the water. 

Under the main altar of the church is a glass tomb in which the saint is buried. His body is in a tomb carved in his likeness, and painted in cartoonish “life-like colors.

The tour guides led us in a short prayer service and then we returned to the buses and continued our journey up the hair-pin turns of the road going higher and higher into the mountains and into the city itself.  Once in the city, we left the bus and were led to a large church and its patio where the local parishioners had prepared quite a good meal for us - penne, chicken, fried eggplant (which seemed to be a new food to many of the Irish students who kept asking “what is this?”), bread, fruit and drinks.  It was really quite a feast and the parishioners seemed so happy to have us there.  We had to eat in a hurry though because Peter kept insisting that we be back to Pescara in short time.  He had wanted to be home by 1:30, but of course, that never happened.  We did not leave the town until 2:00 and did not return to our “home-base” until about 3:30 - the time that the event was supposed to start.  Of course, getting back to the gym, gathering our stuff, cleaning up a bit, and the 10 minute walk to the theater meant we did not get there until 4:00.

On the walk to the theater I noticed several stores that were selling towels.  They were all closed for siesta at the time and so would not be open until about 4:30.  I slipped out of the theater about that time and went and purchased a couple of towels.  Unfortunately, that little trip caused me to miss the Anglo-Irish presentation and perhaps another as well.  The event was held in a theater and was a celebration of the Oblate youth gathered.  Each national group offered a performance of their native dance and music.  Sort of a rather large-scale talent show.  Because of our late start, not all the groups had an opportunity to “do their thing” as the theater owners moved us out at 6:00 PM.  This left out the Texas presentation and several others. 

From the theater, we walked 8 blocks to St. Andrew Parish, one of two Oblate parishes in the city.   It is an octagonal church, rather pretty and interesting.  Above the altar is a stained glass window of the Glorified Christ with Peter and Andrew on either side of Christ.  St. Eugene and Blessed Cebula are also depicted in the window.  There was also an interesting painting of St. Eugene on one of the church walls, he is flanked by 2 half-nude men on one side and a virginal woman on the other. 

The church was hot (as was the theater) and with the thousand young people crammed into the building (we were all over the place - in the pews, along the walls, sitting in the aisles, etc.) the heat was rather oppressive (not to mention the smell).  We were at this church for a “Taize” style prayer service.  Fr. Steckling (the Superior General of the Oblates in the world) presided.

The prayer service was quite beautiful - the chanting and songs, the candles and prayers but it was very difficult to be present to the event given the stifling heat.  Fr. Steckling’s sermon was hard to follow, even when he spoke in English, due to the poor sound system.  All of it diminished what could have been a very beautiful and spiritual prayer time together.

After prayer we ate supper on the piazza of the church. It was a simple meal - sandwiches, fruit, etc.  Several of the groups broke into spontaneous song, those with instruments began to play, cheers were yelled out proclaiming national pride, and the whole event became a rather fun and feisty fiesta.  It really struck me during this time that the standards for the European young people and our own young people were quite different.  The young Europeans were drinking beer (not to excess, at least not at this time), smoking, wandering off on their own, etc.  Many of them were apparently what we would call high-school aged, but there were no chaperones telling them that this was not acceptable behavior, in fact, quite often the chaperones would join them.  These things just don’t carry the stigma that we tend to give them, and it really is a more relaxed attitude.  I don’t know if it is good or bad, but it certainly seemed to make for a more relaxed presence with the young people and their adult leaders.

From the church we returned to the theater.  Our brochure claimed that this was supposed to be a “festive celebration”.  It was supposed to start at 9PM, but did not actually get underway until about 9:30 (this is no longer a surprise to me).  It seemed to be a continuation of the events of the afternoon, with more groups making more presentations.  The Anglo-Irish group made another presentation.  They performed an Irish dance with their deacon dressed in full kilt and quite a bit of drumming and harp playing, they also sang a number of Irish songs.  The South Africans sang some traditional songs and the Zambians did some sort of dance in native costume - one of the two young men in the traditional woman’s costume.  I think that their song was going on too long and that they were improvising in the last 5 minutes or so as their movements became less coordinated and seemed almost silly at times.  The Turkmenistan group did some traditional songs and dances.  The Texas group was last and did a liturgical-type dance that was well received.

After the show, we returned to the gym where a band was again playing.  I stuck around a bit and then went back to the bar across the road where I joined the Anglo-Irish group for a couple of beers, more songs and got back just before the gym was locked up for the night.

I was up early the next morning.  They had switched the mens’ showers to the other end of the field house, to what we were assured were the better facilities.  The toilets still had no seats, the sinks still drained onto our feet, there was still mud on the floor, but the shower water was hot - it was a surprise - and a pleasant one at that.

After cleaning up, I joined the Texas group to pray the rosary together and then went with the Anglo-Irish group for morning mass at a local church.  Then we were off.  This was scheduled as a “free day” to see the sights of Pescara.  I headed to the beach, the Anglo-Irish to their own agenda, and the Texans were going to visit the local cathedral and museums.  The kids really wanted to join me at the beach, but their chaperone is completely opposed to it.  I tried to gently persuade her to allow the youngsters some beach time, but she would have none of it.

The beach was pretty crowded.  It is a long, rather narrow strip of sand that goes for miles along the coast.  It is divided into privately owned beach areas with thousands of umbrellas and beach chairs lined up in even rows all along the strip.  The umbrellas made it quite difficult to see along the beach as they literally crowded out the view unless you walked right to the edge of the water.  I was not willing to pay for the privilege of sitting in these chairs, so I walked along the water seeking out one of the few “free” public areas of sand that were intermittently available between he commercial areas. 

I walked along the beach for a good hour or so, hoping that there would come some point where the umbrellas would peter out, but it was not going to happen, this forest of brightly colored canopies just seemed to go on as far as the eye could see.  I did eventually find an unlocked changing room that I slipped into (looking out for someone to come by and collect some money for my use of the facility) and changed into my swimming trunks.  I laid my towel out on one of the narrow public areas and took in the sun (a very bright, very hot sun at that).  The towels I had brought were not really beach-size and so, despite my best attempts, I had to make regular dips into the cool, clear water to wash off and cool down.

The Italians really seem a lot less self-conscious about their bodies than I am used to.  Speedo-type swim trunks were the norm despite the size of gut or how much but hung out.  Although not technically “thong-style” swim trunks, on some of the larger men they seemed to be. There were also a number of topless women on the beach - old and young, firm and not-so-firm bodies, all laid out as-is to the kiss of the sun.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, clear skies and bright sun, a perfect day to be on the water.  The water was refreshing, the tides were broken by a series of boulders that snaked along parallel to the beach and they could practically be gotten too by walking rather than swimming.  I spent several hours getting some sun before walking back to the gym. 

When I arrived at the gym, the Texans were all there, half of them asleep.  The boys were ranter upset because they did not really enjoy the museums or cathedral and were very badly wanting to wander about town on their own, even go to the beach, but they were not allowed.  Their chaperone is not willing to even let them go to the scheduled activities on the beach.  I ask why and there is a big concern that the kids will have “bad thoughts” if they go to the beach as there are sun-bathers without tops.  Believe me, the only bad thoughts they would have is why aren’t those people covering up.

I spent some time with them, trying to get their spirits raised up a bit, but that was not working.  Eventually I decided to head back to the beach.  The schedule claimed that there were going to be beach activities and I did not want to miss them.  What the schedule did not say was the exact location of said activities.  I walked up and down the beach a bit, feeling sorry for the Texas group and searching for the scheduled fun.  I ran into the Turkmenistan group who were also looking for the activities but were not having any luck.  The Oblate who was with them told me that there had been a death that day.  One of the Italian (from Florence) youth had died because he did not have his asthma medicine with him and had gone into some sort of cardiac arrest.  Wow!

After about an hour of wandering without luck, I finally turned back.  Returning to the gym I found the Texans still there, still moping about, still rather angry.  I took a shower.  The staff informed me that there was some sort of activity at the river that runs through town tonight, but I am skeptical after not finding the beach activities.  The Texans eventually leave to take a walk around and to find their way to the river.  I am a bit sunburned after my day in the sand and surf

I eventually find my way to the river and to the stage that is set up alongside the river near one of the bridges.  From what I gather, the city has had a 2-week long festival of arts and have allowed the pilgrims to present a program on this night.  Whereas the program in the theater was composed of only the Oblate pilgrims, this one is similar, only for all the pilgrims who are in Pescara.  It was, again, a series of music and dance presentations made by the various national groups present.  I watched for about an hour or so and then walked back.

As I was rounding the last corner to get to the gym, I discovered the usual group of Anglo-Irish sitting at the usual bar, drinking the usual drinks, playing the usual instruments and singing the usual songs.  So, I sat in my usual place and ordered my usual drink and had my usual good time.  The night had a taste of the unusual in that the bartender had invited some of his friends to come and listen to the music and join the frivolity, though he did make sure that they did not take any of the chairs that were needed to seat the youngsters.  He wanted to make sure that we were comfortable and seated so that there would be no reason not to entertain his guests or go somewhere else.  The dancing bled from the sidewalk and into the street, with several of the cars stopping to watch and clap to the beat of the music, it was all quite festive.  The bartender was pleased enough with the performance that he opened several bottles of wine “on the house” and made sure everyone had a glass with which to toast his good luck (I am sure it was the biggest take he had had in quite a while).

While sitting with the group, I discovered why I was not able to find the official beach activities the day before... they were being held at the beach on the opposite side of town.  This beach entailed about an hour walk from where we were staying.  More activities were planned for the following night at the same site, and I decided that maybe I would attempt finding it.  There is something about 3 liters of beer that really helps a body to sleep... even on the floor, on a sleeping bag, in the heat and in the midst of 1,000 young people.  I had a great sleep that night.

After waking, showering, dressing, etc. I joined the other English speakers for a 10 AM trek to St. Andrew Church for 11:00 mass.  I had assumed that it was going to be for all the English speakers that were present for the pilgrimage event, but we were soon joined by the Slovenians and Poles.  We tried to accommodate them with some of the prayers and musical choices, but it was all rather clumsy.  It did not help that the church, again, was over-crowded and hot.

After mass I took a little walk around the town.  There was a huge flea-market of sorts going on.  People in their carts and booths were lined up on either side of the streets in an area that was about 3 blocks long and 5 blocks wide.  It was possible to walk a complete square and look through all sorts of merchandise.  There were fruits and vegetables, watches, kitchen ware, clothing, etc.  It was incredible, the variety and amount of things available... and yet, I found nothing I needed, wanted or was unusual enough for me to purchase.  It was fun to walk the area, despite the very crowded streets... no cars, just masses and masses of people.  I guess that this is the usual after-mass thing to do.  My only problem came when I tried to remember which street to turn on in order to return to my proper direction back to the gym.  I tried several routes until I finally found the one that would take me back.

The official pilgrimage activities for the day had been cancelled.  This was due to the death of the Florentine youth.  I discovered that he had, in fact, died in the gym on our first night, not during the 2nd day as it had been reported.  When I heard the story, some of the activities of that first night started to make sense.  About 2 in the morning that first night, there had been some activity at the far, opposite end of the gym from where I was sleeping.  I was awakened and saw in dim light some people moving about, and thought that perhaps a fight had broken out as I watched a chaperone lead one of the young people outside and several other chaperones help to carry out a second.  Because chaperones were involved, I assumed that it was all being taken care of and that my presence would not help, especially since it was from the spot where the Italians had chosen to bunk down... my lack of understanding would surely have only made matters more confusing.

As it turns out, there was no fight.  A young man had wakened in the middle of the night and discovered that the guy next to him was not moving or breathing.  This scared him and set him off.  The chaperones tried to calm him down and led him outside while two others took the dead boy outside, carrying him as though he were drunk or hurt in order not to give away what had happened.  The organizers thought it would be better not to let people know that someone had died in the gym - not wanting to spook or scare the other residents and so told the story that he had died during the day.  I think that they made the right choice.  I am sure the young people I was sleeping near would have found the idea of someone actually dying in the gym as upsetting and keeping them from sleeping well.

I got back to the gym, grabbed my swimming togs and headed back to the beach.  The day was as beautiful and clear, hot and bright as it was the day before.  Before leaving, I ran into the Texans again who had no idea what they would be doing in the afternoon except that the chaperone made it very clear that it would not be spent at the beach (gad, I was getting angry at their chaperone about all this, but stayed out of it... it was not my responsibility and so, not my problem).

The beach was not as crowded as the day before, and not all the umbrellas were opened, affording a much better view of the sand and vistas.  Another thing that soon struck me as odd was the lack of seagulls, not only on the beach but in the town as well.  I think this is the first beach town that I had ever been in where the seagulls were not as abundant as the people. Not that I am complaining, but it was an oddity.  Another thing that I found a bit funny looking was the number of people who were standing in the water up to their waists talking on cell phones.  The damn things are everywhere.  I think some of these people were actually conducting business on the phones while standing in the surf.  It is somewhat normal these days, I guess, but it still struck me as a bit incongruous.  Down right ridiculous looking, in fact.

About 4:30 that afternoon, after several hours on the beach, the weather took a rather dramatic turn.  Rain clouds moved in very quickly, the sky turned very dark and the breeze was cooling down.  Fortunately, even though I had to walk for a good hour or so, the actual rain did not start falling until I got about a block from the gym (there is nothing worse than getting all wet when a person is swimming at the beach.. Right?!).

I changed into something dry and sat at my sleeping bag to eat the sack supper that was given to us after lunch that day.  The meal was not real good... a can of some sort of beef parts in a gel and a can of tuna packed in a very heavy oil.  Just as I was throwing these things away, much to my surprise the Texans came in, and they were grinning.  They had somehow managed to wear their chaperone down enough that she took them to the beach - although they did not seem allowed to actually go in the water.  The sad part of the story is that they got to the beach only about 15-20 minutes before the bad weather set in, but at least their faces reflected some joy and hope for the next days in Pescara.

They were in such good spirits, in fact, that they broke out the boxes and bags of candies that they had brought from home and Mexico to share with other pilgrims.  They offered an extremely tart lime and salt mixture, chile-covered dried fruits, some sort of chile paste and some actual sweets as well.  They laughed until their bellies hurt watching the others, not familiar with these snacks eat and pucker.  They would hand them the goods and insist on watching the faces of their victims as they puckered with the sour or burned with the heat.  It was great fun, the laughter competed with the rolling thunder that was going on outside (although the rain had stopped).

We all then headed to another local church for a prayer service for the dead teen.  It was held at the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the other Oblate church in the city.  It was a nice service, the music was beautiful and the speakers were short.  Unfortunately, the service went on a bit too long, and a couple of people fainted in the church, probably from exhaustion, heat and dehydration (shades of Belleville!).  One of these was a member of the Anglo-Irish group. 

The deacon accompanying the group and one of the priests took her outside and contacted and ambulance.  The ambulance driver claimed that these two could not ride with the girl to the hospital, that it was against the law for non-patients to ride in the ambulance.  The two chaperones tried to explain that they had no car, that they were foreigners and that they needed to be present with the girl.  The ambulance driver was dead-set against letting them come along (I am sure that if it is against the law as he said, that he was fearful for his job).  Well, it turned into a fight of sorts, the ambulance driver trying to put the gurney into the vehicle, the other two pulling it from him.  Finally, the driver gave up and was driving away, leaving the girl and the gurney behind.  Another priest from the group stopped the ambulance and somehow convinced the driver to both take the girl and himself to the hospital.  She was taken, given fluids and returned to the gym in a matter of hours.

Meanwhile, towards the end of the prayer service, the local bishop showed up to give a few words (a few too many words if you ask me).  He spent a few minutes talking about the grief that was felt in the loss of the young man and then claimed an inspiration from the Holy Spirit - to take up a collection in order to build a monument of some sort in an unnamed foreign country.  His inspiration seemed to fall on deaf ears as no collection was ever taken and no further mention of the idea was made by anyone the rest of our time there.  It was a sad and funny attempt, and I was a bit amused to see it fail (damn my problem with authority!).

The next day we were scheduled to go to the city of Penne.  I was up early and began debating with myself about going on this trip or not.  We were supposed to walk to the train station and catch a bus there, but the directions were not real clear about which bus, where exactly we would find it, and what we were going to see.  The one thing that helped me to decide was the fact that it was raining - making a walking tour of Pescara or time at the beach rather unpleasant thoughts.  Finally, at the last minute, I decided to go for it and joined the Texans, South Africans and Zambians.

Penne is a city spread out on two hills with a population of about 12,000 people.  The village is an ancient one, evolving through the Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Italian Resurgence periods of time.  There is an important bird sanctuary near the city as well as an experimental agricultural center.  There are a number of churches throughout the area (typical of these Italian towns) all claiming to be important for one reason or another.  The city is spidered by seep cobbled alley-ways with dark and discrete shades of color.  There are town walls and friezes as well as belt courses speaking of the town’s artistic masonry and crafts.  It claims to be an arts-town, priding itself on its earthenware, silk-screens, embroidery, weaving, jewelry and cabinet-works. 

It is about an hour bus ride from Pescara on a very windy, always rising road.  We passed many ancient villas in different stages of disrepair.  Many of the hills along the way were covered with the stucco, red-tiled roofed houses and buildings that were becoming rather common on these jaunts.

We rode the bus to the end of the line in Penne and were deposited at a rather large cobble-stone plaza that served as the main bus stop for the city.  Above us, on a rather steep walk were a number of stores and restaurants, including a vegetable stand and bakery.  When we arrived, there was no one present to meet us.  We had no clue if we were supposed to wait there or go some other place to meet up with other pilgrims or tour guides.  We all waited a bit, made relay trips to the market, and talked a lot about the lack of planning or care that the Italian planners were giving to this whole week.

Finally, one of us having found a map, we decided to take our own tour of the city.  We were heading up the steep street toward what seemed from the map a major church.  As we are making our way up the street, we were stopped by a man claiming to be our guide.  He asked us to wait for more people to arrive.  The South Africans were rather wary of this guy.  They kept asking him how much the tour would cost us.  The man kept assuring them that it was free, that we simply had to wait until the whole group gathered.  He asked us to wait on the steps of a bank where he had intersected us.  We had  been waiting for more than hour by now and I was getting a bit tired of it all, I was not thrilled with the idea of waiting any longer.  I told the group good-bye and decided to take the bus back to Pescara..

At the bus stop, another bus pulled in and deposited the Anglo-Irish group (here after refereed to as the AI group) at the plaza.  I told them that I was heading back and where they could find the others.   After they emptied from the bus, I joined several of the local people in getting on.  I was sitting, waiting for the bus to leave when one of the Italian organizers (I use that term loosely here) came on and tried to talk me into staying.  “Why you go?” he asked.  “I’m tired of waiting,” was my response.  “O.K.” he said.  With that, he got off the bus, and we headed back.  I was tired of the confusion, and besides, the sun was coming out... I was hoping it was going to turn into beach weather after all.

The trip back was as pretty as the trip there.  The half hour walk from the train station to the gym was made more pleasant by the fact that the Block-Buster video store was selling Diet Coke and I bought their last two.  When I got within a few blocks of the gym, it became apparent that the flea market from the day before had moved to the streets and parking lot of the gym where I was staying.  After weaving my way through a rather confusing maze of booths and displays I finally made it back to my bedroll, changed into my swim gear and went to the beach.

I laid out for a couple of hours.  The crowds were really diminished (Mondays are like that I guess) and most of the umbrellas were folded up.  The water was rougher than I had seen it thus far and the wind was blowing a bit harder, spreading sand over me and in my eyes.  The tide must have been rather low too as the rocks seemed much closer than usual.   I got back a bit after 5 in the evening and cleaned up.  Then it was off to a local church for mass - which was supposed to have started at 6:30 but did not get under way until a bit after 7, ending at about 8:30.  During the mass, another girl (French, I think) fainted as well as a South African girl.  This called for more ambulances.  The Mass was followed by a meeting of all the group leaders to receive our ID badges and information about the activities in Rome for the World Youth Day.  The meeting was painfully slow as things had to be translated into a number of languages and there were many pieces of information that had to be told.

I had come to feel a bit responsible for the Texas group.  They seemed a bit lost about things and events.  The chaperone never seemed real sure what was going on or where.  I did my best over the week to help them be in the right places at the right time and help anyway I could.  It was a bit of a relief to discover during this meeting that most all the English speaking groups would be housed in the same place in Rome. Unfortunately, for some odd reason, the Zambians were being separated from the South African group and being housed elsewhere. I was a bit concerned about this because the two students were there pretty much on their own, tagging along with the South African group, but there was nothing we could say to get the organizers to change their minds or the housing assignments.  I can understand this to a certain degree as the organizers were trying to take care of almost 2 million people, and these 2 were not high on their list of priorities.  Oh well, the Zambians seemed to think it would be all right, and they have shown themselves to be quite self-sufficient.

After learning that I was assigned to a school gym floor about an hour away from Rome itself, I decided that I would not be staying there after all.  I would return to the General House and take up my room there.  My plan was to go with the Texans and others, get them checked in and settled and then go to the General House.  Thankfully, the badges for the World Youth Day will get me free train and subway travel throughout the week.  I was feeling a bit guilty about leaving the Texans alone, but not guilty enough to stay with them.

After the meeting we returned to the gym.  There, I helped to get the badges ready and explain the situation to the Texas group, and then went to join the gang at the bar.  When I first got there, not many others were present and there was no music.  The bartender was running very low on beer anyway as we had depleted his stock and he had not been able to get any more product in time for us.  Eventually the others came to join us, we drank a few and returned to the gym.  Our train was leaving at 6:00 the next morning and the buses would begin transporting us to the station at 4:15 - so that meant a 3:30 awakening at the latest.  I needed all the sleep I could get.

The next morning went surprisingly well.  The buses were on time, the train was on time, me and the Texans were able to get a couple of sitting cars to ourselves and were able to spread out enough to fold down the seats into beds and get some sleep en route to Rome.  I was sunburned and tired, so I appreciated the sleep - got over 3 hours of it.

My trip from Rome to Pescara had only take about 3-4 hours.  This trip took almost 7 hours.  It did not put us into Rome until almost 1:00.  When I was awake, I was able to watch the beautiful scenery pass by the windows and take the occasional cigarette between the train cars.  After getting into Rome, the chaos began.  We had to find the proper train platform for our train to Albano - the city outside of Rome where we were to be housed.  The Information desk kept giving conflicting directions to where we might find the train, but after a few false starts, we did finally find the correct platform.  We had about an hour wait and took turns going to the store for sodas and snacks while the others watched our bags.

When the train did finally arrive it became very apparent that they had not put enough cars on it as over 800 people attempted to board.  The train would make several stops on the way to Albano, as there were several other housing cities along the way.  As I understand it, an appeal was made to all the churches and institutions of Rome to open their doors to the pilgrims and offer them housing.  I guess the response was pretty good and generous as everyone got in somewhere.  Housing 2 million visitors would almost double any other city, and to house that many was an incredible feat.

The train was stacked with people.  There were not enough seats, what with the luggage and numbers of people.  I ended up standing in the midst of a bunch of luggage, holding on and trying not to fall in the laps of others as we hit bumps, stopped and started and all those other things that trains do in order to make a person fall.  The Texans were about 2 cars ahead of me, and one of them tried to fight his way through the cars to come and get me, we eyed one another from either end of the car where I was standing, and I finally told him to forget it, I would stay right here - there was no way I was going to fight my way through those people with my luggage and such.  It was only going to be an hour long trip and I would just rather stand.  The train was crowded, hot, the windows would not open, and the bodies were all very close to one another.  Anyone with a bottle of water passed it around, and somehow we made it without any major problems due to the heat.  Of course, I kind of grossed out a couple of folks sitting near where I was standing.  I was wearing a sleeveless shirt and as I held the bar above my head, the sweat trickled from under my arm and onto them... YUCK!  (I guess you did not need to know that).

The Albano train station did not look as though it had been used in years... dirty, run-down and seeming on the verge of collapse.  Those staying there got out of the train and , as usual, waited for someone who knew what was going on to come and tell us what was going on.  We waited while the organizers fussed with one another about what they were to do with us.  Several times the Texan chaperone and I were told to move up the road (a rather steep road it was too) and several times we did just that, and then the organizer escorting us would be called away by another helper and we were left on the road not sure where to go next.  A couple of times we started back down only to be met by someone else who told us to go with him/her.  It was a real comedy of errors, and had it not been so hot, and our bags so heavy, it would have been really funny.

In the meantime, another AI girl fainted at the train station and had to be dealt with.  Finally, after an hour or so of moving up and down the road, we were finally led to the school and the hall where we were to register our group and then be shown our accommodations.  They had a few problems (heightened by the fact that they did not speak hardly any English) finding my registration.  After 20 minutes or so of going back and forth about this, they finally found me in their forms and then we were given our “goodies bags” for the people in our group.  In a SNAFU that was becoming typical of the organizers, although the English speakers were all assigned to this area, the literature, prayer books, schedules, etc. were all in Italian.  Somehow, the wrong materials were delivered to this location and there was nothing that our organizers could do about it.  Oh well.  At least the candle, lamp, pins, scarf, hat and other non-printed items were O.K.

We were being housed in a local grammar school.  All the girls from the various groups were being housed in the gym en masse, while the boys were being separated into the various classrooms.  The Texan boys (all 5 of them) were given their own classroom to bunk in.  It was luxurious considering that most all the other classrooms were housing up to 14 people each.

After getting everyone settled into their spaces we left the school (where they were wondering what to do with a group of about 40 people who apparently had no assigned spaces) and headed to the train station.  This train, back to Rome, was not as crowded as I had expected.  Since the beginning of the World Youth Day events were supposed to start at 7 pm at St. Peter’s, I really thought it would be as crowded as our trip to Albano, but it was not.  I guess that they had run several trains and this one was not as crowded as the one before or the one that would come after.  By now, the long day began to really affect the kids and they were struggling to stay awake on this hour-long trip back to Rome.

When we got to the train station, we were met by a number of volunteers who helped direct us to the subway and buses that would take us to St. Peter’s.  Unfortunately, I had to leave the Texans at this point - they would have to take a bus, I would be on the subway.  We said good-bye and promised to try to meet up at St. Peter’s.  (As I would discover ... HA!  Wishful Thinking!). 

The subway was crowded and got more so stop after stop, until we got to the St. Peter’s stop where the train cleared to almost empty.  I was tired, hot and hurting from the baggage I was carrying, and wanted nothing more than to get away from the crowds, the pushing, the pulling, the uncertainties and confusions, I wanted a bath, some room to breathe and a Diet Coke!  I got off the subway at what I was sure was the proper stop.  But something went wrong.  I walked back and forth, up and down the street, looking for the proper side street (that I just knew I would recognize once I saw it) but never finding it.  I walked in a direction that I was sure would at least lead me to the main street running in front of the General House but not real sure.  I finally asked a man for directions, he gave them to me, and an hour later I was walking through the gates of the General House... not real sure what had happened.

I took a long, cleansing shower, changed into something less dirty and smelly and was going to grab an apple or something from the kitchen when I discovered that supper was still being served.  Sometimes the Italian habit of eating later can be a real blessing.  I joined a group of Polish Oblates at their table, attempted some conversation, and then, thankfully, Don came in - just having returned from Pompeii.

After dinner, I proceeded to St. Peter’s for the opening ceremonies of the World Youth Day (heretofore referred to as WYD - got to save my typing fingers) events.  The Pope was scheduled to open this celebration from the steps of St. Peter’s, and I had promised to try and meet up with the Texans there.

The plaza was jammed!  There was a solid sea of young people stretching from one end of the colonnade to the other, from the steps of the basilica and bleeding out into the street that fronts the colonnade, all the way down to the river.  This is what a million + people look like when they are all trying to get into the same place at the same time.  It was incredible.  Never had I seen so many people in one place.  And there were thousands of others all along the side streets, the alleyways, all through the surrounding area.  Some had already given up and were heading to other places, some were just arriving, others were holding their own, private, prayer gatherings.  All of them seemed excited and joy-filled and amazed about being there.  I got there late, and did not get to see the opening remarks.  There were huge screens set up throughout the piazza, along the streets, almost everywhere in the area, helping people to see what was going on.  The audio was being transmitted over a number of radio stations in the various languages and people had been told to bring small radios with them so that they could listen to the simultaneous translations in their own native tongues (this was true for all the major events of the WYD activities - really a very good system).

I wandered through the crowds, hoping to spot my Texans, but it never happened.  I did run into the Turkmenistan group, and that was pleasant.  They were very excited about it all and had been close to the pope-mobile when it had driven the pope through the crowds and to the steps of the basilica - this seemed to thrill them to no end.  This was actually the second of the two official welcomings that the pope was making.  The first had happened at St. John Lateran’s (the basilica of the bishop of Rome) and was for the Italian youth gathered.  This second one was for everyone else.  The pope had gone from one to the other

I walked by the emergency-aid tents, they were filled with young people hooked up to IV’s, human chains of people holding hands with one another snaked through the crowds, national flags were being waved and rubbed in peoples faces.  It was hard to really “get into” the spiritual aspects of this gathering... it seemed more a high school pep rally or home-coming event.  Lots of fun, lots of energy, but given the conditions... not a lot of apparent praying going on.  I think that was all right though, celebration can often be as important as prayer. After about an hour or so of wandering about and fighting my way through the crowds, watching ambulances make one trip after another with fainting and heat-suffering pilgrims, after several bottles of the free water being offered to all present, I finally decided I had had enough.  I really was not able to focus on what was being said or done for the events, and decided that I could afford to miss the fireworks that were promised to end these ceremonies.

I got back to the General House and was met in the kitchen by Fr. Jim, a South African Oblate who was also staying there for these events.  We had a couple of beers and then I decided to call it a night.  It was hot in my room, no breeze, but it was a bed, it was not on a floor, and there were not bodies all around me... that night I slept very well.

I got a fairly good and early start the next morning (by now it is the 16th of August).  I called Don about 9 as he had requested, I think I woke him up.  He did not sound as though he was up to anything that morning so I went out and did a little toiletry shopping for some essentials as well as something to put on my sunburn.  I also found some Jack Daniels bourbon (it too is good for sunburns).  I had not been able to locate the recreation room in the house and so was not sure what they had to drink outside of the wine kept in the dining hall area..  While out on this little jaunt I discovered that I had in fact been at the right subway stop the day before.  It turns out that I kept getting out at the exit on the opposite end and across the street from where I usually got on.  Not recognizing that fact, I headed in the direction that I normally would have at the proper stop, and so away from where I wanted to be.  What a idiotically simple thing it was - though that did not make me feel any better about having gotten turned around.

I dropped my stuff off at the General House and then headed to the Piazza Cavour.  When I arrived at the house though, there was a message on my door - Rolando (a friend of mine in TX) had called.  Well, I thought it had to be an emergency (something wrong with another friend of ours or with his new baby) and so I immediately returned the call.  I forgot to consider the time difference and ended up calling him at 3 in the morning... his time.  Well, it was nothing.  He just thought he would surprise me.  He said he told the person who took the message that it was not an emergency and not to return the call... but that was left off the message.  We had a brief conversation and I let him get back to sleep.  Our group was due at that piazza (just up the street from St Peter’s, on the other side of the Castle San Angelo) at 12:30 for a pilgrim walk.  I was hoping that I would meet up with the Texans there, but that was not to be, I did, however, run into the AI group.

This walk is a penitential procession going from Piazza Cavour to St. Peters. It is a shorter version of the fuller walk that many pilgrims choose to take... from the Coliseum to St. Peters.  Along the way prayers and songs are broadcast over loudspeakers for the pilgrims and references are made to certain prayers and meditations found in the prayer book that was part of the pilgrim packets.  Lamp posts had been turned into “stations” along the way by attaching rather elaborate signs to the posts announcing the meditation theme at each station - these included things like “the martyrs of Communist Countries”, “Love God with your whole heart, mind and spirit”.  The walk led us into St. Peter’s through the Jubilee Door (there were so many going though for the WYD that they consecrated another door as the “Youth Jubilee Door” so that entrance to the church would be a bit swifter - as it was, it took almost half an hour to get in once we had gotten to the lower steps), up the main aisle of St. Peter’s, around the main altar and back out again. 

Actually, for most of the year, people would have been allowed to wander through St. Peter’s rather leisurely, but given that so many were coming at one time, they blocked off all but the route that they wanted us to walk, not allowing access to the rest of the magnificent basilica.  I was thankful that I had seen it many times before, but felt a bit bad for those who had not.  I was hopeful that the barricades would be removed before the end of the week to allow those who wanted to to see more of it all. A big surprise... we were allowed to enter even if we were wearing shorts... though they kept the usual restrictions against sleeveless shirts. This walk was for all those coming to Rome in this Jubilee Year, not just for the WYD.  It was rather nicely done, but with so many people and the traffic and such, it seemed a bit rushed.  We really did not take the time to truly pray the walk as we might have. 

I did in fact make the entire pilgrim’s walk, only backwards (and in fact, made it many times over the course of the next few days.. Not as a prayer experience, but as a way of getting from one place to another) as I returned to Piazza Cavour to see if I could run into the Texans (I didn’t) and from there headed to the Colosseum and Circus Maximus where our group was assigned to attend mass and be fed.  Upon exiting St. Peter’s, I thought I spied the Alaskan flag at the far end of St. Peter’s Square, but by the time I got to where I thought I had seen it, those carrying the flag had disappeared.  It was then I remembered that there were supposed to be a number of pilgrims from my parishes in Ketchikan and Juneau who had planned on being in Rome for WYD.  As I made my way to the Colosseum, I kept my eyes opened for Texans and Alaskans.

About two blocks form the Circus, I did run into a group of about 6 Alaskans.  They were from the parish I was at in Juneau.  We were all very excited about running into one another, took pictures, hugs all around and some catching up.  They told me about the others that had come with them and that they were heading to the Circus themselves to catch up with them.  I walked with them and their tour guide (they were here on a packaged tour - good for them).  When we got to the Circus, I excused myself to go find food.  They were going to search for the rest of their group and we promised to keep looking for one another... a task made easier for me thanks to their big flags.

The food was actually being served at a park several blocks from the Circus.  I got in the proper line and as I was making my way towards the serving areas, I was a bit dismayed about the signs that proclaimed that we would be fed in groups of 6.  Well, I was not in a group of six.. I was in a group of one.  I got to the serving line, showed my ticket and then was pointed to 5 people who were just making their way out of the line.  One of the servers stopped them and asked if I could sit in with them.  They were happy to have me.

I was quite impressed by how they were feeding all these pilgrims.  I guess all the food matters were handed over to the Sodexho Company. They set up feeding stations at places all over Rome as well as the distant places where people were staying.  They set up huge portable pasta cookers at all the places and people were given freshly made pastas, breads, fruits, meats, etc.  It was really very well done.  Lunch was the big meal and then the evening meals were usually breads and canned meats or cold-cuts, and at lunch they would also give each person a boxed breakfast for the next morning.  Food was actually well done and must have been a massive venture to feed that many.

After eating and spending some time trying to communicate with my Italian dinner-mates, I returned to the Circus for mass and to catch up with the Alaskans.  On my way there I was stopped by one of the Texan youth.  It seemed that they had made it after all, though they had gotten turned around in the morning and did not make it to the pilgrim walk.  I talked with the group for a while and then, spying the Alaskan flags, excused myself to go and visit with them.  As I was making my way to the flags, I got stopped by the two Zambian students who were traveling with a Canadian group that was staying at the same place they were.  They were in good spirits but were claiming not to have any money on them and so, caving in to their doleful eyes, I gave them a 50,000 lire note (about $25.00) and continued towards the Alaskans.

Actually, ever since I met these two Zambians, the one in particular had been talking about their great poverty, how they needed soccer balls back in Zambia, how they needed this thing or that, how nice it would be if I were to write them once I was back in the states and include a dollar or two with my letters.  They really had the “mission appeal” talk down pat.  I had been determined not to give in to it, but I guess I was weak at this point.

As I continued moving toward the Alaskans, I ran into Fr. Pat Travers, a priest from Alaska that I had known while I was there.  He had been hearing confessions in one of the hundreds of confession stations set up all around the Circus.  The 4:00 mass was just coming to a close (I was scheduled to attend the 6:00 mass.  Actually, when we ran into each other he was just coming out of one of the portable toilets, and when he told me what he was doing, I initially thought that they had converted these portable toilets into confessional booths (I was aghast) but as it turned out, they were simply blocking my view of the actual stations (thank God).

I caught up with the Alaskan group which included Mike Schwarte (another priest I knew) as well as the Bishop.  It turned out that there were over 100 from the diocese traveling together.  Wow!  We hugged, took pictures, laughed, caught up with each other, made jokes, remarked on the changes since we last saw each other, and simply took great pleasure in being together again.  Jessica, one of my former servers, was especially glad to see me and I her.  These Alaskans were not used to so much sun and heat, and Jessica’s nose, like so many of the others, had turned cherry red.  I had to get pictures and tease her about it... it was great fun.  It was very hot and bright at the Coliseum, but there were trucks spraying water on people and lots of volunteers handing out free large bottles of water.   After a while the Alaskans had to head back to their hotel.  I was invited to come and see them there, but I was never able to find the location on my map and so I did not get to do that.

I decided to head home myself.  Passing through a number of plazas and near lots of the big tourist sights, it was apparent how many people were in the city.  Everything was crowded, young people were everywhere, sitting at the outdoor patios, buying ice cream, sitting at the fountains, playing instruments, singing and just carrying on like young people.  It was a crush of people everywhere, but it was also high energy and good spirits.... it felt good.  Many of the churches had set up small stages in their piazzas and were offering free entertainment to those that chose to gather, it seemed the entire town was celebrating WYD with the pilgrims (at least those not on vacation).  Rome felt like a festival.

I got back to the General House about 8:00 or so to catch the tail-end of supper.  After eating, I bathed and began doing laundry.  That was a task that took me well past midnight.  Each load was taking about 2 hours to do.  The public washing machine is a small one, and typical of Europe, is very slow and stingy with the water.  Also, I did not know how the appropriate settings and found out later that I was washing too hot (so forcing the machine to heat the water) and that was one of the reasons it was taking so long.  There was no drying machine so I had to hang everything outside on lines hung on the patio for just that purpose.  It was too dark to see that I was hanging quite a few of these clothes on rusty lines, but that fact became all too apparent the next morning when I found much of my clothing marked with dirty rust lines.  Oh well.  I managed to get it all hung up a bit after midnight and got to bed.

The next day was a long day of walking.  I started the day by gathering my laundry from the patio where I discovered the rust marks ( I thought it was a rather rough twine of some sort that I was hanging these things on) - oh well, I have too many t-shirts anyway.  The clothing was stiff from being hung up outside, and I am not sure how well they were rinsed. 

After taking care of my clothes, I was off.  I began with my usual walk to St. Peter’s, as I passed the entrance to the Vatican Museum, I was shocked at the huge line of people that snaked for blocks and blocks along the walls of the city all the way to the colonnade of St. Peter’s.  Wow!  I was hoping to see the Sistine Chapel without all the scaffolding, but I figured I would wait until the WYD was over and perhaps have a better chance of getting in.  I was certainly not going to join that line. 

As I continued my walk, I took a street that I had not been on in years and years and much to my delight re-discovered the little pizza shop that everyone I was in college with at the time agreed was the best pizza in Rome.  It is still great!  After grabbing a slice of pizza, I made my way down the broad, tree-lined Via Giuilio Cesare, looking into the windows of the many high-scale shops that lined the avenue until I arrived at the Piazza Popolo and the Villa Borghese. 

The Villa is a huge collection of gardens and parks as well as the Rome Zoo and several museums.  I walked through the various parks and gardens enjoying the great number of ponds and fountains as well as the busts of famous Italians that were strewn throughout the Villa.  There were a number of pilgrims in the park as well, all of them enjoying the cool of the shade trees and the many different sights that were part of the park.  They, like me, had decided to skip the morning catechesis session.  Each day of the pilgrimage there were catechetical sessions offered in various churches throughout the city.  These sessions were usually given by a bishop and were more often than not very bad experiences.  I found that the speakers were often talking down to the young people and treated them as though they had never heard of the gospel before.  It was both insulting and sad, they could have been very good sessions if the young people had been treated as Christians on a journey rather than pagans that knew nothing.  I was not going to sit through any more of these sessions.

After seeing the gardens, I returned to the piazza and then headed to the Coliseum where I thought I would take the tour.  Along the way I stopped at the Trevi Fountain again, more to see the crowds gathered than to take in the freshly cleaned fountain.  I also made a stop at the Pantheon and few more less known churches and plazas.  I was in no hurry and simply wanted to enjoy the sights, the weather, the crowds and the walk itself.  All the more known stops were crowded with pilgrims and at times it was difficult to get through the crowds, but it was fun all the same.

When I finally arrived at the Coliseum there was a long line of folks trying to get in.  Things had changed since my last trip to Rome.  They used to charge to get into the Forum but not the Coliseum - but this had been switched.  I decided that I did not want to spend the money, and definitely did not want to stand in line, so I passed it up.  I decided to head back to the Piazza Popolo and catch the big concert that was scheduled to happen there.

As I returned to the Piazza, I was struck by the number of flags that I did not recognize - were they some of these new countries that had sprouted up since the re-organization of the former Soviet nations?  Were they regional or local flags?  It was fun trying to guess, and even occasionally asking, finding out and quickly forgetting again.  Some of them were quite intriguing.  Another thing that slowed my progress and was even a little fun was that I was stopped quite often and asked if I would take pictures of individuals and groups that were at the various plazas and tourist stops.  It always strikes me how reticent I am to ask for the same thing.  There is something about my personal shell that does not often allow me to ask for such a simple act of help, though most people are more than willing to help out.  I have asked for it at times without a problem... but I got to REALLY WANT that picture taken.

At one point during my walk up the streets of Rome I had to walk around a horse hitched to a carriage (for tourists) and as I passed by its head, it tried to take a bite at me.  If I had been a bit slower in moving my arm he would have definitely taken flesh - as it was, my skin simply slid out between his teeth as they began to close... YIKES!

The walk was hot as the sun was bright, not a cloud in the sky and no wind at all.  I enjoyed it, despite the sweat and thirst.  Arriving at Popolo at about 4, I was part of a massive crowd of mainly US young people.  This concert was being supported by American religious groups and was quite an extravaganza.  There were lots of free CD’s, computer games, t-shirts, badges and videos as well as lots of other little items. 

The Piazza is larger than a football field with a beautiful fountain in the center and arches, walls, sculptures, a church and some other buildings that make up three of the walls the fourth area leads out to some popular shopping and “upper-end” shops and restaurants.  The place was jam-packed with young people - mainly American, but lots of others as well.  I ran into a couple of groups from Texas (Dallas and Texas Tech), a group from St. Louis, a Colorado group (different from the one in Pescara) and several others.  They were all waving their flags, singing state and school songs and having a lot of fun.

I think every big-name Christian artist and group was present for the event, and some of them were impressively good.  There was “Up With People”, Storyteller, the guy who plays the guitar with his feet (he has no hands), and Tinman and Scarecrow, and many others.  The concert went on for 7 hours and featured every variety of Christian music a person could think of... pop, country, rock, reggae, folk, etc., etc.  A cameraman was set up in the center, near the fountain and there were several times that I feared for his safety on his platform.  The moderator would throw “freebies” into the crowd and they would swarm after the things, many times pushing against the camera platform.  But for the most part all was fun, good-natured, lots of dancing and swaying, cheering and laughter. 

I stuck around for more than three hours and then decided to head back home.  I was hot and sweaty and bit hungry.  Home was a good place to go to.  I walked up to St. Peter’s and then took the Metro from there.  Getting out at the correct stop, I ran into the same problem as before.  I t seemed the side-street that I was meant to go up had disappeared.  I knew I was in the right place.  I knew my street was around here some place.  I just had to figure it out.  I would walk up some streets and not find my turn and then go back and start over again.  My problem was that I refused to go back or to cross the street.  I just knew which direction I should go.... but after a while I decided that maybe I didn’t... so I went against what my head said I should do... and found my turn.  This was a real “aha” moment and from this point on, I would know how to get back home.  It was so simple... once it was figured out.

I got home, showered, joined Don for a couple of drinks and he informed me that the news was reporting that over 600 people had “dropped” from heat exhaustion or dehydration at the opening ceremonies at St. Peter’s / St. John Lateran.  Wow!  We made plans for an early start in the morning in order to visit the Appian Way.

Don and I met for a 7:30 AM breakfast and then made our way to the Appian Road (La Via Appia Antica) via Metro and bus.  We were going to spend the morning walking this ancient road that was once part of the great road network established by ancient Rome.  In fact, this was the first and most important of the great road which the Romans built and was referred to as the Queen of Roads.  It was constructed towards the end of the 4th century BC in order to set up a fast communication between Rome and Capua.  The road was 132 miles long and was normally covered in a journey lasting 5 or 6 days.

As Rome expanded its holdings, the Appian way was lengthened several times until it reached Brindisi, the port city that was the gateway to the East.  The Appian way was paved with huge stones called “basoli” made of basalt rock and roughly polygonal in shape.  Great ruts for carriages were carved and worn into the road.  This carriage way had a standard width of 14 roman feet which allowed 2 carriages going in opposite directions to pass one another.  Two hard-packed earth walkways limited by a stone curb and at least 4.5 feet in width flanked the carriage-way.

Every 7-9 miles in heavy traffic areas, and every 10-12 miles in less used stretches, there was post-stations built to allow for a change of horses and to provide a place of rest and a dwelling for strangers.  Near the towns the street was flanked by great villas, and especially by tombs and funeral monuments of various kinds.  People were not allowed to bury their dead in the city itself, which was why there was such a proliferation of tombs along the road.  Because people wanted to visit their dead, they would bury them along the road and so have easy access.  The great catacombs of the early Christian church are along the road as well. 

As time wore on, and especially near the cities and towns, other buildings were built as well... hotels, stores, small homes, etc.  Apparently it could be quite crowded.  It was also a good place to pick up hookers who would often conduct their business in the small room-like tombs and monuments along the roadway.

Though many ruins of these ancient buildings and tombs still remain, the more interesting art work and even buildings that could be moved were placed in various museums and parks.  The way is still quite interesting, walking on the original stones, the wagon ruts still present, many tombs still partially standing.  And several of the villas are still inhabited, though the people who own them charge to tour through them.

Don and I walked a good five miles, stopping and trying to figure out what one ruin or another might have been (we had a small guide brochure with us, but it wasn’t always great help).

The walk was a pleasant one, and there were not too many other people walking the route.  Don tells me that during the weekends it can be quite crowded.  There were even a few joggers along the way, which is quite unusual in Rome.  I have seen maybe a total of a dozen joggers in all my visits to the Eternal City, and most of them were foreigners (myself included).  We did have to get out of the way of several vehicles on the roadway, and the closer we got to the city, the more cars we had to dodge.

Along the way we passed the ruins of an ancient imperial residence.   Nearest the road and partly hidden by a farm house built against it in a later period is the mausoleum called the tomb of Romulus named after a dead emperor’s son in 309 AD.  Behind the tomb is the circus.  This was once a great place for chariot races and could hold up to 10,000 spectators.  It was here that the few Christians killed in sport - not in the Circus Maximus or in the Coliseum as is usually believed.  There were very few killed in such spectator sports in the first place.  Most of them were usually just crucified along the road.

We did try to visit the catacombs, but these, unlike the road itself, were quite crowded with busloads of tourists.  We found out that it would be quite a wait before we could actually get in, and though I would not have minded, Don is not a great waiter.  I made a mental note to return.  Don had also sort of “walked himself out” and so we tried to catch a bus at one of the stops near the Basilica of St. Sebastian built in the early fourth century.  It is quite a small church, maybe capable of holding a hundred people at best.  It was once named after Sts. Peter and Paul but after the ninth century it was dedicated to the martyr buried in the nearby catacombs.  The buses were too full, some of them not even bothering to stop, so we continued to “hoof it.”

Our route took us to the ancient walls of Rome and we passed through the Porta San Sebastiano - the ancient Appian Portal.  It was built by Emperor Aurelian in the latter half of the 3rd century AD.  It was incredible - the walls are very thick and the castle-like watchtowers flanking either side of the gate are still standing, still very much intact, and still inhabited.  In fact, there are homes built right into the walls along the way.  What must it be like to live in a structure older than Jesus?  What glimpses we got of the interiors of these homes were not real impressive, but it still seems it might come with a certain thrill.  The road from this point was narrowed due to the walls on either side and did not offer much of a sidewalk at all.  This made walking a little more perilous as the small Italian cars would take curves and come out of hidden side streets with no care for anything resembling a speed limit.  But it was also a nice walk, to watch the ancient buildings and walls slowly give way to more modern buildings, or renovated villas set back from the walls.  Finally the walls gave way, the ancient stones were replaced with modern asphalt and concrete and we were in the area of the Circus Maximus and the great park that sat at one end (the park where I ate with the Italian strangers).

Don took me back to his Chinese Restaurant and we had a mid-day meal and then we made our way back to the General House.  Once there, Don retired for his siesta and I went to hunt down a Diet Coke... unfortunately, it was siesta time and the search took over an hour before I found a store that was open and that carried the product of my desire.  They were warm, but at least they were Diet Coke.  I took my sodas home, popped one in the freezer and then went up to the roof of the house in order to read, write and catch some sun.

In the evening I joined Don and a friend of his - Richard (who is a priest who is on the
General Council for his order, though I can’t recall which order) for dinner.  Richard is a lot of laughs and interesting conversationalist.  We started with some cocktails in Don’s room and then went to town.  We had a wonderful meal in a plaza and finished a couple of bottles of wine as we watched the people wander by.  From there we went to a local bar for a few more drinks and a lot more laughs, bringing our evening to an end sometime after midnight.  People keep talking to me in Italian or Greek - I am told that I have a Mediterranean look to me, though not a Mediterranean ear - but then again, it might have just been the bar-maid flirting with me for a bigger tip - nahhhh!  After catching the appropriate buses, we finally got home and I got into bed a bit after 1 in the morning.  I do enjoy these Roman evenings.                 

The next day, Saturday, August 19, was the day of the vigil for WYD.  Very early in the morning Eucharist was celebrated at the various housing sights for all the pilgrims and then they were to converge towards the area of Tor Vergata.  From what I understand, Tor Vergata is a campus of the University of Rome.  It is a fairly new facility and was the largest area that could be found with some facilities and capable of handling the 2 million people expected for the vigil and the following day’s Mass with the Pope.

Don had told me that it was only about a five mile walk.  He had gotten this from the news.  What he didn’t get was that the 5-mile walk was from the gathering site to the actual event-site.  It was much further than that from the General House... much further, as I was to discover. 

The school was in the Southeast area of Metropolitan Rome.  I thought if I walked towards the Coliseum that I would surely see others making the walk and that I could then follow/join them in getting to the actual site.  There were lots of buses going to the site, but I was not real excited about using them, and thought I could use the exercise.  Well, I certainly got the exercise. 

As I walked, the clock struck Noon, and all the bells in the diocese of Rome and neighboring dioceses’ rang their bells... this was in honor of the WYD event.  It was quite a sound to have so many bells ringing at once, resounding off the marble walls, cheering the air and giving the entire city a feel of “festival.”  Truly awesome!

When I got to the Coliseum and did not find the groups walking that I had hoped for.  In fact, the only groups I saw were those that were waiting at bus stops.  I consulted my map, saw that if I were to follow the train tracks that I would get to the site.  I began the trek.  Actually, it led me through an area of Rome that I had never seen before.  There were times when I wondered if I was on the right track (I was following a rather large street that was paralleling the train tracks), but then I would see a bus load of pilgrims pass me by and I was reassured.  My walk took me along portions of the ancient city walls that I had no idea still existed.  This route also took me through what I was later told was the “sleazy area” of the city... if only I had bothered to walk down more of the side streets I might have seen a side of Rome I had not experienced before.  Oh well, no use crying over lost opportunities.

Fours hours after having set out for the Tor Vergata, I arrived at the starting point for the “Pilgrim’s Walk” to the actual site.  This was the place where the buses were dropping off the pilgrims, it was also the place where you could pick up your food for the lunch, supper, breakfast and next day’s lunch.  It was all packed into a rather hefty box.  I felt sorry for the pilgrims who would be carrying that box as well as their backpacks, sleeping bags and other things that they had hauled with them.  I saw all sorts of ingenious ways that the pilgrims were using to make the load bearable.  Many people sorted through the box and left behind those things that they knew they would not eat (lots of canned, heavily oiled meats) and distributing the rest in their backpacks.  Others were sliding their flag staffs or other sticks through the handles of several of the boxes and taking turns carrying the load.  Some of the African pilgrims were even walking, balancing their box (and sometimes boxes) on their heads... amazing - being able to walk through that crowd and maintain the balance - but they did it with great grace.  I decided that I would pass up the food..  I could always come back later for it if I really wanted it.  What an incredible feat - over two million of those boxes.  The walk from this point to the actual vigil site was about 6 miles.

The mass of people moving towards the hills of the vigil site was really something... people trudging along as far as the eye could see.  A real sea of people all gravitating toward a single point.  It was an awesome sight, and with all the “stuff” people were carrying, it looked like the war-time evacuations and forced marches that are always seen in the movies about WW2.

There were thousands and thousands (literally) of young and not so young people moving down the road.  Along the way were rows and rows of portable toilets, hundreds of  pallets of bottled water free fro the taking, trucks making their way slowly down the middle of the road spraying and misting people along the walk, there were also sprinklers set up along the way... the watering was really appreciated as there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was bright and hot.

As we got closer to the actual site, the crowds were moving more and more slowly, and the people were backing up on one another as they were herded from the road to the comparatively narrow sidewalks.  As we got closer to the site of the papal appearance, barricades were set up along the sidewalks to keep people out of the streets (this also helped the many ambulances that were making their way up and down the road).  At one point, maybe a mile or so from the site, they tried to get us to stop to allow those further along to disperse to their assigned camping areas and make the going a little easier.  This effort was fruitless as the closer we got, the more anxious people were to get to their assigned areas and so they ignored the volunteers trying to hold us back.  Folks simply pushed themselves through and added to the congestion ahead.

Despite it all, people were in good spirits.  The hills were slowly filling with campers.  There was a lot of confusion trying to find the assigned sites.  They had color coded the fields (mine was gray) and there were plenty of maps around, but it was still difficult to figure out where exactly any particular field area was.

The campus, as I said, is a fairly new one, and the grass seemed to have only recently been laid down, and it was quickly disappearing.  As young people tramped through the area, as the water trucks and sprays wet the pilgrims down, the grass was quickly being worn away and vast fields of dirt and mud were taking their place.  Soon there was more dirt than grass, more mud than dirt.  Several sprinklers had been set up along-side the walk way to help cool those still on the crowded sidewalk, many of these were commandeered by pilgrims who began spraying the crowds a little more directly, as well as the grounds around them.  Mud and water was freely flowing over the lazy hills where people were supposed to sleep that night.  Many of the young people were stripping away shirts and shoes and the whole scene began looking like a muddy, popular river bank, lined with swimmers wearing little more than mud and shorts.  Reminded me of those news clips of the first Woodstock.

The papal stage was set up at a central point, with the other areas fanning in a semi-circle around it.  The pope was not due to arrive until much later that evening, and in the meantime there were a number of speakers and entertainers being ignored by the crowds.  Although in a central place, the stage could hardly be seen by most of the pilgrims because of the hills or the distance or the angle of sight.  It seemed as though the stage area was actually in a small valley and that did not help either.  There were a number of huge television screens set up broadcasting what was going on at the stage, but there were not enough of them and many were so far away they could not see even these huge screens. 

Along the slopes of the valley in which the stage was placed were filled with the only people who were going to get a good view of the proceedings.  Many people were trying to find a place on these slopes, in spite of where they were assigned to be, and there did not seem to be even half a foot of room for them, but they kept trying.  As we tried to continue our trek along the sidewalk, the congestion got so great with people going in either direction that there were times that for up to ten minutes at a stretch (literally) where no movement at all was possible.  I would literally be stopped feeling the to and fro tug of the people but not being able to go either way.  Finally, something would happen to break up the log-jam and slow progress continued.

I finally found where my assigned area.  I walked through the mud and up the hills to finally get there.  I looked around and quickly determined that I was too far away from the stage to see anything there, that the closest monitor was at least half a football field away and was turned at a bad angle, that there was barely room to stand, much less lay out; and so I decided I was not staying.  I could watch it all on TV back at the General House and maybe come back in the morning for the mass.

I made my way back down to the sidewalk and began plowing my way (that might be a bit of an exaggeration, more like slowly pushed my way) through the crowds.  Since I was going the “wrong way”, I was actually making pretty good time.  Finally, I found a break in the fencing and was able to cross the street to the comparatively empty sidewalk on that side and was able to make very good time in making my escape.  There were some others who seemed to have made the same decision to leave, but surprisingly very few.  The distance I had covered in an hour in going there, I was able to cover in 20 minutes going away.

As I was departing, I passed a field of bamboo growing in a field on the other side of the street from the camping area.  I am sure that by the end of the day it was more accurate to say there WAS a field of bamboo there.  Hundreds of young people were tearing down the tall bamboo sticks, stripping off the leaves and taking them to their camping areas where they would post them upright and then tie their blankets and towels to them to make a sun barrier.  Really quite clever, but the field was already half gone when I saw it, I am sure it was reduced to a pile of discarded leaves by the time I got back to the General House.

I also passed another area where the youth were showing some real ingenuity.  On a small hill of dirt, they had carved out a square hole that must have been a couple of feet deep, about 20 yards long and 10 yards wide.  The dirt was not hard-packed and so must have been fairly easy to dig into.  This hole was then lined with hundreds of garbage bags, tarps and other non-porous materials and filled with water from a nearby hose.  It was a nice little wading pool (though a bit muddy) and lots of the young people were sitting around as though at pool side (I guess they were) others were splashing in the water - all of them seemed to be having a marvelous time.

I walked another half hour or so and finally gave in to the heat of the day and took a bus back to town.  I got off at the central station and walked the rest of the way back to Piazza Popolo.  The streets and squares were markedly less crowded, but still full.  From the Piazza I continued my walk to the Vatican and there I caught the Metro home.

Arriving at the General House in the late evening, I caught up with Don and, after cleaning up, we headed into town.  We walked a bit, shared a bottle of wine, walked a bit more and then headed back home.  I could really tell the difference without the masses of young people running around town - people were able to move about without fighting for space on the sidewalks, there were more tables available on the patios, things were a bit more relaxed and normal.

During our walk, Don pointed out some interesting facts to me that I had not known before.  Much of the city of Rome (at least the older part) is built on and around other buildings.  Houses and buildings were built along and against many ancient buildings.  It was incredible, and once Don pointed it out to me, I began to see what was now so obvious.  Archways that originally led into the old walls were now doorways into modern buildings, in fact, many of the wall’s gates have been converted into small rooms or stores.  Buildings showing a series of additions and “add-ons” over the centuries, discernible by the various kinds of bricks and stones, as well as the different architectural styles speaking of the passing ages and sensibilities.  All of a sudden, the walk through Rome becomes a far more interesting experience... just looking at the buildings.

On Sunday, I did not return to Tor Vergata.  I watched the papal mass on the television, I enjoyed the reactions of the young people via the news, I was comfortable, dry and not being pushed or prodded and had a far better view than most of the people gathered.  It was good and I was comfortable.

After watching the papal mass, I decided to go wander around some more.  I kept making plans to see or do different things throughout my walk, but my plans kept changing due to circumstances or whim.  Making my way from the General House to the Vatican I ran into a group of girls, a young boy and an older man (the father of one of the girls I believe).  They wanted to know where the Sistine Chapel was.  Well, they were walking away from the entrance so I turned them around and accompanied them to their goal.  They seemed surprised that they had passed it by, and I guess that it was not hard to do given the fact that it was closed.  The museum is usually closed on Sunday (except the last Sunday of the month).  They were terribly disappointed by this.  They were from Oregon and Seattle, traveling around Europe visiting art museums.  They had just gotten in that morning on the train from Paris.  The only reason they had come was to see the museum.  The father was especially “bummed out”, as this was his third or fourth attempt over the years to see the museum and it had never been open for him (probably, the fact that he seemed to be carrying a really heavy load of luggage probably added to his peevishness as well).  I made some other suggestions to them of worthwhile sites and continued on my way.  I suspect, given the load the father was carrying, they were not going to do a whole lot of sight-seeing that day.

.I went to St. Peter’s, intending to get into the cupola - but the lines were far too long and I did not feel an urgent need to stand in line, especially since I had seen it before.  I did run into 3 Alaskan students as I was leaving the basilica.  It seems that one of them had twisted her ankle the day before and so they stayed behind at the hotel.  But, while the rest were at the vigil site, they were doing some sight-seeing.  They were decrying the fact that Mass at St. Peter’s had been in Italian and so many of the shops were closed - welcome to Italy.  They were heading back to the hotel so as to be there when the others returned and I made my way back to the Piazza Cavour and the Castle San Angeli.  I thought I would see what time the movies were showing in the Piazza.  The theater there was advertising “Fantasia 2000" which I thought would not be a problem in translations.  Well, it was 2:00 in the afternoon and the theater was not open, there were no signs at all indicating opening time, and I could not see anyone in the theater.  “What’s going on here?” - “Oh yeah!  Italy!”

I wandered back to the Trastevere area - more for nostalgia sake than anything.  I used to spend a lot of time in this area when I was in college, and always enjoyed walking through its winding streets, small piazzas, not overly tourist-crowded plazas.  I visited the church of St. Mary at Trastevere which was cleaned up and had lots of WYD advertisements plastered on its walls.  I then found what used to be the English-language theater that I used to visit every Sunday afternoon.  What used to be a large, old-time movie theater was now a completely refurbished and fully modernized mini multi-screen theater.  It was sort of sad really, as I’m sure the they probably got rid of the guy who would sell snacks and sodas between reels and the two or three intermissions that such reel-changes necessitated.  Oh well, I guess it had to modernize or close.  Too bad.

I continued my meandering around town and then finally headed back to the General House for a Diet Coke and some more sunning.  After supper that evening, Don and I went downtown to wander again.  Now that the WYD Mass was over, the piazza’s and touristy areas were once again packed.  We stopped at one piazza in front of a church and listened to some really bad singing being done by a local church group.  Even I could tell they were really off-key and the beat of the music was not quite in synch with those singing.  The stage they were performing on seemed rather rickety and I kept waiting for it to collapse as the singers accompanied themselves with some enthusiastic jumping up and down on the stage.  It added a nice dimension of possible danger to their performance.

People at this church were also giving away more boxes of food - apparently left over from the vigil site.  There were two large trucks parked down one of the alleyways loaded with these boxes and quite a number of gypsies, street people and others were feasting on the contents of the boxes.  Good for them.  The church had even set up some tables and chairs for the folks to dine at.  After a few beers at an Irish pub, Don and I called it a night.

I was up the next morning - my original plans had been to go to the Roman beaches, but I decided that given my late start, I would use this day to go to the catacombs instead.  Figuring that most of the people who had come for WYD had either gone home or were heading home, that I would have a much better chance of getting in than when Don and I tried earlier.

Though Don kept saying that we would go together, he makes and breaks plans as quickly as a clock’s second hand moves from one second to the next.  So, to be sure I would see them, I went alone.  I walked over to the Circus Maximus and retraced my steps from the other day on the Appian Way.  Upon arriving at the Catacombs of Callista, what I told were the biggest and best site to see, I waited for about 20 minutes for an English guide.  Though there were many people present for a tour, it was only about half as crowded as the other day.

I guess I always thought the catacombs were natural caves, the graves dug into the sides of the cave walls.  I was surprised to learn that they were in fact man-made caverns.  They were dug into the fairly soft volcanic stone and went at least 4 floors down into the ground.  Each “floor” was a series of narrow hallways, niches were dug into the walls on either side of the hallways.  The niches were just big enough for a person to be placed into, with their legs bent against their chest in a fetal position, smaller niches for babies and children, larger niches for couples.  The bodies would have been wrapped in linen before being placed in their carved-out shelf.  These graves extended from ceiling to floor, the ceiling often being about 12 feet from the floor.  After the bodies were placed into the graves they were closed with either marble or some other type of stone.  Smaller holes were dug near each grave in which to place an oil lamp.

We were only allowed to tour the second level of the catacomb.  At the entrance to this level was the famous statue of Christ depicted as a very young looking shepherd.  No beard, decidedly young.  It is one of the earliest images of Christ (3rd century) that we know of.  The air was cool but humid, the floor covered with the dust of the volcanic rock.  The hallways led here and there, intersecting with other halls, other rooms, stairways and dead-ends.  The tour guide told us that some half a million people had been buried in this particular catacomb, 100,000 of them were children or babies.

There were a number of “family rooms” where an entire family was buried in the walls of the room.  Many of these rooms were decorated with frescoes and paintings along the walls or ceilings.  Most graves were undecorated, a simple chi-rho scratched into the marble cover.  Within this catacomb were buried 15 popes as well as St. Cecilia.  Most of the more famous remains were moved over the centuries and transferred to one church or another.   In the last 100 years or so, all those remains that were removed (at least from the more prominent inhabitants) have been recovered and placed in the lowest (4th) floor of the catacomb. 

There were several chapel areas that had been carved out of the stone as well.  These date from the earliest times of these graves when Christians would gather in secret for mass or to honor their dead.  In a few of these, masses were being said for groups of pilgrims. 

After about a 45 minute, very fascinating tour, we were led back outside and pointed toward the gift / souvenir shop.  I find that when I’m alone, I just will not tolerate being in a huge line for such things, and since the shops were crowded I decided to do without.

On my way back, I stopped at another church along the Appian Way.  It is called the church of Quo Vadis, also known as St. Mary in Palmis.  It is a small, rectangular building, with red-tiled roof dating from the 9th century.  Supposedly it is built on the spot where, according to tradition, St. Peter fleeing from Rome in order to escape Nero’s persecution had a vision of Jesus who reproached him, inviting him to retrace his steps back to Rome.  Domine, quo vadis? Lord, where are you going?  Venio iterum crucifigi, I am coming to be crucified again.  This was supposedly the dialog that Peter had with Jesus after he made his request that Peter return.  The imprints of 2 feet on a marble slab lies at the center of the church floor was said to be the miraculous sign left by the Lord to assure Peter that this was not just a dream.  The imprint is in fact a pagan votive to appease the gods before a journey.

I made my way back to St. Peter’s and since the lines were negligible, I managed to go up to the cupola.  The interior walk way of the great dome of St. Peter’s allows a great view of the interior of the church and the many visitors.  It is always a thrilling sight.  The only disappointment is that they have blocked off half the walk way and so a person can only walk half the circumference of the dome and not go all the way around as had been the case in the past.  I took in the grandeur of the view which really brings the immense size of the basilica really to the fore, took some pictures and then headed off to climb to the top of the cupola and the exterior cat-walk.

The winding, narrow stairway between the exterior and interior walls of the great dome of St. Peter’s was just as I had remembered it, though my knees seemed to take it very well.  I recall my first climb up these stairs as causing my knees to literally shake with the effort.  Not so this time - maybe I am in better shape.  The stairway is so narrow that a person can literally almost lean against the interior wall as they ascend the stairs.  The walls are not decorated and there is the occasional small, barred and screened, inset windows to look out and mark your progress.  There are several hundred of these steps, widening and narrowing in accord with the curvature of the dome. 

Arriving at the top, I was surprised by the number of people on the exterior walk way around the top of the dome.  I guess that most of these people had taken the elevator to the top and spared themselves the effort of the climb.  It was quite a struggle to walk all the way around with all the people crowding the walk way.  The view of the city sprawling out in every direction to the furthest hills is quite magnificent.  I took in the view, took a few photographs and then decided I had had enough of the people bumping into me, squeezing through people, etc. and decided to head back down.  As I was leaving, I watched several people scrawling their names on the walls and door way leading down.  They were not deterred by the scowls of some of us watching them.  I wondered at their lack of care or sense of shame.  Somehow it just seemed so out of place to be defacing this great monument of Christianity.  Some people!

From there I wanted to visit the Vatican Museum but they would not let me since I was wearing a sleeveless shirt.  Oh well.  I went on home, cleaned up and went to dinner with another Oblate who works at the General House, made plans with Don for a trip to Pompeii and Naples on Wednesday and called it a night.  Don did invite me to join him and another Oblate for Mass at 6:15 the next morning in the crypt at St. Peter’s... my plans were for the beach, but I did not say so.

I was up the next morning bright and early and out the door at 6:30.  I would have thought that Don would have been gone at least 15 minutes by that time and so I was very surprised to see him and his friend at the bus stop outside the gate of the General House.  They waved, I waved and then hurried on my way to the Metro.  I was off to the Roman beaches of Cipro.  It involved taking the Metro to the main terminal, catching the second Metro line and then transferring to an urban train.  Quite simple, but it took a little time - about an hour.  I had actually expected it to take longer and so I was in the beach town a bit earlier than expected (it was only about 8:00 AM - maybe just a tad early for laying out on the beach). 

The town, although part of Metropolitan Rome, gives a sense of being a lot further away and part of some other reality.  It feels like a small Roman village is supposed to feel like.  People sweeping their sidewalks, goats and dogs tied up in the yard, lots of greenery, cute little houses and buildings, much of the commercial area surrounding the train station.

I made my way through the winding, tree-shaded streets to the waterfront.  The beach here was much narrower than in Pescara, though like that city, there were commercial umbrellas and lounge-chairs set up all over the place.  The entrances to the beach were much more difficult as well, as there were far fewer public access areas and the commercial areas required an entrance fee to pass through their huge, colorful gates and ticket area.  Most of these commercial beach areas included some sort of café or restaurant and many of them featured attractions designed to lure the public onto their beach areas - there were water slides, swimming pools, cabanas, miniature golf, huge diving boards, etc.  Of course, the more “stuff”, the more the entrance fee.  Though each place had a separate charge for just renting a lounge chair and umbrella without entrance to the slides, pools, etc. 

I walked the beach front for a good hour or more until it gave way to undeveloped beach dunes that were off limits to people.  So, I headed back and finally decided on a beach front, paid my 10 dollar entrance fee (which included a lounge chair, bathroom privileges, but no umbrella).  The water was not as clear or nice as in Pescara and there were no breakers to slow diminish the waves (although there were not much waves anyway).  The sand was not the gray-white of the other coast, more a black, volcanic ash that stuck like mud to wet body parts that came in contact with it.  I settled into my routine of half-hour tanning, a dip in the water to cool down, and then tanning the other side for half an hour, dip, tan, dip, tan.  I cursed myself for not bringing any reading material with me and so spent the time watching the other people play and have fun.

This people watching at this particular section of beach really had me cursing myself all the more for not bringing something to read.  Although there were plenty of topless bathers, I wished that there were far fewer, it seemed the bigger and more out of shape the body, the more it was exposed.  An older, very rotund lady (she must have been at least 70) took the lounge next to mine and began doing leg-left exercises on her chair.  Sprawled on her back and lifting one leg at a time, you could actually see the fat shift when she lifted her legs, a bulk of flesh and flab literally rolling down from just above her ankle down to her upper-thigh.  Resting between each set of 4 lifts, she was literally panting from the exertion.  Another, very generously endowed woman was wearing a bikini top that would have been hard-pressed to serve as eye patches and the bottom that was firmly entrenched in the crack of her buttocks.  As in Pescara, I was quite taken by the lack of self-consciousness - wished I shared some of it - but these examples led me to believe that maybe it needed to be re-thought.

After several hours on the beach, I picked up my stuff and made my way back to Rome.  My timing couldn’t have been better.  As I was passing the Vatican Museum, I noted that there was another 2 hours or so before it was to close, and I was wearing a t-shirt with sleeves, AND there was NO LINE!  I immediately made my way to the Sistine Chapel.  For the first time since my college years I got to see both the ceiling and the “Last Judgement” without scaffolding.  The last time I was in Rome, with my mother, the ceiling was scaffold-free, but not the Last Judgement.  Now, all the scaffolding was gone and I was allowed to enjoy the fully restored beauty and majesty of both works of art.  I don’t think I could see these often enough.  They are truly magnificent and the contrast between the pre-restoration and the current bright, clean, clear colors is truly a wonder.

It is a religious experience in its own right.  How the corner figures in the ceiling seem to be almost dangling their feet in the air.  I was struck by Adam in the creation scene.  For the first time I got the sense that it was God who was making the more intense effort in reaching out to him, Adam seems a bit less earnest about it.... his hand almost seems hesitant.  It spoke to me - this hesitancy.  Of course, who wouldn’t be reticent about actually touching the person of God?

The chapel was crowded, but I managed to have a significant encounter with the masterpieces and then headed over to see the angels that were being restored during my last visit.  They too were colorful and seemed even more whimsical, even comical now that they have been cleaned up.  From the angels, I made my way to the modern art section and was carried away by several interpretations of the crucified Christ as well as several images of Mary.  Art is such a profound and moving way of expressing God’s grandeur.

I also spent some time in the other galleries.  I was really struck by DaVinci’s “Worship of the Magi” (not sure if that is the exact title, but it is the subject matter).  It was quite a dark painting - because that was how it was painted or because of age, I am not sure - the kings were almost lost in the darkness of the painting.  The only bright part of it was the baby Jesus.  A ray of light coming from the darkness and illuminating the child in the manger.  There was something about the contrast, the kings lost in the darkness, the brightness of the new-born king.  What it was about that particular moment in time with that particular painting is hard to pinpoint...but it was striking and moving. 

I stayed until the guards started throwing us out in order to close the museum.  It was at the same time that I had decided to buy some souvenirs.  I managed to get a few before the kiosks closed, but it struck me as a missed opportunity for the museum... if they would keep the shops open a bit longer they would surely make more money from people like me, waiting to make our purchases on the way out rather than hauling our booty with us as we tour the museum.  Italy!

I got home in time to catch up with Don and we made some initial plans for our next days trip.  We went to dinner in the city and then stopped by the train station to purchase our tickets for the trip.  After getting our tickets, re-checking the schedule and gate assignments, we went to a piazza down the street from the station.  The only thing open there was a McDonalds.  Now, I made a solemn vow not to eat anything from McD’s way back in college.  I have managed to keep that vow since that time.  I will go hungry before eating their food.  But, I persuaded myself that a beer did not count as food, they didn’t make it, and so I was still vow-safe.  Don and I got a couple fo beers and went outside to their patio tables.  There we talked and watched the many young people who were hanging out.  Or at least, at initial glance, we thought they were just hanging out.  It soon became clear that something else was going on - something not so innocent as just hanging out.

As we watched, young men and women were positioning themselves against pillars or walls, seeking to make eye contact with, usually, older men or women.  People would drive up in their cars and park along the street next to the patio and make eye contact as well.  Sometimes people would go to the cars, talk a bit and either end up inside the car or walk away with a disgusted look on their face.  Occasionally two people would make contact, they would draw close to one another, and soon walk off together.  Don and I were sitting in the midst of a pick-up area.  After we caught on to what was happening, it became quite funny and we began to pay closer attention, narrating to one another what we thought was being said.  We watched a couple of people continually rejecting all comers, as though they were looking for that particular one (either particular looks or particular bank-account, it was hard to say), we watched some potential johns going from hooker to hooker, being rejected again and again.  There were male prostitutes and female prostitutes, there were some that seemed to be selling drugs or some other contraband, and there were others who seemed more interested in being admired and not so interested in actually getting any business.  It was quite a scene, and the fact that the plaza was so public, that police were frequently passing by, and that there were many others, like Don and myself, who had no idea what sort of place they had parked themselves in.  What a show!  We watched a while longer, finished our beers and then made our way back home.  Our train was due to leave at 6:15 the next morning and so we would need to get to bed early.

After a very fitful sleep (the hottest yet... woke up several times literally drenched in sweat), Don and I were on the road by 5:15.  The Metro opens at 5:30 and we got there just as they were opening the gates of the station - but then we had to wait another 15 minutes for the train to actually arrive.  It all worked out though, we got to the train station in time to catch our train and we were able to commandeer a compartment for ourselves, with seats that folded into beds.

I was looking forward to getting a little sleep on the trip, but Don was being rather manic for such an early hour of the day.  Finally, after arranging the curtains, adjusting the window to a proper level of openness, re-arranging the contents of his pockets, his books, the lights of the compartment, etc., he settled down, was quiet and allowed me to finally fall asleep.  I slept for a good hour and a half until we were just outside Naples. 

We transferred trains in Naples and traveled along the coast toward the city of Pompeii.  The coast has no sandy shore line, rather the land simply seems to drop into the sea.  There are stretches of rock and land that finger out into the water.  All rather rough looking.  But, there could still be seen some swimmers and sun worshipers enjoying the heat and the dark water.  

I always thought that Pompeii was some sort of devastated ruins laying out in the country side someplace.  I pictured a vast area of dust covered ruins with maybe a small group of tourist kiosks and shops nearby, with maybe a snack bar or two close by.   I never thought of a modern Pompeii existing, but it does.

The modern city closes in on the ruined one from three sides, the fourth side being a field under which lies many more buildings yet to be unearthed.  There are fences and gates all around the ruins that mark its boundaries and separates the two.  Don and I walked down a street filled with shops and homes and a number of souvenir kiosks until we came to an entrance gate to the ruins.  It was so poorly marked that we would have missed it altogether if not for the presence of several tour buses parked nearby and the line of people seeking entrance.

On a summer morning in 79 AD, Pompeii, a coastal city at the center of the Gulf of Naples was buried after an unexpected and dramatic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius.  Many people died and were covered by volcanic ash and lava, frozen forever in whatever position they found themselves at the time of the tragedy.  An estimated 10,000 people lived in the city at the time.  It was built on a mound which rose some 45 feet above sea level, the result of an earlier lava flow from Mt. Vesuvius.  The area was completely without fresh water and it was difficult to live there, but its dominant position looking over both the plain behind and the bay in front of the city meant that it was an ideal spot to see any aggressors arriving from any direction, and it was easily defended.  Water was brought in via aqueductus from mountains far away (much of the local water is still brought in along the same route through pipes).  It was a prosperous, busy city at the time of its destruction.

Although guided tours are offered - at a price - Don had just been here recently and we had a good guide book with us as well as a map, so we went on a self-guided tour.  The city is a surprise.  The streets are laid out in very straight grids and are clearly excavated down to the ancient streets.  If not for the street signs and occasional sign indicating when we were at the more important sights, it would have been very easy to get lost and confused.  Buildings line the streets on either side, most of them in surprisingly great shape, almost whole - though I am sure that is due to some re-construction as well as excellent preservation.

Gray, fine volcanic dust continues to blow through the streets.  Everything exposed is covered with this dust.  I am sure that if the caretakers did not constantly sweep the dust away that it would eventually be completely covered once again.  The real surprises came at some of the murals and drawings that were still intact in many of the buildings; the mosaic floors that were still beautifully preserved, the carvings and the ancient graffiti etched into the walls.  Most of the really “good” or “significant” items from the city (at least the ones left behind by thieves and other explorers) have been removed and placed in various museums around the world... a major collection from Pompeii is at the Pompeii Museum in the city of Naples.  Another surprise was that they allowed us to handle the mosaics, touch the paintings, feel the etchings, walk on the floor tiles.  Although it might not be good for the preservation of these items, it was also a special treat to touch such ancient artifacts and not simply look at them through glass walls or from behind a rope barricade.

We saw ancient temples, wax casts of bodies that had been buried under the lava (when the original excavators found a hollow area under their shovels, they would fill the hollow with wax before scraping away the crust, many of these hollows were what remained of the lava-covered inhabitants as well as their pets and anything else that was organic.  These wax and plaster casts are what people see when they talk of the bodies found in Pompeii), the whore house with its stone beds and erotic murals of different sexual positions both hetero and homo sexual, paintings and statues of men sporting massive erections, penis carvings placed near ancient shops that were rubbed for good luck, a number of bakeries and eating establishments.  The humongous public bath houses with their changing rooms, steam and sauna rooms, huge fountains and bathtubs as well as the “play rooms” meant for more than simply cleaning yourself.

We visited the temple where virgins (virginity not a highly prized virtue in ancient Pompeii) were deflowered with stone dildos as offerings to the gods.  There were private homes that would rival, in size and beauty, most modern homes - lots of gardens and fountains, rooms aplenty and all the modern conveniences of the time.  Near the amphitheater, lying in the center of what was once a great public park with lots of fountains and statues, we were able to walk through the barracks of the gladiators.  The ancient forum for the civil governance was still magnificent, even in its ruined state.

The entire place was magnificent.  To imagine all this buried under dirt and ash was mind-boggling, but then to think of someone actually choosing to take shovel in hand and begin to uncover the entire place, that was truly amazing.  To look at the mounds, the literal hills that lie behind the unearthed city and to realize that there was so much more still waiting to be dug out under them - it is almost unthinkable.  It’s not like they can come in with a bulldozer to do the work.  It has to be carefully done, carefully swept away, doing their best not to disturb whatever it is they find.  What a daunting thought that is! 

Don and I spent the morning walking through the city, reading about what we were looking at, sharing our amazement and speculations about certain objects and structures.  We finally decided to go back to Naples, catch some lunch and see the museum.  As we walked back to the train, we were hailed by a number of vendors trying to sell us reproductions of the more sexually explicit findings of Pompeii.  I was tempted to purchase a few, knew some friends who would really appreciate them, but thought better of it, saved my money and continued our walk.

We got into town, found a city map and proceeded to the museum.  We figured we would locate the museum first, check on the hours and then look for something to eat.  Don chose a short-cut that immediately got us all turned around, but after some meandering this way and that, we finally reached our goal.

Naples, at least the section we were in (the older part of the city) was very dirty.  There was trash all over the place.  The main streets were quite wide but the side streets are a lot more narrow and crowded.  The streets are not well marked at all and tend to wind this way and that.  It was actually kind of fun and fascinating to walk through.  Clothing, banners, items for sale, and other things hang across the narrow streets on lines tied to buildings on either side.  There were not as many green spaces, parks or piazzas that are usually so common in Italian cities.  It is also very hilly, some of them quite steep.  Looking down some streets, the listing, multi-colored walls of the buildings made for a sort of “fun-house” effect.

The sidewalks were stained with oil, paint, smashed food, and other, unidentifiable objects.  The buildings look less cared for, the sidewalks were crowded with wares of all sorts for sale.  It was definitely not a touristy part of the city - very few restaurants, almost no souvenir stores, all the businesses seemed to be local and for the locals.  There were a number of blacks and orientals in this part of the city - I had not seen such a concentration of non-Italians in Italy before.  The few food places we did see in our meanderings looked too dirty and scary to eat in... sanitary conditions did not strike me as being a high priority in any of them.  The air was thicker due to both the muggy conditions of the day and the salt in the air - not to mention car exhaust and smoke from a number of buildings and establishments.  Smells both tantalized and assaulted the senses.  It was quite an adventure just to walk, I was really enjoying myself.

We got to the museum and discovered that unlike so many other places of this sort, it was open until 7 in the evening.  This gave us plenty of time to walk around a bit more and find someplace that we were not afraid to eat in.  The building across from the museum, some sort of large national gallery, had some really interesting busts carved into its walls.  They were Renaissance busts that seemed to be looking out of round, port-hole like windows - faces scrunched as if they were trying to see more clearly through these small windows.  They were really quite amusing and clever.

We supposed that the area around the museum - a huge, blocky building in pinkish stone with an impressive, grand stairs leading to the doors - would have provided a number of “decent” eating establishments, but there was hardly a one to be seen.  Eventually we did find a place, almost hidden behind the gallery with the funny busts.  We were seated at an outdoor table that afforded us a view of the cook busy in his kitchen on one side of us, and a wall of more busts looking out or their port-holes on the other.  There were a number of trees planted in the small plaza giving us lots of shade, as did the tall buildings surrounding the plaza.  It was a hot day, but the temperature must have dropped at least 10 degrees in this area.

It was not a real busy place, but then again, it was an off hour for eating.  The staff was quite friendly.  We ordered water and wine to start with as we looked over the menu.  When the waiter brought the wine, he opened it at the table next to ours, poured some in a glass and proceeded to help himself.  He tasted it, seemed to decide that it was satisfactory, poured himself a little more and then, finally, brought the bottle to our table and left it with us as though nothing out of the ordinary had just taken place.  I had never seen this done before, and both Don and I looked at one another and simply laughed.  This looked as though it might be a fun place to be.

As Don and I looked over the menu, the cook came out to recommend the pizza.  Well, Don had been talking all afternoon about eating some of the Naples sea-food, I had been developing a hankering for pasta.  We tried to explain this to the cook, but he insisted that we were better off ordering the pizza... that it was the best in all of Naples. 

Hoping that we were not insulting the cook and so would be punished for it in some way, we placed our orders with our waiter.  After delivering our requests to the kitchen, the cook looked out and, almost sadly, shook his head at us.  Meanwhile, since all the other customers had left, our waiter came and sat himself down at our table.  He spoke very good English and after finding out where we were from (he too was surprised that I was an American) he had many questions to ask about the U.S. and Texas.  He was quite enthusiastic about the states, especially the people who rode Harley Davidson motorcycles.  With great pride he showed us his Harley Davidson cigarette lighter, talked about his cowboy boots and hat and waxed almost poetically about the country dancing that went on weekly at the local American naval base.  He made much of the fact that at these dances the women had to take the initiative of asking the men to dance with them.  His dream, he told us, was to one day go to Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual Harley Davidson gathering there.  He liked American bikers, he said, because they have their bikes in their hearts  - not like the Italian wannabees.

By this time the other waiters had gathered at another empty table, taking their break and waiting for customers.  There was some friendly bantering back and forth between our waiter and them.  They did not fully agree with our waiters description of Italian bikers.  We were having a marvelous time.

After Don and I finished our bottle of wine, our waiter brought us another - gratis.  Of course, he poured himself a glass, very much intending to share this bottle with us.  He kept coming back and sitting at our table in between taking care of other tasks.  After eating, we decided we deserved some desert.  I ordered a sort of walnut cake that he recommended and I asked if he had a Diet Coke to go with it.  He informed me that Diet Coke was not the proper after-meal drink and brought me instead a glass of some sort of wonderful lemon liqueur.  This and Don’s espresso were again, “on the house.”

As we lingered over our after-dinner drinks and desert a man, dressed as a woman, passed through the square.  This caused our waiter to begin talking about his marriage and how after the age of 40 it was necessary to add to the marriage.  He said that “we are held spell bound or entranced by our wives until we get to be 40 years of age and then we are taken by additional (supplemental) mistresses.  Mine is wine.”  So much for Italian wisdom.

After eating, paying the bill and leaving a very generous tip we said goodbye to much fanfare by both our waiter and the cook.  We told the cook how good our meal was, and he acknowledged that it was very good food, but the pizza was still better.  After Don exchanged business cards with the waiter, we headed on over to the museum.

The museum was just as fascinating as the city.  There were, besides the Pompeii artifacts, a number of Greek, Roman and Egyptian displays.  There were some really remarkable pieces, made more appealing by the fact that many of the statues and mosaics were accessible and touchable.  No signs saying “hands off” and the guards paid no attention to our handling of the displays.  How nice and rare.  Of course, the more fragile and expensive pieces were under glass and kept safe from handling.  There were some really incredible mummies from Egypt - including people, crocodiles, cats and other animals.

The artifacts from Pompeii were equally fascinating, made all the more so because we had visited the rooms from which they were taken, the plazas in which they once stood and the walls that once bore the paintings and mosaics.

The museum also housed quite a collection of glass jewels, carved ivories and other jewelry from the 1st through 3rd centuries AD.  Some of the intricately carved, incredibly detailed cameos carved into the stones and ivories were unbelievably intricate and beautiful.


There was one room closed off from the others by a barred door.  The sign on the door was FORBIDDEN CABINET (harking back to the cabinets or special rooms of the 17-18 centuries where erotic or unusual things were kept and restricted from public view).  We had to get a ticket (free) for this room and wait until a guide was available to take us through.  This was the room where all the erotic statuary, mosaics and paintings from Pompeii were kept.  Statues with monster-sized penises (these Pompeii-ans were certainly proud of their penises... I guess some things never change), lots of depictions of unusual sexual positions, women doing erotic things to themselves, and erotic scenes from ancient mythology.  It was all sort of funny and fascinating.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum and then headed back to the train station.  It was too late to go and see the modern part of the city whose skyscrapers and office buildings could be seen in the distance, oh well, something to see next time I am in the country.  After securing our return tickets, Don and I hunted down some wine and water for our return trip. 

After getting on the train we immediately found an empty compartment.  In fact, the entire car was pretty empty.  After the train got going, we discovered why.  Despite the sign that said the car was air-conditioned, it was not... and the heat was stifling.  We immediately went on a hunt for other accommodations and were surprised to find yet another empty compartment in a well air-conditioned car.  Our luck was holding out.

We arrived in Rome about 10:00 that night.  Before heading home we decided to have another beer at the McDonalds that was so entertaining the night before.  It was just as entertaining that night as on the previous.  We did not stay much longer than it took us to drink our beer.  The crowd seemed to be the identical one as the night before... only the customers had changed.

What a great day!

My final day in Rome was given over to shopping for souvenirs.  I went from shop to shop, hoping to find something that was different from things purchased on previous visits... but not much was to be had.  I had really hoped that there would be some unique trinkets produced for the Jubilee Year, but there were not many.  I did purchase a few things, they were very nice, but it was hard to find things that really excited me (and were within my budget).

I continued my non-shopping spree at the upscale tourist shops, still not finding much that really convinced me to make a purchase.  I did find some very nice colognes for myself and a friend who is really into that sort of thing. I was tempted, at one point, by some shoes, but thankfully (after I saw the price) they had none in my size - sometimes having big feet can be a real blessing (or at least a money-saver).  The one thing I really wanted to find was a book to read on the airplane.  I had exhausted all my other reading material and was in earnest about having something to keep me amused on the flight home.  In fact, I had already determined that I wanted to read James Joyce’s “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”.  It is one of those classics that I had put off for years, but after spending so much time with the Anglo-Irish over the last two weeks, I felt that now was the right time to get it read.  I was not disappointed.

That night Don, Richard and I went to a rather nice, upscale restaurant.  I don’t know what convinced the manager to let us in.  I was not sloppily dressed, but I was in shorts and t-shirt.  After a glance towards the manager, our greeter showed us to a nice table, but the very next group of people were denied entrance, and they were better dressed than I was... go figure.  The meal was lovely, the company a lot of fun, and the antics of the young people out on the street were more than entertaining.  It was a great way to bring a great trip to closure. 

The trip home was uneventful and I was fortunate to have a row of three seats to myself.  The book was good, the movies were entertaining, the plane was without crying children or loud drunks... what could be better.

The naysayers were right... Rome in August is hot, the masses of young people made for some inconveniences, chaos and crowds, but I would not have traded the experience for anything.  Although I did not fully participate in the WYD events, I had opportunities of real grace and prayer throughout my time there.  I was lifted up by the spirit, energy and festive atmosphere provided by the young pilgrims.  I got to renew contacts with some of my Alaskan youth.  I saw things I had not seen before, laughed heartily, ate well, and had no real schedule to be bound by (something that I do not allow myself very often).  It was an experience of grace and peace, an experience of joy and discovery.  It was what it was meant to be... and I thank God (and the Oblates) who provided me this opportunity. 

I hope the reading of this account provided you with some of the same.  Until my next trip........ Ciao!


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