Monday, March 31, 2008

Arrivederci Roma - 9th Day (3/09/08)

Perhaps we were exhausted. Maybe every one of our camera batteries were dead. For whatever reason, we have no visual documentation of our departure from Rome or return to Philadelphia.

Fortunately, we can share the talents of our first Pellegrinaggio Poeta Insignito di Onorificenza as a fiiting conclusion to our Augustinian pilgrimage in Italy.

Pellegrinaggio 2008

We’ve come to the end.
Or, just the beginning like our
dear Augustine would have said.

First stop, Milan!
We met Mario, Guiseppe and crew.
We knew in an instant
We had a lot of learning to do.

Long day of travel,
So we went straight to bed.
The next night the Alpinis taught us
Italian wine doesn’t go straight to your head.

Gaining knowledge of Augustine’s life
Was certainly a pleasure.
The baptism at the Duomo
Was an experience we’ll all treasure.

Our bus ride to San Gimignano began
And our leader Fr. Joe held on tight.
We all looked out the window
as Giancarlo took flight.

The medieval city of San Gimmi,
We arrived in some hours.
We fell in love with the
Convent and all of the towers.

The city, the views,
Not to mention the food.
Loretta and Fr. Brian
Put us in a complete Italian mood.

The beauty of Lecceto -
Something only God could create.
The nuns within the walls
Pray for us with their strong faith.

The frescos, the cafes,
Laughter ‘til we choked.
Everything was wonderful
Other than the dollar making us broke.

For the final part of the trip
We were off to visit Rome.
Who knew that the Auggies lived
So close to the Pope’s home?

The tour of St. Peter’s
And the underground walk,
Our Mass at the Basilica
A moment that we’ll forever talk.

The ruins, the views
And the lunch in the sun,
Our Mother of Good Counsel,
Well, the story sounds fun!

The memories we’ve made;
Milan, San Gimmi and Rome.
The cafes, the wine and views,
We don’t want to go home!

We are Faculty, Staff, Alumni,
Mother-daughter, Father-son.
This trip with Augustine
Has certainly made us all one!

Special thanks to pilgrim Chrissy for providing this inspired summary
of the first Pelleginaggio Agostiniano di Villanova.
February 29 - March 9, 2008

Ostia & Genazzano - 8th Day (03/08/08)

We rose from our sleep, not quite knowing what exciting things were ahead of us! After colazione (breakfast) at our hotel, we met our new bus driver for the day. Walter had big shoes to fill…our previous bus driver became an important part of our group. As we boarded the bus for the day, you could sense that everyone was thinking of the last full day in Italy. Tomorrow we would be heading back to family, friends and colleagues at home.

From Rome we rode about 45 minutes to the city of Ostia. Along the way, Fr. Joe gave us some time to reflect as we listened to the words of Augustine. The first stop was the ‘new’ part of Ostia, and as usual, we gathered for a brief orientation concerning the day's agenda.

In this small town, we found the historic Castello di Ostia and just across from it, the Church of Saint Aurea, erected at the end of the 15th century. Fr. Joe explained that St. Monica, who lived in the area, contracted malaria in 387 at the age of 56. She died and was buried in Ostia.

We recall Monica's instruction to her son recorded in the Confessions: "You are to bury your mother here ... Lay this body anywhere and take no trouble ... only remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."

Her hope nothwithstanding, in the 6th century she was moved to this church, named for an early martyr of the city. There she was venerated until 1430, when her remains were translated by Pope Martin V to the Roman Basilica of St. Augustine, built in 1420. It was only after World War II, in 1945, that a fragment of her tombstone was discovered in Ostia. Located in a small side chapel dedicated to her, it is still on display here.

After some time of pictures and prayers, we took a short drive to the entrance to Ostia Antica . . . the Ancient Ostia.

Our group was unaware of what we were about to encounter. Ruins, ruins and more ruins, but most importantly, an opportunity to be where Augustine and Monica likely walked and talked together.

The majority of us are delighted to hear that we are visiting on the Day of the Woman in Italy. Women pilgrims received free admission to the park!

It was breathtaking to see these stones…and the stories with them…from so many years ago. Reading from Confessions as we walked, we listened and learned that Augustine walked the same streets, that he robably bought his ‘ticket’ to the boat that he traveled to Africa, and that he lived in this area with Monica as they shared time as mother and son. We were walking with Augustine. It was a very moving experience for all.

At the final stop, we looked toward the water and saw the ruins of what could have been the place where St. Monica and Augustine had their mystical experience. Fr. Joe asked my mother and me to read a passage from the Confessions where Augustine describes this experience. It was very emotional to have this similar experience with my mother.

After several hours of walking through the ruins, the group was ready to sit down for lunch. The park had an eating area and, of course, the ala carte menu was wonderful. The weather was beautiful and we all enjoyed the meal together outside in the sun.

We boarded the bus and rode a little more than an hour. Again, we drove through beautiful views of rolling hills until we arrived in the small city of Genazzano. The town was quiet, as we arrived when businesses close and people return home for rest. Thankfully, right across the street of the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, a small café was open to satisfy our thirst for caffeine.

We entered the shrine and spent some quiet moments in prayer before we sat and listened to the pastor describe the story of the Shrine. The Shrine is the destination of many pilgrims, especially from Albania, because of the beautiful fresco and apparent miracle of Our Mother of Good Counsel. As the story goes, the picture was carried on the wings of angels to the current home in Genazzano.

As time grew closer to 4 p.m., the Vigil Eucharistic Celebration in the Shrine, our group took some time to tour the Shrine and visit the resting place of the Blessed Stephen Bellesini, OSA. Blessed Stephen Bellesini, OSA, has a special place in the hearts of the people of Genazzano, as he was a local devout Augustinian that made a difference in the lives of many of the children in town . . . educating and caring for them.

The sanctuary of the main church is beautiful and the Communion rail is among the most unusual any of us have ever seen. It was wonderful to see Fr. Joe and Fr. Chris on the altar celebrating the Eucharist. We continue to adjust to the Italian Liturgy despite following along with a helpful guide provided to the assembled.

Originally, we planned on going to dinner in town following Mass but those plans changed, so after Mass we were back on the bus and heading toward Rome. Fr. Joe worked hard to get a reservation for dinner while we rode back to Rome. Finally, the phone call went through and our large group could be accommodated with a last minute reservation at a restaurant around the corner from our hotel. Perfecto!

Through the stories and laughter from the week, you could sense the anxiousness of the return to Villanova starting to set in. Discussions began about our return to campus, how we could share our story and how we could continue our journey together. The meal was wonderful! We were served wine, of course, with a typical Italian meal of bread, pasta, salad, and several entrées. Few last minute plans work out as well as this!

After a few pilgrims make late night run to an all night bakery, the group settles in for our last bedtime in Italy.

If you can speak Portuguese, listen to the legend of how the image of Our Mother of Good Counsel came to rest in Genazzano. If not, enjoy the scenery.

Thanks to pilgrim Chrissy for providing this record of the eighth day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

St. Peter's Basilica - 7th Day (3/07/08)

We awake to an overcast and rainy day in the Eternal City, but our spirits are high and pilgrims are eager with anticipation. The group gathers for breakfast; this time and for the next few days in the cozy restaurant cafe. We learn that the large church adjacent to the hotel is affectionately called Our Mother of the Ovens. In this neighborhood, Mary is patroness of the many bakeries that populate the district.

Fr. Joe has arranged for an early, private Mass in the Basilica. We make our way into St. Peter's Square and take in the grand panorama.

Yet again we experience the priceless advantage of traveling with an Augustinian priest fluent in Italian. We breeze through security - sad but true - before regular opening hours and wait for Fr. Joe to return vested and vesseled, ready for Mass.

Once downstairs, we assemble first at one chapel, then another, but no matter. We are at home.

It is a privilege to be in this Holy place, among friends
to pray for loved ones, the Villanova community,
the needs of the Church and our world.
It is simply the experience of a lifetime.

Before moving back upstairs, we tour the grotto of the Basilica, reflecting on the history of the Catholic Church, the faith of our ancestors and our responsibility for its stewardship. Among the most significant moments are time spent at the Chapel of St. Peter, also known as Clementine Chapel, and the Tomb of John Paul II.

Returning to the nave of the main church, we were pleased to find that the the crowds were only beginning to appear.

The magnitude and beauty of the Basilica was overwhelming. We quickly put our guidebooks away as Fr. Joe demonstrats encyclopedic knowledge of not only religion and art but history, psychology, even engineering.

The Basilica centers around the Papal
Altar where only the Pope celebrates
Mass. It was consecrated by Clement
VIII in 1594. Rising above the altar is
the Baldacchino (a 95ft. canopy over
the cental altar
), Gian Lorenzo Bernini's
masterpiece and first work in St. Peter's.
The ancient tomb of St. Peter lies directly
below the altar.

The Apse
(a projecting part of a church, usually semicircular most often, projecting from the east) is at the end of the central nave. In the center is the Altar of the Chair of Peter, which is again, the work of Bernini. This grandiose sculpture monument was created to enclose the wooden throne of the Apostle Peter. The four prominent statues are of Doctors of the Church. Western Doctors represented are St. Ambrose - Pastoral Doctor, 340-397 (left front) and St. Augustine - Doctor of Grace, 354-430 (right front). Eastern Doctors represented are St. Athanasius - Doctor of Orthodoxy, 295-373 (left rear) and St. John Chrysostom - Doctor of Preachers, 345-407 (right rear).

After amazing stories touching on the rich and famous, on popes and politics, artists and their benefactors too numerous to mention, and learning more about the foundational role of Augustine in the early Church, we returned to the Augustinianum for a brief tour of the Order's chapel, redesigned by Fr. Alan Fitzgerald and for pictures from one of the most prized views in Rome.

After a delightful lunch at a nearby cafe, we return to the Vatican for the SCAVI Tour, where pilgrims are guided below the grotto to an archeological excavation of the burial site of St. Peter. The history of the search for and the subsequent authentication of the relics is fascinating. We learned that the bones of St. Peter's have only left the Vatican twice. At Pope John Paul II's request, the relics were brought to his bedside after the attempted assassination in 1981, and again during his final days in 2005. No pictures are allowed, but Vatican staff hope to have a virtual tour available soon.

For the rest of the afternoon pilgrims are free to select from an overwhelming number of opportunities. Regina and Joan are among our most patient and persistent pellegrini. They are rewarded with eventual admission to the Sistine Chapel. Lou and Michael set out for a life long dream - to see the Roman Coliseum.

Still others make their way along backsteets and alleyways to visit an impressive series of churches with historical significance to Augustinians and the life of Augustine.

Our first stop is the Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo. Managed by the Augustinian Order since the end of the 15th cnetury, the attached convent is the site where the Grand Union of Toscana hermits and friars took place in March of 1256. It contains both The Crucifxion of St. Peter and The Conversion of Paul by Michelangelo Caravaggio.

Nonetheless, the highlight of the afternoon is our stop at the Basilica di Sant' Agostino. It is here that the relics of St. Monica, mother of Augustine, rest in a beautiful shrine to the left of the main sancutary. A magnificent painting of Our Mother of Consolation hangs above.

Also in this church are a beautiful statue and a portrait of St. Thomas of Villanova, patron of our university.

The Shrine of La Madonna del Parto (Our Mother of Childbirth) is found here as well - all "must sees" for Villanovans and those interested the history of the Augustinian Order and the life of Augustine.

Later in the afternoon and into the early evening, The Twin Churches at the Piazza del Popolo, The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and even the shops on the Via Condotti are among the sites enjoyed by one and all. As small groups of pilgrims return to the hotel from sharing dinner and perhaps the most adverntuous day of the pilgrimage, all seemed to agree that Rome is even more impressive at night.

Thanks to pilgrim Chris for reconstructing a record for the seventh day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.

To Rome - 6th Day (03/06/08)

I awoke on this day to my roommate, Beth, leaving for a dawn walk around the walls of San Gimignano. I myself could use another day here to take in the quiet, beauty and simplicity of this gem of a place. We planned to depart for Rome shortly after 10 a.m. so there was no arranged schedule other than suitcases and belongings downstairs in the courtyard by 10:20 a.m.

Most gathered for breakfast in the large dining room while some ventured out early to the intensely windy and cold open air market in the large piazza. A few wandered to grab a final cappuccino or a souvenir before our long bus ride.

I need to spend time with the Gozzoli frescoes, so I ask Ian to let me into Sant’ Agostino. No book, postcard, video, or photo can fully describe what it’s like to stand in that space where the friars met in daily prayer behind the main altar. I’m alone in the church to witness the color, scope, beauty, space and emotion of those 17 paintings which storyboard Augustine’s life.

Brian’s inspiring Wednesday tour brought me back this morning for more. My favorite depicts Augustine’s leaving Roma for Milano where Gozzoli illustrates in his facial expression “the restless heart.” Yesterday, Brian related that at this point in Augustine’s life, he was going towards the pinnacle of his career, yet his face tells us of his disinterest; he’s going through the motions, devoid of joy or fulfillment. At the right edge of this fresco, Gozzoli’s self-portrait stares at me, as he has stared at countless others since 1465, pointing his finger to indicate Augustine amidst the crowd.

At the appointed time, we rolled our suitcases across the courtyard, through the large wooden doors and down the steep ramp which leads out of the monastery. With the rumble of luggage wheels on cobblestone streets, we formed a train past Ristorante Il Pino, onto Via San Matteo, and exited the walls to reunite with Giancarlo, who stayed with his family in nearby Pisa these days without our need of a bus. We loaded our luggage with grazie e arrivederci to Fr. Brian and Fr. Ian and headed for Rome.

Fr. Joe led us in prayer each morning on the bus’s microphone. Shortly thereafter, Fr Joe once again shifted gears for a few jokes and funny stories. Today, however, other pilgrims were ready to respond in kind .... After Fr. Joe's “Two all-beef patties, Special Ross……on a Sesame Street bus” we were treated to "I left my harp in Sam Crab’s disco"; "It’s the bottom of the ninth….and the fans are going wild"; the infamous "He should’ve quit while he was a head" and the scandalous "Throw away your rosary, girl - our prayers have been answered!" In truth, you really had to be there.

At any rate, we stopped for pranzo along the highway at Sardi’s right past Orvieto and arrived in Rome around 4:15 p.m.

Our accommodations are at Casa per Ferie S. Maria Alle Fornici,
a residence maintained by the Trinitarian Order. We clearly see the dome of St. Peter’s as we disembark the bus. We also know that this is arrivederci time for Giancarlo and our group. Having passed a hat to collect a small expression of our appreciation, Chrissy rehearsed our thank you and farewell in Italian, which she delivered perfectly.

Giancarlo was a good and faithful servant to our group. Each day brought a new adventure with him. He tutored us in Italian, laughed at our jokes, lifted and hauled our baggage with care, shepherded us through the Monday morning traffic of Milan, helped us on/off the bus, kept us on schedule with flying rather than driving. I hope that future Villanova Pellegrini have someone like Giancarlo to make the bus rides interesting. Grazie, Giancarlo!

We unload and unpack, then meet Fr. Joe in the lobby at 6 p.m. where he leads us to the Augustinian House of Studies outside of Vatican City- I’m talking literally, right next to Vatican City. It’s beginning to rain and turn dark, so we did not immediately recognize Fr. Tom Martin under his umbrella as he came outside to greet us. Fr. Martin spent spring break in Rome to work on his research. There are three buildings within this “campus.” Walking up the steep hill, we enter the Augustinianum, also known as the Patristic Institute.

Fr. Joe explained that the institute is administered by the Augustinian Order with a focus on Patristic Studies, it was founded in 1972 and confers bachelor degrees, licenses and doctoral degrees. Before that time, the Order offered degrees from Collegio Santa Monica AKA St. Monica’s College, which is at the bottom of the hill from the Augustinianum. St. Monica’s is an international house of studies, currently home for 58 students from 22 countries. The building contains residences, a Chapel, a refectory AND the most amazing terrace on the fourth floor which overlooks the dome and St. Peter’s Square. Fr. Joe lived here while he studied at the Gregorian. In the Augustinianum, we met Fr. Bob Dodaro, president of the Augustinianum, and a Villanova University graduate, who had Immer as a professor.

Across from St. Monica’s is the Curia, the administration building
of the worldwide headquarters for the Augustinian Order. We met
Fr. Michael DiGregorio, assistant general of the Augustinian Order
and member of the Villanova Province, who led us through the building. There was artwork on all of the walls from members of the Augustinian Order and we were delighted to see Fr. Richard Cannuli’s watercolors hanging in the halls. The building contains administrative offices, meeting spaces, a dining room, residences and a chapel. Among a great collection of portraits of Priors General of the Augustinian Order, we find the current Prior General Most Reverend Robert Prevost, O.S.A., who happens to be a VU grad.

As we left the Curia, we met Fr. Alan Fitzgerald, a member of the Villanova Province, and former Villanova professor who now teaches in Rome. We braved the steady rain to walk to Ristorante Polese, where we enjoyed a 3-hour dining experience with our group, minus Will who was still battling illness (we missed you, Will!). Joining us were Fr. Martin, Fr. Fitzgerald, Fr. DiGregorio, and Fr. Bob Guesetto, director of students of Collegio Santa Monica. Fr. Guessetto, a VU grad from the Villanova Province, was in the same class as President Fr. Peter Donohue and had Immer as a professor as well. After the wine, bread, lasagna, veal and potatoes, salad, tiramisu and limoncello, we walked back in the steady rain to our accommodations, preparing for an early rise to meet for Mass at St. Peter’s.

Thanks to pilgrim Bernadette for providing this record of the sixth day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.