Monday, March 31, 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.

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