Following Pilgrim Trails in Rome

On Wednesday morning, May 1, our small group of Pilgrims, guided by Giuseppe and Herta, traveled by the #62 bus from the convent of Caterina di Volpicelli to St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican where we were greeted by Alberto and his wife and Giancarlo and his wife Norma, and other members of the Gruppo Dei Dodici. There we presented our credentials at the Pilgrim Office and received certificates for completing the walk.

Pilgrims with certificates

Afterwards we attended the audience with Pope Frances, along with a few thousand others, and then dispersed, our pilgrimage over.

Today, Kent and I followed pilgrim trails through Rome. We’d tried to visit San Giovanni Lateran yesterday, but found the entire plaza blocked by a huge, super-loud May Day rock concert and swarms of young people.

We had more success today visiting this oldest church in Rome dating from 312. I recalled the story that Pope Innocent had a dream that the Lateran was crumbling, but saved from collapse by one man. When St. Francis came before him shortly after to plead approval for his order, Innocent saw in him salvation (and reform) for the church as a whole, and gave approval to the founding of the Franciscan Order.

Marks on the pilgrim trail.

From San Giovanni Lateran, we headed to San Clemente, which was closed for lunch. We had lunch, too, nearby, then visited the Basilica created from the Baths of Diocletian, before returning to San Clemente, with its multi-layered history of two churches built over a temple to Mithras. Our entire day was devoted to the many layers of Roman church history, from early days of persecution to the creation of a powerful church and continuing reforms.

Tomorrow we fly to San Francisco—the influence of the church and its saints has spread far from Rome.

San Giovanni Lateran

Rome, April 12 Friday

We arrived in Rome a bit late on Thursday night, flying low over brilliant green fields and scattered farms and villages. By the time we reached the Termini (central railway station) via the Leonardo Express, it was dark and raining. It would have been a perfect occasion for a taxi, but 75 to 100 people stood in the taxi queue.

So putting on our rain jackets we set out with the printed map I’d downloaded from Google. I had also noted all the street names and turns and written them in my little notebook, not so useful since street signs were rare. Nevertheless, we found our way without mishap until we walked right past the door of Veneto Relais, which we found upon turning back (no lighted sign outside). We pushed open a garage door, and then another that took us up 6 flights of stairs. We saw an elevator door, but it was locked, so wearing our backpacks we trudged ever upward, hoping that somewhere up above we’d find a human to let us in.

We had written in advance that we would probably be later than their 8 pm closing, and we were nearly an hour past that. But, Francisco was waiting for us. Hurrah! He showed us around, gave us door codes and an electronic key. Had we only paid more attention, we would have discovered the elevator was operable from 1 floor up.

After a lovely dinner at Fuocolento, a cozy place we’d passed on the street, Kent promptly fell asleep, while I washed some clothes and spent 10 minutes trying to turn on the fancy shower that had rainbow hues of lights playing overhead, a whole row of square sprayers on the wall, a hand sprayer, and an overhead rain shower, plus two metal squares that were obviously supposed to do something. Turning them did nothing, and they did not push or pull, but finally I was able to push in the bottom of one — and voila! There was water! The other square, logically enough, rotated to direct the water up, down, and to one side. So at last all was well, except for the very slippery floor, which, fortunately, led to no mishaps.

We woke to a glorious, sunny morning after last night’s rain, and we had a wonderful walk to the Piazza Del Popolo, first stopping at Santa Maria della Victoria where I was thrilled to finally see in person the Bernini statue of St Teresa in Ecstasy that I’d first encountered as an undergraduate in an art history course. We then made our way to fountains on four corners, the Spanish steps and the Piazza del Popolo, a grand space with fountains, churches, and young opera singers performing for tips.

We had a very brief look at Santa Maria Del Popolo before being shooed out at the 12:30 closing. Heading back along the pedestrian Via Corso, we detoured around the mausoleum of Augustus Caesar, which is undergoing restoration, took a look at the Tiber. Then we got lost trying to find the Trevi Fountain. Once we did find it, we didn’t linger as the piazza was jammed with people. Plus, we didn’t have any coins left to throw, as we had given them to the opera singers. We promptly got lost, again, despite having 2 maps, and ended up taking quite a long walk, before we arrived at the four fountains once again. From there then knew the way back to the hotel.

The neighborhood surrounding the hotel has interesting restaurants, a cheese shop, and a gelato shop. We found a busy “stand up and eat” pizza shop Pinsere Pizza that was doing brisk business,. A shared small pizza would tide us over until dinner time Our hotel room is low down in the building, so I’m not getting internet in the room. We are also at the bottom of a deep courtyard, so there is not much light. I suspect paying a bit more for a better room would have been worthwhile.

After Kent napped and I worked on pictures, we headed out to see St. Mary Major Church. By then sunshine had turned to rain, and we found the church not only closed, but barricaded and guarded by soldiers. Open at 7 am they told us.

In 1991, Ed and I and the two children had visited Santa Maria Maggiore on Palm Sunday, encountering a parade of Red-robed Cardinals en route, which is probably why the church is being guarded this weekend. It was just an accident that we had been there that morning, having just gotten off an overnight train from Munich, and headed toward the Coliseum. However, Ed had recognized the important church, and we made a quick visit. There were no lines or bag and body searches in those pre 9/11 days.

Thwarted by our attempt to get into Maria Maggiore, Kent and I searched for another nearby church, which we didn’t find. However, we did find San Antonio, a Russian Catholic Church, where a mass was in progress. There were only a few people, but there was an amazing male choir singing liturgical chants that reverberated in the light, bright, icon-covered space. Doors and curtains were opened and closed between the altar and the pews before and after the Eucharist. After the Eucharist people lined up to kiss a silver cross held by a priest garbed in maroon and gold robes. Some also kissed an icon that held a prominent place at the front of the main aisle. It was mysterious and beautiful. I didn’t dare join the queue as I had no idea what was happening.