The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going to Rome!

Diane (my beautiful and wonderful wife of 40 years) and I have decided to make another pilgrimage to Rome. We'll spend ten days in the eternal city next month. This wasn't something we had planned, but was (for us, at least) somewhat of a snap decision.

It all began a few days ago when I received an email from British Air touting some remarkably low airfares to Europe. The catch? To take advantage of the sale I had only 48 hours to book the flights. We gave it a few seconds of serious consideration and then closed the deal. Of course when one adds up all the additional expenses -- hotel, meals, local transportation, shopping and the rest -- and factors in the weak dollar, the overall cost of the trip well exceeds what we can afford. But we're not getting any younger...

On our last visit to Rome, back in 2005, Diane and I stayed at the Hotel Nazionale, a nice hotel next door to the Italian Parliament building in Piazza Montecitorio, and only a short walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It was a great location for doing all the touristy stuff one needs to do at least once in Rome. And we sure did it! The only drawback was its distance from the Vatican, a bit of a hike for this aging deacon and his bride. And so we usually took one of Rome's expensive cabs whose drivers must be certified as suicidal before they are issued a license.

Hoping to survive our upcoming trip, we decided to stay somewhere closer to St. Peter's. I had considered trying to book a room in one of the religious guest houses that surround the Vatican, but found that those with the highest recommendations were already fully booked. So we nosed around and made a reservation at a small hotel not far (less than a half-mile) from St. Peter's Square. It has the enticing name of The Vatican Garden Inn and seems to be the kind of place we like. It's located in what appears to be a reasonably quiet, residential neighborhood on via Germanico. We'll see. You can expect an online review shortly after our arrival. One nice amenity is free wireless internet throughout the hotel, so I should be able to blog daily.

Since Diane and I have never visited the excavations and the tomb of St. Peter beneath the basilica, I emailed the Vatican Excavations Office and made reservations for a tour. I also emailed the visitors office at the North American College and got tickets for the Wednesday general papal audience. On our last visit we were fortunate to be seated up on the steps only a few yards from Pope Benedict. I hope we'll be equally fortunate this time around. I'd also like to visit the Vatican Gardens and the Vatican Museum-Sistine Chapel, so I'd better get busy and line up the tours.

On our first visit to Rome in 2000, while on a Jubilee Year pilgrimage with hundreds of other deacons and their wives, Diane and I had the unexpected pleasure of encountering the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the streets of Rome. We were walking back to the Vatican after a pleasant lunch with our Polish friend, Father Adam Domanski, when Father Adam, in his usual understated way, glanced up and said, "Now there's a rather important man in the Church." I recognized his Eminence immediately and, as probably the ugliest of "ugly Americans," I simply accosted him right there on the street. Being a man of extraordinary kindness, he stopped and spent several minutes with us. I thanked him for his books and he thanked me for my ministry as a deacon. We spoke briefly about our son, who was then still a seminarian, and Diane's work as a teacher in a Catholic elementary school. And then I asked Fr. Adam to take our picture. You can observe the result. Anyway, I don't suppose it's very likely that we'll run into him again, at least not on the street.

As you can no doubt tell, we're looking forward to our trip. Being an unrepentant planner, I have lots to do before we board that plane at Orlando International. How wonderful that we can make such a trip so easily today. And how my grandparents would have marveled at the very idea of flying to Rome in just a few hours. Yes, being is good! And being alive today is especially good; for today is where God has placed us. Praise Him!

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