Sunday, December 23, 2012

Home Bound

What can I say other than my experience studying abroad in Rome was truly the most rewarding and best experience of my life. I met some incredible people and made friendships I will cherish forever, I grew in my faith, and learned a tremendous amount about Italian culture and the history of Rome. Not only that but I experienced culture all over Europe.  Even though this a cliche, words cannot describe or do justice to my experiences this semester. 

After 27 hours of travel last Saturday, I finally made it back home to the United States. Although I will miss Rome, America is my home. I'm so blessed for the experiences I had and the lessons I've learned these past three months. Now ready to set the world on fire. 

Peace and God Bless. 

Blessed by the Pope

My last few weeks in Rome have been truly rewarding. One story in particular I would like to share with you all. My last Sunday in Rome was spent doing my last assignment for my internship with EWTN. All I knew was that I was going to be their photographer at a special mass at St. Peter's and the Pope would make an appearance at the end. Little did I know how special and intimate it was going to be.

I was placed in the front row pew to take pictures of the Mass in celebration of North and South America coming together for the year of faith. At most there were about 200 people there. The beginning of Mass was very ceremonial with all the bishops and priests coming down the aisle and onto the altar. The cardinal gave mass, and it was even more special because it was said in English, as most of the time in Italy mass would be said in Italian or Latin. After the final blessing, the swiss guards and security people got ready for the Pope to come in. They brought up a new chair on the altar for him to sit on, and they lined up; the anticipation was building.

Then finally Pope Benedict XVI comes down the front aisle on his cart that the security guards pushed him on. He stood and raised his hands out onto the people, blessing everyone. He gave a special blessing in Spanish and English on the altar.

Then when he came down, I walked over to the edge of the pew. When he came down the center aisle, exiting the Church, he was literally a foot away from me. I could have reached my hand out and touched his hand, but I didn't have to. He was right there. I was shaking-this was THE Pope right in front of me! A special moment I will remember for the rest of my life. Feeling very blessed to have this opportunity. I'm so thankful for the experiences I've had with my internship with EWTN, especially for my encounter with the Pope.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

God Save The Queen

Some people are probably thinking I'm just on a big vacation right now in Europe. To clear that up, I am taking classes, 13 credits worth. I have papers to write, tests to take, and at the same time am fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to different countries, explore the world, and grow in my faith. 

This past weekend, Mary and I took a big leap of faith and traveled to London, England! Another amazing experience. The greatest part was that we had absolutely no plans whatsoever on what we were doing, yet somehow, God led us on a fantastic adventure. We didn't even know where we were staying until the day before we got on the plane, but again, the Good Lord provided. 

The adventure began racing to the bus that took us to the airport, and as soon as we stepped on, it left.  Once we landed in London, it was after midnight so we spent the night on the cold concrete floor of the Stansted airport in a corner behind a big sign and next to the bathroom.  Felt like a homeless person. Rough night with no sleep, but I guess a humbling experience. At 4am a security guard woke us up telling us to move. So after two hours of zoning out, we tried to wake up and ate nutella pies. Then took a bus to downtown London. We had no idea how to get to our hostel, but luckily there was no language barrier and we were able to ask for directions easily. 

Heard about there being a free walking tour around London. Turned out to be a great way to start our trip. Had an entertaining tour guide who showed us Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and other famous landmarks. Decided to go on another tour with him later that day, which turned out to be fantastic. Saw Gringots from Harry Potter, the Tower of London, the London Bridge, and Tower Bridge all lit up at night. Plus, got to hangout with English speaking people from all over the world-Australia, England, Canada, etc. 

The next day we toured the Tower of London and the British Museum. Afterwards we walked for over an hour trying to find the movie theater, but there are no street signs in London so it made getting around on foot a little difficult. Getting discouraged, we turned the corner and what do we see? M&M WORLD!!! Divine Providence. God definitely led us here and it was amazing. 4 floors of AMAZINGNESS. Chocolate everywhere, Christmas music playing, it had to be one of the happiest places around. The Christmas spirit was definitely in the air in London; with the lights hanging on all the buildings, trees lit up, just beautiful. 

Saturday was our last full day in the city. Took our picture on the famous Abbey Road Crossing where the Beatles did. Went to Harrods, the most prestigious shopping center in London, probably even the world. Felt like Black Friday with the largest crowd I've ever seen in a store-Christmas World of course. Later saw the London Eye and attended an Advent Service at St. Paul's Cathedral. 

So maybe this trip sounds like a vacation, but really, it was also a pilgrimage. Learned how to get our way around a city we've never been to before. Put our trust in God in everything we did and it turned out to be a lovely adventure. London is a place I could live in. English-speaking, clean streets, best public transportation system-the underground, it's a cool place. But one thing it made me excited for is coming home for Christmas. Thankful for this opportunity, and the opportunity to study abroad. It's so hard to believe there's only 10 days left. Living them to the fullest. 

Northern Italy Pilgrimage

The pilgrimage our group took to Northern Italy was definitely one of my favorite weekends spent abroad, and one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Took an overnight train to Venice. Arrived at 6am to the peace of the streets of water, got on a ferry boat to the main part of the city and watched the sunrise. This was one of the most beautiful sights I've seen in Italy. Spent Thanksgiving in Venice and had lasagna and bread for our feast. I will say I did miss the traditional turkey feast in America, but was thankful for the opportunity to be here having these experiences.

After a day spent in Venice, we traveled to Padua. Celebrated Mass in the Basilica of St. Anthony, Patron Saint of lost items, or lost souls. Prayed and touched the back of his tomb. There is something about being in the presence of the tomb of a Saint, like they are really there with you. Gave me the chills. It's wonderful to know there are Saints watching and praying for us on Earth.

Later on we traveled to the Apparition sight of the Rose Mystica. This is the place Our Lady appeared in 1947 in Montechitari, Italy. Now, pilgrims come here to be healed in the healing water, ask for forgiveness, and pray to Mary for vocations and gain a deeper relationship with Our Lady. It was an extremely holy, peaceful, and powerful place. Walking through the healing waters, and then kneeling on the same steps Our Lady walked down is a moment I will never forget. I felt she was right there with me, and I know our Mother is always looking out for us.

That same night, we made it to our destination in Bergamo. Here we met a group of Italians our age and shared our faith testimonies with them. It was interesting to hear how they face the same struggles living the faith as we do, even though we are from different parts of the world. Then we sang songs with them. They taught us Italian songs and we taught them our favorite English song, The Damper Song. Amazing how music is universal and even though we don't speak the same language, it was still fun to bond with people from another culture. Slept in a convent with the nicest, welcoming, and most fun nuns I've ever met. One of them taught us a Catholic rap song. Yes, sisters can rap, though they are very humble about it.

The next day we toured the home of Pope Blessed John XXIII. We even met the Archbishop, his secretary, who is now 97 years old! Amazing how much energy and enthusiasm this man has for the youth and the Catholic faith, what an inspiration, and blessing we got to meet him and listen to his pep talk for us and receive a blessing by him. Had mass in Pope Blessed John XXIII's Cathedral and once the mass ended, our group sang "Magnificat" in the Church and had Italians come up afterwords saying "Bravi!" This kind of thing just seemed natural to us, but really, when am I ever going to have that kind of opportunity again?

Later that night we attended the Italian youth group down the street and played games with a large group of middle schoolers. So much fun to bond with these Italian kids.

Sunday was Italy's Thanksgiving. Again, had Mass but this time was extra special because we were invited to sing in the choir at the parish! Such a fun experience, being a part of their community and celebrating mass with them. Then we experienced how they celebrate Thanksgiving, with a tractor parade! They bless all the tractors and give thanks to the people working in the fields so the local farmers bring their tractors into the town and parade them around with the band leading. I even rode on one of the tractors, so much fun and great cultural experience.

Journeyed to Milan and walked inside the Cathedral. Comparable in size to St. Peter's and saw the incorruptible bodies of martyrs and Saints.

Many graces received this weekend. Mostly peace, reflection, and gratitude. Happy to be with these awesome people and being on fire for God. 

Many Random Adventures

Here are a bunch of things that I have done since returning from Poland:

Spent the best 5 euros of my life by climbing over 500 steps to the top of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Saw the most amazing view of Rome and my life at the tip top. God is good. Almost passed out climbing to the top, but with a hundred Hail Mary's, I made it. 

Prayed by the remains of the EXACT cross Jesus died on at the Basilica of Santa Croce in Jerusalem. 

Attended a seminar at the Paul VI Audience Hall on International Health Care and interviewed Priests and Nuns for EWTN

Helped Mary teach English to Italian children at the elementary school

Met Catholics from all over the world by attending different masses inside St. Peter's twice every week. 

Journeyed to Florence, Italy. Saw the Statue of David and other famous works of art. 

Worked on a project for EWTN where I walked around by myself at St. Peter's Square, asking random people questions on a new Vatican story. Felt like a real journalist with my recorder, notepad, and camera. 

Having some incredible experiences, cannot say what a blessing this has been enough times. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Poland Pilgrimage

So much has happened the past few weeks I don’t even know where to begin. Sorry it has taken me awhile to update this, it’s been crazy busy over here.

I’d like to share with you the amazing journey I had on a six day pilgrimage to Poland last week. It was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I grew so much in my faith and was immersed in a culture most people don’t get to have the opportunity to experience. I mean really, who goes to Poland? I will say, if I was kicked out of America, I would totally move to Poland, that is how amazing it was.

The first few nights we stayed with host families, which was really fun getting to talk to real Pols and learn about their culture firsthand. We visited the museums of St. Maximilian and stood inside his same bedroom, where Pope Blessed John Paul II and Mother Teresa visited. Then we saw the museum and tomb of Blessed Fr. Jerzy Popieleta, a modern day martyr. Later we journeyed to Chestahova where we were given a series of tasks to accomplish, which involved directly talking with the Pols. Luckily most of them spoke English pretty well. It was so exciting when we asked a large group of Pols if they would sing us a song in Polish, they did with no hesitation. I love their culture!!

Then we rode the bus to Krakow, my favorite city. Celebrated Poland’s Independence Day with them in their country! Attended an extremely crowded mass; but it was so cool to see how passionate they are about their faith here and it was a blessing to be a part of it.  People overflowed the streets of Krakow on Independence day, waving flags, the scouts marched in honor of their country-basically an awesome day to be alive in Poland.

During our stay we also had the privilege to have a private meeting with StanisÅ‚aw Cardinal Dziwisz of Poland! What?! We sat in the same room that JPII would peek his head out the window and talk to people along the street when he visited Poland as Pope.  The Cardinal was actually JPII’s secretary so told us more about him and his experiences. Then we had the opportunity to pray the rosary inside the same chapel JPII was ordained a priest! This gave me the chills. Felt like I was in his presence. Especially since a relic of his was up on the altar. Very holy place. 

Went to the salt mines later in the afternoon. Climbed down 135 meters below the earth’s surface-felt a little closterphobic. Interesting how the miners built their own chapels underground. Just shows again how faithful the Pols are.

The next day we toured the Bell Tower on top of the Wawel Cathedral, the royal tombs where the kings and queens of Poland are buried, along with the Prime minister who died two years ago in a plane crash.  Then we went to a museum of royal treasures and saw JPII’s actual robe and shoes he wore and other belongings of his. SO COOL.
Later that day we went to Auschwitz. Very sad and depressing place. Actually sickening. Prayers for the millions of innocent people who died in this eerie place.

I was so sad to leave Poland. Wish I could’ve spent more time there, but really, I can’t complain-I was coming back to Rome! Although I did miss the peace Poland offered. There were no constantly honking horns, and the streets were clean unlike Rome.
I’m blessed to have had that opportunity, to learn about their culture, and more importantly grow in my faith. 

Peace and blessings. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Living the Life

A lot has happened in the past two weeks. Here's an update.

Last weekend I got to take pictures for EWTN of the papal mass inside St. Peters. Amazing being literally 5 feet away from the Pope. Couldn't see him very well because all the people in the basilica crammed as close to the center aisle as they could, standing on chairs, so they could also get a good picture of the Holy Father. Part of me thought it was cool to see Catholics from all over the world gather in one place, and so excited to see Pope Benedict, but then at the same time I wish people were more respectful of his presence, and of the mass itself.

This past weekend we took a trip to Nettuno, home of St. Maria Goretti. We had mass inside her house, and I sat 2 feet away from the exact spot where she was stabbed to death and essentially martyred for standing up for her beliefs and faith in God. The priest gave an amazing homily about the life of St. Maria Goretti, and placed so much emphasis on the Eucharist.  It was a moment for me where I became closer to Christ.

After touring her house, we went to the Church dedicated to her and prayed by her tomb. It was right next to the Mediterranean, so we also went to the beach for a little bit. Gorgeous view and so much fun to run freely along the sandy beach and into the water!

Overall, have learned a lot about Italian culture these past few weeks. Some things to note:
1. Italian police officials are rarely, if ever helpful. Mary and I journeyed to the American Embassy to mail her absentee ballot (on the cold, dark, rainy day of Halloween) just to find out that it closed 10 minutes early. More ironically, the guards outside the US Embassy did not speak English, and so could not give us any direction of what to do besides come back a different day.
2. Romanitas. If you act like a Roman, you will be treated like one. I've been asked many questions in Italian by Italians lately, and unfortunately all I can say back is "No parlo Italiano"
3. Cappuccino is the best thing ever. So is gelato, nutella, pizza, and pasta.

Today I went for a 6 mile run from where I'm living to St. Peter's Square. Thought of what a blessing it is to be here.

Heading to Poland later this week. Also to Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, Padua, and London later this month!

Thankful for every day here, for what I've done so far, and for the adventures to come.