And We’re Off! | Postcards from Rome 2022

May 31, 2022
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Highlights from Week 1 (May 23 – May 29)

1. Time of Fraternity and Travel

Upon arriving at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, we quickly unloaded our bags from the bus and were ready to begin our trip to Italy. Watching my fellow seminarian brothers arrive at the airport, I couldn’t help but think that this many seminarians in clerical clothing must have been quite a sight for any traveler! Indeed, it turned out to be quite a conversation starter. We met travelers both in the airport and on the plane who couldn’t believe that we were all studying to become priests. We explained to them a little bit about who we are and about The Rome Experience. This allowed for moments of evangelization as well as conversation.

I remember one such moment as I sat down in my seat on the flight from Chicago to Amsterdam. The man sitting next to me asked if I was a priest and said that with all these priests flying together, “It will be a very safe flight!” After he had spoken, the woman next to me shared with me the story of how she came to know the Catholic faith. She was very happy to see so many seminarians on the plane!

In addition to meeting many different travelers and sharing our journey with them, one of the most important parts of traveling together was that we grew in fraternity amongst ourselves. During moments in the airport, on the plane, and on the bus, we spent time talking and getting to know one another. One such memorable moment was at the start of our trip on the bus ride from Mundelein Seminary to the Chicago airport. Led by Father Eric, we all prayed the Rosary for Mary’s intercession and protection during our travels. Our Blessed Mother was with us during our travels, and she continues to be with us.

2. Hospitality of the Sisters of Saint Elizabeth

After our journey from Mundelein Seminary in Chicago to Florence, Italy, we arrived in Florence both excited and ready to get to our hotel. Following a slight miscommunication with our bus driver, who wanted to drop us off a couple miles away from where we were staying, we were dropped off directly in front of the Institute of Saint Elizabeth on the Viale Michelangelo. The Sisters of Saint Elizabeth took us in and warmly welcomed each of us with an Italian “Buongiorno”. This greeting was a welcome reprieve to the busyness of traveling and the first time I had someone speak to me in Italian. The Sisters of Saint Elizabeth opened their chapel to us for Mass and Morning Prayer each day. They also prepared an excellent Italian breakfast for us during our stay. They were truly welcoming and embodied a spirit of hospitality. Grazie mille!

3. Visiting the Tomb of Saint Miniato

After our arrival in Florence, Italy, we had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of San Miniato al Monte, which is set atop the beautiful city of Florence and overlooks the city below. It has one of the most spectacular views of the city. In addition, the Basilica of San Miniato contains the bones of St. Miniato who was the first Christian martyr in the city of Florence. St. Miniato, originally a soldier in the Roman army, converted to Christianity and was killed by the Roman Emperor Decius for refusing to denounce his new found faith. This was our first stop during our stay in Florence, Italy. St. Miniato is a powerful witness and inspiration for us, and it was a privilege to visit his tomb! Following the visit to the Basilica, we walked down into the city of Florence, crossing the famous Ponte Vecchio.

4. Singing at Santa Croce

One of my favorite memories of this past week was the unexpected opportunity to sing in the Pazzi Chapel at the Basilica of Santa Croce. After visiting the Basilica of Santa Croce, we followed our tour guide, Camilla, into the small chapel located on the side of the Church. It was designed by architect Filippo Brunelleschi and had a small dome in the center which contained the images of the Four Evangelists. While speaking with our tour guide, Camilla mentioned that the Pazzi Chapel has an extremely well-designed acoustic architecture. It didn’t take long before one of our musically inclined brothers asked her if we could sing inside the chapel, which contained a few visitors. After checking with the security, our tour guide gave us permission, and beginning with those of us who could sing, we chanted the Salve Regina. The space was filled with sound, and those there stopped to listen as if at a private concert. The beauty of the chapel and the singing of the Salve Regina made it a truly memorable moment.

5. Mass at Il Duomo in Florence

On the second day of our stay in Florence, we were able to attend Mass at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. To be inside one of the largest cathedrals in the world and to have the opportunity to participate in Mass celebrated over the bones of a saint was truly incredible. Upon entering the cathedral, it had been emptied of tourists, and we were left alone to explore the beautiful church, which is usually teeming with visitors. Before Mass, the cathedral is cleared of tourists and only those who are attending the Mass are allowed to enter. We had the ability to visit the tombs and paintings inside the Church as if on a private tour before and after the Mass.

In addition to visiting the inside of the cathedral, many of us had the opportunity to climb the bell tower adjacent to the main church. The tower contains over 400 steps and has one of the best views of Florence.

The Rome Experience has been amazing! It has and continues to surpass any expectations I had before coming.

John Buonocore
Archdiocese of Miami