“Top Five” 2016: Week Three

June 9, 2016
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Lest one get used to the slow pace and structured schedule of our time in Ars, this week (i.e., week 3 of The Rome Experience) was like being torn from sleep far too early only to find that a couple of hooligan collegians had pulled the fire alarm as a practical joke.

The week was Tours Week, and it was one that you just had to tough out. Despite what seemed like endless kilometers of walking, the illusion that one’s blisters were themselves forming blisters, and confusedly trying to navigate the layout of Rome, here are some highlights from Week 3:

1. Two Experiences of St. Peter’s Basilica

Last Saturday was my first visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. (In fact, this is my first time in Europe.)

We went as a group and stayed in the basilica for two and a half hours. We were given one instruction the night before: don’t take anything. No cell phone, camera, journal, breviary, etc. The goal of this exercise—especially for us first timers—was to experience the beauty of the basilica without feeling like we had to do something. There would, after all, be time enough for all of those other things.

A little less than a week later, our group returned to St. Peter’s, this time with a priest who had studied in Rome and who had given plenty of tours of the basilica during his time in the Eternal City. He gave us a riveting tour, fraught with humor, intrigue, theological tidbits, and historical conflict on the scale of nothing less than schism and heresy that split Western Christianity right down the center.

2. Masses at the Catacombs and the Tomb of JPII

One of the marvelous things about traveling with priests is that you can celebrate Mass anywhere. This past week, we celebrated Mass in two particularly special places: the Catacombs of Saint Callistus, in which were buried many of the martyrs of the early Church, and the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II, which is located in one of the side chapels at St. Peter’s Basilica.

3. The Scavi Tour

Our tour guide for St. Peter’s Basilica mentioned that the reconstruction of the basilica was both (1) the indirect cause of the Protestant Reformation and (2) was built as a response to the reformers. The entire theology of the architecture and art points to the importance of Sacred Tradition and the prominence of and magisterial authority of the Apostle Peter.

Tradition says that the basilica was built in the time of Emperor Constantine on the exact spot of St. Peter’s grave. In the last 60 years, excavations have uncovered both his grave and his remains. The Scavi Tour gives one a historical look at the excavations done under St. Peter’s Basilica. At the end of the tour, one has the opportunity to venerate and pray with the bones of Peter. Our group prayed an Our Father, and I thought as we were praying, “How awesome to pray the Lord’s Prayer with the relics of the one who was present when Our Lord first uttered this prayer in answer to the invocation, ‘Teach us how to pray.’”

4. St. Paul Outside the Walls

One of the major papal basilicas, tourists and pilgrims don’t often frequent St. Paul Outside the Walls because there’s a misconception that it would be too far to travel to. In reality, “Outside the Walls” refers to the fact that it was outside the old Roman city wall. But, by the way, so is St. Peter’s.

Despite (or because of) all this, the lack of traffic makes it a terrific place in which to pray. This prayerful atmosphere is enhanced by a Benedictine monastery of monks that serve the basilica and who have been present there continually for nearly thirteen hundred years. Before celebrating Mass in one of the side chapels, we were given a tour of the basilica by Cardinal Harvey, the archpriest of the basilica.

5. My first hamburger in Rome

Any enumeration of a trip’s highlights would be incomplete without a mention of the culinary dimension… at least in my estimation. My last hamburger in America was at McDonald’s in O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Since coming to Europe, there has been a disappointing lack of American-brand products. No Doritos, no Dr. Pepper, and (can you believe this?) no Olive Garden. Apparently chicken alfredo isn’t really a thing here.

My first week in Rome, I was taunted tens of times with signs attempting to inform one on how to get to the nearest McDonald’s, but I never actually was able to locate it. Finally, though, I was able to sit down and enjoy a nice juicy hamburger. In a restaurant called The Meet Market, I was able to build my own burger. It certainly wasn’t In-N-Out Burger, but it was good. Not to mention I was able to enjoy beer and free wifi with my meal.

Phillip Shifflet
The Rome Experience Class of 2016
Diocese of Orange