“True Freedom” | Postcards from Rome 2021

June 2, 2021
  • Cardinal Pell 2021

TOP 5 HIGHLIGHTS (May 26 – June 1)

1. Having the bizarre and privileged experience to walk around the airport as a group of 20 seminarians in Roman collars (we had every kind of experience from people asking us for confession to passers-by snickering “Jesus is not real” to us!)
2. Having Cardinal Pell spend 2 hours with us in a relaxed and intimate setting
3. The hospitality and accommodations of the Nashville Dominican sisters at their retreat home in Bracciano, Italy
4. Spending the day in Orvieto (home of a beautiful cathedral that hosts one of the most famous Eucharistic miracles)
5. Praying, being with Father Eric Nielsen, and getting to know the new community of seminarians

Hello all! It has been a crazy adventure here on the 2021 Rome Experience. We are beyond blessed to have gotten to Italy all safe, sound, and healthy. After about 36 hours of travel, (including a red eye flight and passing 3 separate covid tests), we have begun to settle into our first week of Italy. Before being fully immersed in Rome, we have been staying at the Nashville Dominican House in a small Italian town called Bracciano (about 30 miles outside of Rome). It is a blessing and a privilege to be slowly immersed into the Rome Experience by spending our first 10 days in what honestly looks and feels like a slice of heaven. Picture a resort in Lake Tahoe on top of a beautiful countryside hill and multiply the experience by 1000 since it is run by beautiful and joy-filled Dominican sisters!

Out of the 5 highlights named, by far the most enjoyable moment was our morning spent with Cardinal George Pell. For those that don’t know him, Cardinal Pell is someone that we seminarians really look up to and admire. Before becoming a Cardinal, he was an Archbishop in Australia, where he was a well-spoken and tireless advocate for the truth, especially regarding today’s hot topic issues. He is a man of power who is humble, loving, and concerned for the well-being of our Church. Recently he spent 14 months in prison being accused of a crime he never committed, and he never once fell into despair. In the world’s eye he may not be the most popular person, but for young seminarians, he is truly a hero. We were thrilled that he took out a whole morning for us to ask him our burning questions. It was a surreal couple of hours to say the least.

While answering our questions with piercing wisdom and humor, I was struck by how truly free this man was. I don’t say this because he is now out of prison, but because of how joy-filled and at peace he was in speaking to us about the hard truths of this world. You see, true freedom is not about being free from chains or having the license to do whatever we want—true freedom is having the ability to live in the truth and to speak what is good for us without holding anything back. True freedom is love without limits. It’s an ability (something we learn) to choose happiness without being controlled by what other people think, unfortunate circumstances, or our addictions to sin. Cardinal Pell is a living example of a man that chose to fight the good fight despite many accusations and setbacks.

As far as I can tell, this is what every seminarian desires to be, free from all hang-ups and sins so that he can be a true father to all. I believe this is the heart of The Rome Experience, for this trip isn’t meant to be a vacation at Lake Tahoe or merely a break from the busyness of seminary, but it is meant to teach us (rather for us to experience) what is truly important in the priesthood: union with God and the learned-ability to love others well.

Right from the start, we experienced a man who not only taught these things to his people well, but truly lived it. Being able to already spend time with this holy cardinal, other zealous priests, and wonderful Dominican sisters is helping us to see how we can be free. We know we are not there yet. We know we have a way to go to be more detached from this world and more attached to what God thinks. Hence why we are here.

It’s hard to name the amount of gratitude we all feel for being here. We know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fully immerse ourselves in the gift of the priesthood in the heart of all Christendom, and it’s only made possible through the generous benefactors and prayer warriors behind The Rome Experience. The amount of love and support is tangibly felt. We know there are many people cheering us on to become good, holy, and happy priests for our dioceses. Having an experience like this will surely help accomplish this. Please pray for our freedom so that we may take a small step towards a Cardinal-Pell-type of sanctity that we all so deeply long for. Know we are praying for you. God bless!

Bradley Grobbel
Diocese of Madison