Week 4 Highlights | Postcards from Rome 2022

June 29, 2022
  • vatican gardens

Deacon Kevin Kolker reflects on some program highlights…

1. Gelato Reward
This week’s highlights are in increasing order of spiritual significance, so I begin with the most mundane (but still exciting, nonetheless!). If you’ve been following our blog you know that a couple weeks ago we had a race around the perimeter of the Vatican. Now those of us who did it can say we’ve run around an entire country! Aside from bragging rights, we were also promised some gelato as a reward. On Thursday, our priest chaplains delivered on that commitment, and the champion of the race ate his gelato out of his hard-earned trophy! Now, come to think of it, all 24 guys got free gelato, so I guess the only extra thing the runners earned was bragging rights – alas!

2. Vatican Gardens
Thanks to the suggestion of one of the more loquacious seminarians on our trip, we managed to arrange a tour of the Vatican Gardens offered by Archbishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta (whom we had previously met at the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts). He quite generously spent a couple hours one morning walking us through the grounds of the Vatican behind St. Peter’s Basilica. We got to see the building where Pope Francis resides, complete with a Swiss guard out front, which is always a sure indicator that the pontiff is at home and not away on a trip. We also saw the outside of the residence of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the courtroom of the Catholic “Supreme Court,” and the beautifully cultivated trees and hedges interspersed with various sculptures and other works of art. I bet Francis and Benedict both enjoy a nice walk through those gardens after the gates are closed and all the noisy tourists are gone!

3. Cupola
This past week we had a very consistent daily schedule – Mass, prayers, and class in the morning; free time in the afternoon; evening prayers and communal time in the evening. The free afternoons allowed for many small adventures to visit places we hadn’t yet been as a group. A few of us took advantage of that opportunity to climb the cupola (dome) of St. Peter’s Basilica one afternoon. The 551-step ascent up the stairs pauses a little over halfway up so you can look down into the basilica from the inner wall of the dome – an incredible (and potentially queasy) view that gives you a sense of just how massive the building is! Then we finished the climb through an increasingly narrow and winding staircase (the wall actually starts to lean to the right as you’re pressed against the dome) and got to the very top, where we could see down into St. Peter’s Square. Definitely a breathtaking view (or perhaps it was climbing the stairs that left me out of breath…)!

4. Assisi
We had no scheduled obligations the entire weekend (June 17th-19th), which allowed a couple groups to travel and see some special places outside of Rome. I went with a group of 11 seminarians to Assisi for Friday night and the first half of Saturday, and Orvieto for Saturday night and Sunday. Assisi was a stunning shift from the bustling city environment of Rome. We all found the quiet hillside town to be a very peaceful place to spend a little time, and we all wished we could have stayed a little longer! Although you could walk across the whole town in maybe 25 minutes, there was so much to take in. It was particularly powerful to visit the basilicas and tombs of St. Francis and St. Clare, along with so many other sites associated with their lives of radical holiness (like the crucifix that spoke to Francis, the little church he built, the place where Clare had her hair cut off, etc.). And, lest we think that being a saint is something confined to the Middle Ages or to those who wear brown habits, we also got to see the incorrupt body of Blessed Carlo Acutis. The youthful face of the 15-year-old and his Nike shoes were unmistakable reminders that God calls every single one of us to the heights of holiness!

5. Orvieto
Last, but certainly not least, was our time in Orvieto on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). Orvieto is the place where Corpus Christi was first celebrated because it is home to the cathedral nearest to Bolsena, where in 1263 a consecrated host miraculously bled on a corporal during Mass (read the story here). That very corporal is preserved in the Orvieto cathedral and, to this day, is processed around the city on the feast of Corpus Christi. Thanks be to God, a number of us were able to serve the Mass and procession on Sunday. Four seminarians from our group actually got to carry the massive reliquary/monstrance that housed the corporal and the Blessed Sacrament during the procession!

Deacon Kevin Kolker
Diocese of Dallas