Friday, May 28, 2010

Roma and the Rock

Greetings from Rome!

As many of you know, I am spending most of the summer in Europe. I left Saint Meinrad on Monday, spent a day at our mother abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, then took the train to Rome. I will be here until June 4, then return to Einsiedeln, where I will be for the majority of my time in Europe. This blog will be an unofficial travel log of sorts, I suppose, for any who are interested.

I am still a little travel weary -- wanting to sleep when it is daylight here and night at home, and staying awake when it is night here and daytime at home -- but I am slowly adjusting. It's also hard to sleep when everything is so new and exciting!

I've been to Italy and Rome before, but never on my own, and in the context of my monastic vocation. The last time I was here was in 2006 shortly before coming to the monastery. I was on pilgrimage with my mother and a group from my home parish of St. Michael's in Findlay, Ohio. At that time,I was seriously discerning the monastic life and just about ready to make the leap -- though I wasn't quite sure where or how. And now I am here as a monk of Saint Meinrad! It is a wonderful opportunity to futher solidify and deepen my vocation as I prepare (God willing) to make solemn vows in January 2011. I am visiting many monasteries and monks this summer, and praying and living with them is like seeing everything again from the inside of my call!

While in Rome, I am staying at Sant' Anselmo (pictured above), a Benedictine house of studies where a good number of student monks from around the world live and pray together while going to school. Among those currently living here are two monks of Saint Meinrad -- Fr. Ephrem (a teacher) and Fr. Paul (a student). It is good to see them both. Also here is Abbot Primate Notker Wolf, who heads the Benedictine Confederation of Congregations, as elected by the Congress of Abbots worldwide.

The highlight of the summer, of course, is Einsiedeln, the abbey in Switzerland from which Saint Meinrad was founded in 1854. However, I only stopped there for about 24 hours before coming to Italy for a "holiday" of sorts, and to visit with my confreres. Later, I hope to have more to say about Einsiedeln. I must say, though, that in my short time at Einsiedeln (which is visually stunning!), all the monks there displayed the highest degree of Benedictine hospitality. I was warmly welcomed, though many don't speak English, and I don't speak German. The liturgy there is entirely in German or Latin, and is quite beautiful to be a part of, even if I can't fully participate. Still, it's amazing how much people of different tongues can communicate person-to-person if they really want to!

Even in the few days I've been here, I have picked up a few German, and now Italian, words and phrases--particulary as it applies to the liturgy. When I return to Einsiedeln, one of the monks may spend some time teaching me a little more German.

The 9-hour train ride from Einsiedeln (via Zurich) to Rome (via Milan) was wonderful (though I did miss my connection in Milan and had to find another train). I am now a big fan of rail travel! The trains here are amazing -- you can go anywhere, and they're relatively clean, roomy, quiet, and comfortable. For four hours, my train wound through mountain passes of the Alps -- almost every mile a picture-perfect postcard!

On Thursday, my first full day in Rome, I set out on foot (I needed to stay off of planes, trains, and buses for a while, at least). I explored the Trastevere district of Rome directly across the Tiber River from Sant' Anselmo. It is comprised of many winding, narrow, cobblestone streets filled with shops and restaurants. My primary destination was S. Maria in Trastevere, one of the oldest churches in Rome, which was quite impressive. I also stopped at the basilicas of S. Sabina and S. Alessio, which are close to Sant' Anselmo.

Along the way, of course, I stopped for a slice of real Italian pizza, and some gelato -- fragole (strawberry) is my favorite. (The food around here, at Sant' Anselmo and at Einsiedeln, is excellent -- especially the soup, bread and cheese). In the afternoon, I took a siesta and spent some time time reading in the cloister courtyard at Sant' Anselmo.

Today, while Fr. Paul is in class (a pity), I am setting out on foot again, this time along the Appian Way to the ancient catacombs, which I didn't get to see my last time here. In 2006, I saw many of the "major" sights in Rome in quick succession, so my aim this time around is to be a bit more leisurely and selective. I'm undecided as of now about visiting the Vatican again, but I may take in the Pantheon (which I missed in 2006).

Later during my time in Italy, I plan to make some day trips from Rome -- at least to Subiaco and Sacro Speco, where St. Benedict had his hermitage, and perhaps to Montecassino, the monastery he established. If time permits, I may also visit Norcia, where he was born and where there is a monastery headed by another Saint Meinrad confrere, Fr. Cassian.

Absolutely none of this, of course, compares with the joyous news I received via email this morning from my mother -- that my sister Shannon and her beau Ty are engaged!

As my mother tells the story, Ty took Shannon last evening to a romantic dinner and wine tasting party at a historic restaurant in Marietta, Ohio. After dinner they went out on the patio. The waiter brought a bottle of champaign out with an empty glass and said, "Would you care for a champagne on the Rock?" -- the ring was in the champagne glass. Ty then got down on his knee to propose. Happily, Shannon said yes!

Magnifico! Che bello! Dio ti benedica!

... and a prayer and a gelato to all!


philetienne said...

Definitely go to the Pantheon. And from there, it's just a short walk to one of the greatest piazzas...Navona.

Patrick O'Gara said...

I shall be following with interest. Welcome to old Europe!
Patrick O'Gara

Tulle said...

Dear Brother Francis.

I too wish to welcome you to good old Europe. Albeit Scandinavian, I see myself as a true European and have visited all small corners of all European countries. A pity you can't do the same, there is a wealth of history, architecture, scenery and not least people to discover.
Rome is just a wonderful city, always new things to see.

Via my huge interest in monasticism... especially the Benedictine Monasteries, communities and way of living, I came across the Saint Meinrad website and also your blog, which I have been reading for quite a while. Very interesting I must say, your posts often give me food for thought.

I will follow your stay here in Europe with great interest and now know, that I want to see the Einseideln Monastery next time I visit Switzerland.

Keep up the good work... I will pray that you will be ready to make your solemn profession when the time comes. The World needs places like Saint Meinrad and people like you monks... young or aged.

Karen Elise... Denmark.

Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B., said...

Danke. You are very kind.

God's blessings upon you.

Br. Francis