Let Us Be Saints!
I have been back on American soil for two months now...amazing how time goes by.   I stepped off the plane into the wonderful embrace of my family and friends and my mother belting out the song "God Bless America" for all

I received a Young Scholars Grant from the University of St. Thomas to complete a 400 hour summer research project.  My topic is something very dear to my heart:  "Where have all the sisters gone?  The Shift from Religious to Laity in 20th Century American Catholic Education."  Thus most of my time has been consumed with interviews, reading articles, gathering data, and now writing a final report to synthesize and analyze everything.  I have gotten the chance to meet some fabulous educators and have learned a lot about Catholic schools and the history of the Church in America.  I have also squeezed in a few little excursions this summer - a road trip to Grand Forks with my dear friend Audrey to visit my sister Christine, a family vacation at Bonnie Beach resort in Otter Tail County, and a Bernardi reunion trip up to Duluth for a priestly ordination of a young man we met in Rome!  God is good!  

Somehow I have managed to find a few moments for reflection this summer about this unbelievable experience I had for four months.  I have found myself counting my blessings and discovering many graces that the Lord poured out during my time overseas that I had not previously realized.  This process won't soon be over - I think it may take the rest of my life to fully comprehend everything I did and learned in Rome.  Every person the Lord placed in my path, every site that I visited, every experience of beauty, every conversation I had...yes, my worldview now is so different, having seen the sun shine on the other half of the globe, having to "do as the Romans do" for a semester. 

People asked what was the worst thing about Rome...and though the lack of public restrooms was often bothersome and the crazy traffic wasn't the greatest, I always have to say, that there weren't enough hours in the day to do everything I wanted to!  It was all about finding balance between my obligation as a student, the desires of my soul as a pilgrim, the travel and sightseeing opportunities as a tourist, and the relational and social activities as a friend.  My love for the Church, the Holy Father, priests and religious, the saints, and the Eucharist are so much greater.  My desire for silence, simplicity, and freedom in obedience have been realized.  Praise God for these insights!

It is great to tell stories, to share photos, to talk about my experience with those who weren't there...yes, reliving some of these moments brings a smile to my face!  The screen saver on my laptop is a photo slide show of all my photo archives, so to see pictures pop up from various parts of the semester is always a delight!  I have had the chance to try my hand at a few cooking experiments over the course of the summer in the attempt to "relive" some of my new favorite cuisines - Spaghetti carbonara and pear & Gorgonzola pizza from Italia, pierogies from Polska, and even soda bread from good old Ireland.  (They didn't turn out half bad...but they are also not quite the same!)  Oftentimes I find myself popping into the chapel for a moment or biking up to adoration at Church to spend some time with the Eucharistic Lord...this is my connection to all the Catholics I got to meet throughout my semester.  United as one Body of Christ! 

It is so good to be home in America, "land that I love!"  I truly am blessed to be here in this great state of Minnesota, in the land of hot dish and mosquitoes once again.  There is comfort about my house, the Target and Cub Foods that I know, my home parish, and the good old quad and arches at UST.  What a joy to walk "the loop" near my house or the Mississippi River walk once again.  Yes, I missed the USA.  But Rome, indeed the heart of the Catholic Church, will forever hold an irreplaceable spot in my heart.  God-willing I will go back again someday.  But to he whom much has been given, much is required.  It is up to me to be a saint here in Minnesota, to allow my experience to bear much fruit in the lives of those around me. 

I think it seems only appropriate to close with a quote from the wonderful G.K. Chesterson about this city:  "Rome wasn't loved because it was great.  It was great because it was loved."

God's providential hand has been at work in every single one of our travels and this last trip was no exception.  I had wanted to go to Lourdes ever since last July when I spent a week teaching kids at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Dobie, WI, and we stayed with a host family at the same parish (the fabulous Pottingers!) that had been to Lourdes several times before and spoke fondly of it as a life-changing experience.  Naomi's confirmation saint is Bernadette so she wanted very badly to go to Lourdes as well.  But I wasn't sure that it was going to happen, since it was getting late in the semester and it seemed that prices were high.  Somehow though it was the Lord's will that we would visit this place, so doors started opening.  The Vaskos latched on to the trip later and the fabulous four set out for the French adventure of a lifetime!

We flew to Toulouse in southern France and spent an afternoon in the city, getting our first tastes of French baked goods (bon appetit!) and visiting the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas!  It was a pleasant surprise for us to hear that he was in this city, but the church itself that houses his remains is not even used as a worship space anymore - it is a gothic structure but is bare on the inside and is essentially a museum.  Kind of sad that such a brilliant and holy Doctor of the Church doesn't get something better!  But who am I to say this...he is surely enjoying his eternal reward! 

That evening we caught the train to Lourdes and discovered that French trains are incredibly comfortable (even 2nd class!) and efficient.  We made it to Lourdes no problem and our hotel was just a stone's throw away from the train station.  Our breath was taken away as soon as we stepped onto the platform for this little town is surrounded by the Pyrenes Mountains and is absolutely stunning!  We decided to get a bite to eat and call it a night.  Little did we know that we would be getting a bite to eat every night for the next three nights at the same restaurant!  Yes, Hotel Ocean with its three-course menu of the day for just 10 Euro had quite the deal and we fell in love!  What a great way to try authentic French cuisine too!  And we were on a first-name basis with the waiter, mind you! 

The next day was our first trip to the Shrine.  My first impression...Catholic Disneyland!  The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception even bears a striking resemblance to the Disney Castle!  And there is everything Catholic to do here from countless Masses each day in all different languages (including an 11 pm Mass at the Grotto which we went to!) to confessions to Stations of the Cross to rosaries to processions to lighting candles to the baths to filling holy water jugs.  There are lines for everything too!  And tons of souvenir stands - in fact the whole town of Lourdes is now basically hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops full of rosaries and every size and shape of water jugs you could imagine.

One of the high points of the weekend though was the fact that there was an International Military Pilgrimage taking place at Lourdes while we were there.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to us!  We were surrounded by thousands of men and women in uniform from all different branches of military and all different countries in the world who have gathered in Lourdes since 1958 when the French armed forces invited the Germans to join them in Lourdes as a gesture of post-war reconciliation.  This year 37 countries were represented and there were over 20,000 soldiers there, and plenty of military bands parading through town as well!  I felt like we had gone back in time to the 1940s!  But it was a truly humbling site to see the soldiers kneeling down in prayer before the Grotto or pushing the sick around the Shrine.  So touching!

We felt totally safe in the town of Lourdes, especially with the superabundance of military all around, so we spent a lot of time on our own in prayer the whole weekend, meeting up for lunch and dinner each day.  It was truly refreshing to experience the Lord and the Blessed Mother in such a tangible way here in this site where over 100 years ago the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a poor, illiterate peasant girl with a message of repentence.  Just seeing the pilgrims flock to this site, especially the sick and persons with disabilities, because of their faith in God and his healing powers.  While some 150 medical miracles have been documented at Lourdes there are countless other physical and spiritual healings that happen at this site each day.  For me it changed my outlook on suffering and on the medical profession as one of compassion.  Additionally, it deepened my love of the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception.  Praise God!   And let me just say that Lourdes water is the best water I have ever tasted as well!  So good!

During our time in Lourdes we were blessed to meet up with Fr. Hilary Gregory, a chaplain at Lourdes from Sri Lanka, who graced us with coffee and conversation, plus a few hats and a "behind-the-scenes" tour of the Basilica.  We also ran into Fr. Greg Ihm, a Wisconsin farm boy who just studied at the NAC for five years and wanted to visit a Marian Shrine before he headed home to the States to become an associate pastor.  This was also a blessing and we shared two dinners with him (one planned) and the flight home with him.  He is a vibrant and holy young priest!  

 The final part of our France adventure involved spending almost 24 hours with the Little Sisters of the Lamb, a beautiful French Dominican community of mendicants (beggars), at Saint Pierre, their motherhouse, in the rolling hills of southern France.  The sisters were so generous in their hospitality from picking us up at the train station to providing us with meals (that had been provided to them by Divine Providence) to giving us our own cabin cells to sleep in.  These sisters take the vow of poverty very seriously - no showers, no flush toilets, etc.  - and it is absolutely beautiful, for their treasure is found in Christ.  We got to join the community (brothers and sisters) for prayer and also helped with some chores in order to experience fully their way of life.  What a true blessing to contemplate God in those rolling hills and frolicking meadows as well!  Yes, God is good!  

From the incredible sisterhood we shared on this trip (many great conversations, back rubs, and laughs!) to the intense spiritual experiences of the trip to the beautiful landscape and fabulous tastes of French culture, it was really a weekend to remember.  Travel was largely flawless as well!  I say it again...God is good!  Sr. Hallel  is a Minnesotan who went to St. Thomas and did the Bernardi program in Rome herself and she was our host for our time with the Little Sisters.  What a joy she is - no wonder her name comes from the word Hallelujah!  Her own brother was miraculously cured of his brain cancer by taking a bath at Lourdes.  Praise God!

I will have to travel back in time a bit to fill you in on the rest of my travels...Our second big Spring Break trip was a beautiful jaunt in the Emerald Isle.  It was incredible to experience another part of my heritage...the 25% of me that is Fitzgerald!  We flew to Dublin on the East coast of Ireland and three hours later were on the opposite coast in the seaside college town of Galway.  We loved everything about this place...the cuisine (brown bread is my favorite), the live music (Riverdance in a pub one night was a treat), and speaking the language.  We took a fabulous day trip to Inishmore, the largest (about 8 by 4 miles large) of the three Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway.  Here Irish Gaelic is still spoken, stone fences are plentiful, and the mail only comes once a week.  The naked beauty of the cliffs took my breath away...there was nothing holding us back from the crashing waves below.  And standing at the waterfront at one point, watching the lobster fishermen out at sea, we were told that this was the last point of land until Boston!  We even saw a colony of seals, and plenty of sheep and cows!  In Dublin we got the chance to visit the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College and to see John Henry Newman's university church.  There were beautiful gardens and lots of large colorful doors in this historic city.  The people that we met in Ireland, including a young lady from Grand Forks who happened to get the other bed in our hostel, will forever stay in our hearts and prayers!  God is good! 
Here it is...the final three days here in the Eternal City.  We are Roman Catholics, studying the Catholic Faith IN ROME!  We just spent four months in a foreign country, in the heart of the Church, with an incredible community of young men and women that have truly become family.  I cannot count all the blessings God has given me this semester...it will take a lifetime to unpack them all. 

Last night we went to people-watch in Piazza Navona one last time.  We just went to St. Peter's for the last time, saw Papa Bene and received his blessing once more at the Angelus, and ate our last smorgasbord meal downstairs (pooling our resources to have lunch).  Tomorrow we will make our last trek to the Ang where we will take our last final exam.  Yes, so many "lasts."  It is always difficult for good things to come to an end, but this is necessary.  We live in a finite world, where everything good that we experience is only passing.  It is only a taste, a fragment of the goodness we will experience for all eternity when we come face to face with Goodness Itself! 

Yes, we have climbed this mountain...it was an arduous climb of preparations for this semester...and the mountaintop experience was very sweet.  But just like Christ at the Transfiguration, we too must come down from this peak, back to the "real world."  We are not the same as when we stepped on that plane four months ago...we are changed persons and we must return home to change our world!  It will not be easy, for life in the States has more or less remained constant while we are very different.  But through God's grace we will get back in the swing of things and our semester here will continue to bear fruit there! 

You are probably wondering about the title of this entry...the lights are out in Bankok.  It is largely a Bernardi inside-joke that I will try to explain a bit.  The word for bathroom here is "bagno" but we jokingly call it "bango" instead.  One of our Bernardians wrote a note to Thanos telling him that "the lights are out in bango K" but apparently the last two words got mushed together and someone else read it to be "the lights are out in Bankok!"  Why we would be telling Thanos this tidbit about Thailand is beyond me!  ;-) 

It is a funny story though and even was one of the words in our game of melt-down (combination of Catch Phrase, Password, and Charades) the other night.  But I also think it can be a metaphor for our current situation. Very soon, the lights will be going out for Bernardi 2011...we will all be moving out of the house on Wednesday and going our separate ways.  It will be hard to say goodbye to those members of our Bernardi family who don't go to UST or are graduating, and it will never be the same since we will never all live under the same roof again.  But God allows our hearts to be torn so as to make room to love more... Yes, though the lights are going out here, they will be going on wherever we end up.  We will all go and be lights to our St. Thomas campus and the other universities we represent.  We will go and be lights in our future careers and vocations.  Together we will journey toward the Light of the World, Christ himself!  Praise God!   





Czesc!  That is, "hello" in Polish.  By the way, Polish is a very difficult language to speak because there are about a bagillion consonants all put together, so we were lucky to find English speakers!  I did pick up a couple of words!

I realize that I am almost a month behind on my blogging so you must forgive me.  The weather is gorgeous and finals are just around the corner so it has been hard for me to take the time to sit down and blog!  There is SO MUCH I could say but I will just give you the highlights. 

First of all, it was simply incredible to visit this land of my ancestors.  I am 50% Polish, so everywhere I went I felt like I was looking at my family members!  My great great grandparents came to America in 1890 from Poznan, a town between Warsaw and Berlin.  It was cool to meet a few people from Poznan, who said it was a truly beautiful place.  I was also very PROUD of my heritage because Polish culture is so incredible!  The people are reserved and quiet yet have such strength.  One can look into their eyes and see deep faith and true hope.  If any country in Europe is still authentically Catholic and not post-Catholic, I would say it is Poland!  The lines for confession were out the door and the churches were full of young people at liturgy!  Amazing!  Plus Polish music (we heard many polkas being played on the street corner and even went to a Chopin concert) and cuisine (so many great piergoies and kielbaasa!) are phenomenal. 

Our home base for the trip was Krakow, an ancient city with so much history.  It has one of the largest medieval market squares in all of Europe, and since we were there for Palm Sunday they were having their spectacular Easter market.  Our trip centered on John Paul II, who would soon become blessed, and the WWII history of Poland. 

We traveled to Wadowice, JPII's hometown, where we got to attend Mass at the beautiful basilica where he was baptized and was an altar server.  We got to visit museums containing so many relics, including his skis and vestments.  And we got to eat his favorite cream cake - cremuvka - on the street corner near his boyhood home!  So good!  Krakow was the city where he studied at university and served as Archbishop, so we got to see this beautiful Cathedral and the window from which he would often address the people, a small prefigurement of his becoming pope and addressing the world on Sundays. 

We also traveled to Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkeneau, two of the worst concentration and later death camps of the Holocaust.  Words cannot even describe this experience - it was sombering and powerful.  I learned so many things about the horrors that took place here.  I was truly struck by looking at the photos of the inmates at these camps...normal men and women whose lives would be cut prematurely short.  Seeing piles of shoes of the prisoners and mounds of their hair were simply striking.  We stood at the platform where they would be sorted after getting off the train.  We visited the place where they would relieve themselves, just twice a day, with no privacy.  We saw what was left of the gas chambers and the execution area.  One of the most moving parts was our quick peek into the tomb of St. Maximilian Kolbe - a Polish priest who volunteered to be killed instead of a pleading married man with children.  I am not the same after visiting these camps. 

We also got to visit the Schindler's Factory Museum (know the movie "Schindler's List"?)  to learn about life in Nazi-occupied Krakow.  It was an incredible museum and I gained so many insights into life in this period both in the Jewish ghetto and for non-Jews outside.  I never fully realized the extent to which people's lives were taken over by the Nazis...postage stamps had Hitler's face on them, at schools children were force-fed Nazi propaganda.  There were so many stories of little-known heroes that surfaced too, such as the hairdresser who would die the hair of Jews to try to make them look more Aryan or the little school girl helping her Jewish friend escape from the ghetto.  Just think if you were a parent during this time...what would you say when your small child asks about the situation.  "Why does Anne have to live in that place?"  What do you tell them? 

There were so many other great points of this trip...climbing an ancient mound to get an incredible view of the city, attending a Chopin concert in a fancy hotel (wine included!), and eating dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant (Maria's ethnicity!).  The overall consensus was that Poland is an amazing place and we loved this trip!  Then seeing all the Poles in Rome for the beatification was truly exciting!

Papa Bene! The real deal! Right in front of me!
Well, after two fabulous weeks, our Spring Break is finally coming to a close.  This "holiday" as they call it here in Europe has been absolutely phenomenal and I have so many stories and photos to share!  But for now I will tell you a bit about the Triduum and Beatification - two Church events I was able to experience in the heart of it all, here in Rome!Let me preface this by saying that papal liturgies are AMAZING because they are celebrated by the Holy Father, the direct successor of St. Peter himself, but they are CRAZY for the same reason.  Lots of people want to see Papa Bene and since Rome typically lacks order and cohesion, that just makes for quite a mess!  You need to obtain tickets for papal events a long time in advance and once you have a ticket you must basically push and shove your way in to get a seat!  You come early to wait (for example, Easter Vigil Mass was at 9 pm, doors opened at 7:30 pm, and we arrived in line at 3 pm), however the "lines" really don't get longer, they get wider toward the front.  Doors open a couple of hours before the event, and when they do, it is a mad rush!  I was honestly worried that someone would get trampled - it reminded me a lot of Black Friday shopping actually!  

But again, papal liturgies are amazing and it was SO COOL to be at St. Peter's to celebrate the highest feast of the liturgical year with our Holy Father and so many other Catholics.  A first highlight of the Triduum was definitely being about FIVE FEET AWAY FROM PAPA BENE!!!  At the end of the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday morning, where the holy oils to be used in sacraments throughout the diocese that year, I was able to get to the very edge of the barricade and see Papa up close!!!  See the photo above!!  I was filled with joy to be able to gaze into our Holy Father's eyes!!  And the cheering and shouts of "Papa!" that filled the air as he processed were simply phenomenal!!  I attended the Mass of the Lord's Supper at Trinita del Monti, the church at the top of the Spanish Steps with a beautiful French religious community.  It was a fabulous French chanted Mass - a taste of the angels singing!  After dinner, we did some "church hopping" - a Roman Holy Thursday tradition is that churches open up for Eucharistic Adoration at night, often until Midnight or later, and decorate their altars with flowers and candles for the occasion.  It was kind of like trick-or-treating for Catholics!  We would run into people we knew on the streets who would tell us, "This church has a beautiful altar" or "At this church you can see so and so's relics!"  So many goodies!  It was an absolutely beautiful way to see some more Roman churches and ring in the Triduum with prayer.

On Good Friday I got to climb the Sacred Steps (the steps that led up to Pilate's Palace, that Christ himself walked up and down) on my knees, as the tradition has it.  Such a beautiful experience where I could unite my suffering with our Lord!  Then at the Good Friday Service, our seminarians got to SERVE!!!  Yes, they got to hold Papa Bene's chasuble and wash his HANDS!!  AND Sarah DeCock, one of our Bernardi sisters, got to proclaim the FIRST READING!!!  She was the only female up on the altar the whole time, so she was essentially representing half of the world's population!!  It was in English, of course, and she did a great job!! 

I must say that one of my favorite moments of the Triduum was during the Vigil was when St. Peter's went totally DARK, except for a few lights shining on saint statues, while the Easter Candle was being processed in.  SO COOL!!!  The worship aids were literally books - they were each at least 40 pages.  The music was phenomenal, with a wonderful choir and for Easter Vigil, a full orchestra!  And there were a handful of baptisms and confirmations.  Imagine getting BAPTIZED or CONFIRMED by PAPA BENE!!!  Wow!!  We celebrated with gelato at about 1 am when the Vigil was done!!   Easter Sunday we went to St. Peter's Square to receive a papal blessing and hear him wish the world "Happy Easter" in dozens of different languages!!  Then we had a fabulous brunch at Bernardi, exchanged gifts with our Lenten prayer partners, had our own candy hunt, and even concluded with a dance party!!  Christ is Risen!!  Alleluia!!

After a trip to Ireland (which was PHENOMENAL!) we returned to Rome for the Beatification of John Paul II.  We could tell as soon as we arrived here that something was different - the whole city was abuzz with excitement!  Security was increased, vendors had set up shops in new locations, the metros and buses were running more frequently, little information stands had sprung up, signs with JPII's picture on it were all over the place, and the pilgrims were all over, especially those wearing the red and white of Poland! 

Last night we had a fabulous dinner with two of the Handmaids of the Heart of Jesus, a beautiful religious community that was just recently founded in the New Ulm Diocese of Minnesota.  One of them was Mother Mary Clare, the foundress, and the other was Sister Miriam Rose, the biological sister of Ephrem, one of our Bernardi seminarians!  It was so good to pray with them and speak to them!  Then many of us hopped on the metro (it was a squishy ride) and headed to Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman chariot racing stadium, for a prayer vigil before the Beatification.  The whole circus was FULL of pilgrims waving flags to represent their homelands and holding candles.  It was absolutely phenomenal!

We got seats on a steep hill that was a bit slippery, so maintaining our balance was a bit of a challenge.  But we were THERE and we got to take it all in (with the help of huge TV screens).  The emcee seemed to be some kind of Italian pop star, and she interviewed several people to give testimonies about JPII, including the French nun whose miraculous cure from Parkinsons was the miracle necessary for the beatification, and the current Archbishop of Krakow (which JPII once was).  There was a fabulous live choir and orchestra, directed by a bishop!  And TV screens showed us the celebrations that were being held all across the world in honor of JPII, including at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Krakow where we had just gone!  At the end the whole crowd prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary (which JPII gave the world) together.  Each decade was led by the faithful in a different country.  It was so fun to see them on the screen in their homeland, wearing traditional dress, and singing traditional music.  Then we all responded to the prayers in Latin, the language of the universal church!  It was a late night, but so worth it! 

Many pilgrims camped out near St. Peter's Square, awaiting its opening this morning, to attempt a spot in the square for the Beatification Mass.  There were tents and blankets and pilgrims could purchase boxed meals.  However, after getting only four hours of sleep a couple nights before (we had a 6:30 am flight back from Dublin) and a bit tired of the crowds from the Triduum liturgies (people can get pushy and rude) I decided to go back to Bernardi to sleep.  This morning we awoke early and made our way to St. Peter's, only to find immense crowds.  There was no hope of getting into the square and the mob in front of the nearest viewing screen at Castel Sant'Angelo was enormous, so after spending a while in the thick of it, we decided to head back to Bernardi.  It is so incredible though to think that I am here in this city and that people have literally come from all across the world for this historic event!!  So many pilgrims!!  I proudly wore my Polska sweatshirt that I got in Poland yesterday and today!!  I was able to go to Mass at St. Joachim, one of my favorite local parishes, and caught a bit of the Mass live on my computer.  It is a gorgeous sunny day in Rome right now.  I cannot help thinking that our beloved JPII is looking down on us all from heaven with a big smile.  Praise God!!  School starts up again tomorrow and it is simply unreal to think that we fly back to the states one month from today (June 1st)!  I will do my best to soak up each and every moment I have left!


Here I am in the middle of spring break, a fabulous trip to Poland in the bank, the Easter Triduum upon us, Ireland looming in the not-too-distant future, and then the beatification of John Paul II!!  So much excitement!!!  But I must back-track a bit to catch you up on a trip I took to Nettuno, a seaside village and the home of St. Maria Goretti. 

We rose early in the morning to take the train out to Nettuno.  Stepping into the city was setting foot in a world where everything had slowed way down, a lazy town on the Tyrrhenian Sea (part of the Mediterranean), with a gorgeous beach and friendly locals. 

We headed first to Santa Maria delle Grazie, to pray by the tomb of this 20th century virgin martyr, who was stabbed to death at age 11 rather than give in to an intended rape.  We then went to Mass and visited the incredible museum, which contained many photos to tell Maria's story and relics, such as her dress.  The large poster of Maria that was displayed at her canonization was also in the museum. 

Then it was time to hit the beach!  It was so beautiful to wade into the water, to hunt for shells on the shore.  Some Bernardians built an intense sand castle and other climbed on the rocks jutting out into the sea.  Apparently I am skilled at starting up conversations with random strangers, especially religious sisters, and this trip was no different.  I actually had a good ten minute conversation, in Italian, with Suora Loretta, a beautiful Salesian Sister who was at the beach with some school children she taught.  What a blessing!

It was time for pranzo (lunch) and we decided to ask some locals standing near the beach if they had any suggestions for a restaurant.  Sure enough the man we spoke to had a friend that owned a venue in town.  He called his friend up as we stood there and told him to prepare a table for 13, to make something tasty, and to give us a discount!  Then he gave us directions to the restaurant and we were off!  When we got there we were presented with a three-course meal, full of more sea food than I have eaten the whole rest of my life combined, french fries, and some home-made bread (that was still warm!).  We had to run to catch our train, but made it!  What a fabulous trip! 

The view from outside the cuppolla of St. Peter's
Now I will be honest...I am in ROME!  Thus, there is no such thing as a "typical day" in my life here!  Yet that does not dismiss the fact that I do have a schedule and a routine that gives my life structure - it is wonderful to have it broken once and a while though!  I hope I can give you a very real semblance of what a couple days of my week usually look like.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 4th, 2011

6 am - Roll out of bed, ready to begin another day!  (By the way, this is sleeping in compared to yesterday!)
6:15 am - Begin the trek to the day's Station Church.  We follow the Tibre River for a ways and I have a great conversation with one of my Bernardi brothers about plans for upcoming travel. 
7 am - Mass at the Church of St. Lawrence, in English, with tons of guys from the NAC and other Americans that are in Rome
7:45 am - Enjoy a cornetti and cappuccino at a bar (coffee shop) with some other Bernardians and Ben, a seminarian from the NAC who serves on our chaplaincy.
8:30 am - Spend some quality time in the study room at the Ang where I read JPII's incredible encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" for Dr. Coulter's class.
9:30 am - Our Bernardi schola (small singing ensemble) rehearses for Mass Wednesday night.  We simply stand outside in a group and sing through our parts for "Lord Who Throughout these Forty Days"!  What a joyous noise we make for the Lord!
10 am - Pop in to see Jesus for a little while in Eucharistic Adoration, which takes place every weekday at the Ang.
10:30 am - Moral Theology class with Fr. Giertych, Pope Benedict's Moral Theologian! 
11:15 am - Break!  Everyone mills about the courtyard in the center of the Ang, playing hackysack, tossing frisbees, filling up water bottles, and simply chatting.  I converse with Nguyen, a seminarian from Vietnam whom I sit by in class,
11:30 am - Class is back on.  We are studying emotions today! 
12:15 pm - Class is done and it is time for lunch.  We head over to L'Archetto's Spaghetteria, a ten minute walk away, where there are over 50 types of spaghetti to choose from.  I order the spaghetti vodka, which is SO GOOD!  We enjoy lots of laughs at the table regarding Fr. Murray's poetry course about the Book of Jonah the previous night and since there are seminarians at the table, philosophy comes into play inevitably. 
1:30 pm - Return to the Ang, where I spend some quality time writing my paper for Dr. Coulter's class and reading about the Counter-Reform period for Dr. Lev's Art History course. 
4 pm - Eight of us Bernardi women leave the Ang for our Apostolic Outreach at the Missionaries of Charity!  It is a half hour walk, past the coliseum and Roman forum, through crowds of tourists and dozens of vendors. 
4:30 pm - Arrive at the MCs, greet Sr. Josephat (a spunky Kenyan) in the kitchen, and receive our tasks for the day.  I help take laundry off the clothesline, fold other clothes (after learning how to properly fold blouses because they don't iron them there), sweep and mop the hallway, have a great conversation with Gerald, a man from Switzerland, help heat up milk for dinner, and sweep the dining room when it is done.  Somewhere in there I also manage to speak a few words to our French, Canadian, and Hungarian friends from the Jesuit discernment house in Rome that also serve at the MCs.
7 pm - Exhausted but filled with joy, we depart the MCs for our hefty hike back to Bernardi.  We stop on the way for a piece of pizza and an arancina (Sicilian rice cone - delicious!) at Mondo Arancina, a ticket bar right near Bernardi that we have become regulars at! 
8:15 pm - Right after returning to Bernardi it is time for Formation with the Apostles of the Interior Life, the beautiful religious sisters that are part of our chaplaincy.  Tonight is a session for sharing our experiences on the silent retreat last weekend.  God poured out many graces during that retreat and has blessed us with beautiful sisterhood in which to share these blessings!
9:45 pm - I head to the computer lab to print off my Coulter paper, check my e-mails, and have a few brief conversations with my Bernardi brothers and sisters.  I am getting pretty tired after such a busy day!
11 pm - After hitting the shower, I hit the pillow.  My roommate Audrey and I pray a quick prayer together and then it is time to set my alarm and turn off the light!  Another great day in ROME!!!  :-) 

[And I walked 11,701 steps today!  Though it feels like more...]

Also, I hope this random assortment of photos can give you several more glimpses into a "typical" day in Rome!  Enjoy!

Alas!  Our first long weekend and our first international trip since being here in Europe!  Yes, Italy was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its reunification, thus a national holiday and no class on Thursday, March 17th.  Since we don't normally have class on Fridays, it meant a four-day weekend, and many of us decided to take advantage of the opportunity to go see some more of this vast world of ours.  Originally we hoped to go to Ireland, since it was indeed the Feast of St. Patrick, but plane tickets were sky-high.  So someone suggested Switzerland and many of us joined on.  We weren't exactly why we chose this country.  It's not a "common destination" for many Bernardi students (there weren't a whole lot of guidebooks in the Bernardi library from this place) nor is it a place of many religious sites (it is a largely protestant country, from which John Calvin and other reformers hail).  However somehow we were drawn to Svizzera and the trip proved an incredible time of rest and relaxation, experience of history and natural beauty, deepened friendships, and appreciation for a culture that is not our own.

We flew Easy Jet, an inexpensive European airline, to Geneva, where we began our adventure.  To our great surprise, the Swiss are timely, orderly, and courteous.  There actually seem to be rules of the road that the Swiss follow!  People actually greet you on the street with "Bonjour!" and you have to pick up after your pets in the park!  These things simply do not happen in Rome, where everyone is in a hurry and everything, from the communion line at Mass to driving down Via del Corso lacks serious organization.  We also found, just moments into Geneva, that playgrounds are abundant, and they have legit equipment too!  (Playgrounds really don't exist in Rome and back in America there are no longer many swings or teeter totters or cool toys like these because of lawsuits and regulations)  We took advantage of these opportunities for fun and recreation, sometimes having to watch the locals to see how the equipment must actually be operated!  It was a good time to bond with some Swiss children, that's for sure! 

I must also pause to explain that Switzerland is quite a melting pot of sorts.  There are three regions, that each speak a different language (German, Italian, French) and I think the food and customs of the region largely mirror that language.  Thus finding "authentic Swiss cuisine" was hard to come by.  We were indeed in the French quarter and got to speak it a bit and sample the crepes and croissants, and boy were they tasty!  I am such a fan of fresh bread now...Italian bread is quite dry but the French know how to make it right!

I was able to do some research prior to the trip and found an English-speaking parish in Geneva, where we got to go to daily Mass, and which sponsored a Mass at the Basilica of Notre Dame on Sunday evening.  It was really an international parish, with people from many countries and backgrounds.  We met a very sweet woman from Ireland (on St. Paddy's Day!) named Clare who had moved to Geneva to work for the United Nations.  We got some lunch at a cute little cafe and then sampled our first taste of genuine Swiss chocolate.  In fact, we even met the chocolatier - Eric himself - who blessed us with a free chocolate bar!  After exploring the harbor and climbing on a huge tree stump, we decided to catch the train to Montreux, where we would be staying for the next few days.  The Swiss train system is incredibly efficient and we met a few more wonderful people during our ride. 

I must say that I am starting to feel very inadequate in my language skills.  In Europe everyone is at least bilingual since you really have to be in order to go anywhere else.  In America, we may study Spanish in school, or French or German, but very few are fluent in this second language.  Though I was able to have a brief conversation with a nice Italian lady on the plane, in Italian, it was also a blessing that some of the Swiss spoke a bit of English.  Finding our hostel that evening proved a bit providential too, because we had a German major (Katie) with us and she was able to find a German-speaker to give us directions! 

Our hostel was just perfect and was located scenically right on Lake Geneva (Lac Lemon).  Hostels are a really unique European invention, where young adults can stay for a cheap price, while traveling.  They often involve large dormitory-style rooms, and have common areas and rec rooms for youth to gather in.  The eight ladies all roomed together and the guys roomed together, with several other guests filling the spaces in their room.  Apart from a rather loud volleyball team next door to us, it was a pleasant experience.  The bathrooms and showers were clean, breakfast was delicious (the butter was just phenomenal AND they had granola!) and the staff were very kind and helpful.  We finished day one (St. Pat's Day, remember?) by eating crepes in an Irish pub in town!

Day two meant exploring Chateau de Chillon, one of the most beautiful medieval castles in all of Europe, located on the shores of Lake Geneva, just a stone's throw from our hostel.  I absolutely loved this walk through history and enjoyed learning about life in the Middle Ages by seeing all the rooms and furniture in this place (ie: grand hall, duke's chamber, latrine, chapel, etc.)  Perhaps my favorite part of the castle was a tower with three windows where one could gaze out and see the lake and the Alps - a breathtaking view.  I also enjoyed a dark corridor where a projector cast shadow images of knights and princesses walking past and posing!  Too funny!  I learned a lot about castle life, such as how the flat walls prevented intruders from climbing up and how the slits and holes in the walls were for various kinds of weaponry.  Afterward we enjoyed a beautiful picnic lunch outside, with the birds hoping to get in on the action! 

After some R & R that afternoon (napping/reading/praying by the lake) we ventured up the mountain, via a steep tram car, in order to catch a view of a good sunset.  It was so much fun to hike around and see the traditional Swiss cottages and to experience the beauty of the natural world.  Seeing Edelweiss on the side of one of the homes made us all burst into songs from "The Sound of Music"!  It was a joyous occasion! 

It was raining cats and dogs our final day in Montreux, but we didn't let that dampen our spirits.  A group decided to climb higher on the mountain we had been on the previous day and Audrey and I rented bikes to bike around Lake Geneva.  It was actually a bit of a small miracle that we were able to go biking after all, since the information booth in town that we had been directed to told us they only rent in the summer.  Fortunately, we were able to find the hostel staff, even though the desk was not open, and they graciously rented us their bikes for the afternoon!  They were nice bicycles and had little bells, which I took much advantage of in dinging and getting people to move out of my way!  :-) 

This bike trip turned out to be a phenomenal afternoon.  Some moments were certainly less than ideal.  I was soaked to the gill, my glasses were covered with water drops, my hands were bitter cold, I was tired, and hungry.  There were many times when I wanted to give up, when my only consolation was the thought of a hot shower and dry clothes.  But then these dreams would be shattered when I realized that I only brought one pair of pants (we had to travel lightly with only a carry-on) and I may have to wear wet jeans for the next three days.  Somehow, though, a little patch of blue began to form in the sky, that gradually got bigger.  Eventually the rain stopped, the sun even came out a bit, and the wind dried my pants!  But before this happened, we had quite a fantastic discovery. 

We were biking along through a cute little town right on the lake, called Saint Gringon, when we came across a sign by the side of the road that said "FRANCE" in big letters and listed some new speed limits.  I immediately turned to Audrey and gestured to the sign.  Are we really in France?  Is this possible?  We began to look around and saw customs bureaus by the side of the road, noticed new license plates on the vehicles, and even observed that the menu prices were no longer listed in Swiss francs but were back in Euros.  Later, when we looked on a map, we confirmed our suspicion that yes, indeed WE BIKED TO FRANCE!!  We would have gone further, but by then the path was gone and there was no shoulder on the busy highway either, so for safety's sake, we turned around.  What an amazing feeling of accomplishment!  And there were no border patrol there either! 

That evening we were seeking a fairly reasonably priced venue for dinner (Montreux is touristy and prices are very high) and we stumbled upon the Jazz Cafe, located on a quiet side street.  Though there was no menu outside for us to compare prices, a man sitting outdoors, who turned out to be an employee, invited us in to take a look and said, "You can leave if you want!"  We were given a cute half booth, with a stool on the other side, which we later found to be for the waiter to sit down and have a conversation!  To our delight found a plethora of options on the menu that suited our fancy and our budget.  When the owner heard that we were Americans he came right over.  He was from Boston himself and moved to Switzerland to work for Nestle.  While here he decided to open his own business and met a Chinese woman who was here for hotel management school (the world's best is in Montreux) whom he later married.  Keith and Sherry, the original man who invited us in who is from Belgium, proved to be great hosts and we had a great conversation with them both, while waiting for the food to cook. 

This cafe had character.  Montreux is known for its Jazz festival every July, so the decor reflected this fabulous genre of music and the menu had some "jazzed up" sandwiches and burgers.  I in fact ordered the "Jazz Burger" which had a fried egg on top - what a unique idea!  Later we were introduced to Tash, a friend of theirs from Russia, who told us some great tales about the cold winters in Moscow, when she had to wear three fur coats!  We ended up staying and chatting for so long that Sherry ended up buying us drinks on the house, so we got to taste the Montreux white wine and Belgian beer (of course he was biased to this).  It was such an incredible evening, and while walking home we were greeted by the most bright full moon I have ever seen, glistening off of Lake Geneva (it was the spring equinox after all!).  What a day! 

Needless to say, we really did not want to leave Montreux, but when Sunday rolled around we knew we had to pack up and say goodbye.  The train took us to Lausanne, which boasts several Gothic cathedrals, some fabulous parks, the lakeside port of Ouchy (no joke!), and the International Olympic Museum (and is the headquarters for the International Olympic Committee).  This last stop was pretty cool - though we didn't enter the museum itself the outside gardens were phenomenal and we enjoyed picking up the world record javelin and trying to reach up and touch the record-winning high jump bar.  Yes, I think it says a lot about Switzerland and its uniqueness as a neutral nation, that is houses this Olympic committee, has a chapter of the UN, and even developed the Red Cross. 

Finally we headed back to Geneva where we got to get our energy out at the park again and visited the phenomenal Basilica of Notre Dame.  It was good to see a Gothic Church, since Rome doesn't have very many!  It was neat to see French saints in the stained glass windows, including St. Francis de Sales, who used to be the bishop of this region!  Since our flight would be very early the next day, we had not booked a hostel.  Thus we spent the night camped out in the Geneva airport - what an experience!  We found a little cove of semi-comfortable chairs that was naturally fenced off and claimed our territory.  Surprisingly, many people had the same idea, and could be found sleeping in all odd corners of this place.  After some homework, back rubs, and a couple rounds of telephone pictionary, we decided to try to catch a few winks.  Most of us had nodded off when around 3 am we were awaken by the loudest snoring any of us had ever heard!  I had no idea such a noise could come from a human being!  And I really don't know how he didn't wake himself up in the process!  We were up, so we decided to explore the airport and play some Egyptian Rat Race in order to pass the time until our flight at 6:30.  We made it back to Rome with a couple of hours to spare before class on Monday!  What a memorable trip!

What a beautiful Saturday in Rome!   Mass at one of the station churches this morning, breakfast, a nap, studying, visiting the outdoor market, lunch with a friend (by far the best spaghetti carbonara I have EVER tasted), and skyping another friend.  God is so good!  It is sure nice to spend time at Bernardi and get caught up on many little tasks.  Such as blogging about my travels...

From March 11th-13th I traveled to Assisi with my dear friends Audrey and Naomi.  This was our first trip on our own, since our previous travels had been planned by others, and as such was quite an adventure and a great chance to "get our feet wet."  It turned out to be such a providential weekend.  So many things worked out beautifully and God poured out many blessings.

Getting there involved walking to the Termini Station (where the metro, buses, and trains all depart from in Rome), buying train tickets, validating these tickets at the little yellow box outside the train, and then hopping on.  No problems, except for finding ourselves in the 1st class train car when we had paid for a 2nd class ticket.  Oh well - we got to experience walking across several cars in a moving train, which proved to be quite the experience!  Train is definitely my preferred mode of transportation right now.  As Audrey reminded me, it is so ancient!  People have been doing this for many years.  It is so easy!  You just hop on and you don't have to worry about a thing except when to get off.  It is a great way to see the countryside and you don't have to stop for traffic.  I wish the U.S. had an established train system across the nation like here in Europe! 
We then figured out how to catch a bus up to the top of the hill (the train station is in the new part of Assisi but we would be staying in the old city at the top of the hill).  Immediately we fell in love with this quaint medieval town.  No wonder everyone raves about Assisi and name it their favorite place in Italy!  The streets are cobblestone and narrow with houses very close together.  It is built on a hill and there are staircases every which way and little nooks and crannies.  There were children running through the streets playing and parks and schools and it was quiet and the people were friendly.  From the very start we could sense the loveliness of this place and knew we were in for a treat. 

Our first evening entailed finding the Benedictine Monastery where we were going to stay, which wasn't difficult at all (Assisi is not very big).  We actually arrived at about 5:28 just to find that the sisters would be praying Vespers at 5:30!  It was quite beautiful to hear these nuns chant their prayers in Italian and we were given booklets to sing along!  We got settled in our room, a nice big space for the three of us, off of a gorgeous garden with a breathtaking view of the new city below.  The sisters were so gracious and friendly.  It was a very good opportunity for us to practice Italian (but they spoke a little English too!).  We then got dinner and stumbled upon a group from Franciscan University of Steubenville singing praise and worship music on the steps of a church in the town.  It was great to talk to them and I even got to see an acquaintance from Totus Tuus over the summer!  Small world!   We slept very well that night. 

The sisters provided breakfast each day.  Colazione for Italians is fairly simple - fruit, bread with jam or cheese, yogurt, and coffee.  One of the sisters asked each of us our name and when she came to Audrey, a name she had never heard before, she asked "Sei cinese?" ("Are you Chinese?") which I thought was quite hilarious!  Our first destination of the day was Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) which was in the new city and involved a bus ride down the hill.  Even the name of this great church just takes your breath away!  It was a stunning baroque basilica which was unique because it was a church within a church!  Yes, within this magnificent structure was the small original chapel that St. Francis was given and used for his newly formed religious order.  He would receive new friars here and this is where Clare received her habit.  The cell where Francis spent his last moments and died was also in this church and praying by it was such a blessing.  Confession and Mass were highlights of this church as well. 

After eating some pizza in a piazza back up in the old city, we decided to make the trek up Mount Subasio to the Hermitage where St. Francis and his early companions came to meditate in the woods.  The hike was over an hour and quite trying at times, but we prayed rosaries to pass the time and made it!  The view was unbelievable and the peace of this natural place was insurmountable.  This brings me to explain the title of this entry: Pace and bene (peace and goodness) was a common saying of St. Francis.  Born to a noble family in the 1100s, Francis was a confident young man, the life of the party, who loved to sing and recite poetry.  Living during the High Middle Ages, a time of chivalry and adventure, he aspired to become a knight someday.  However later Francis renounced material possessions for a life of embracing the Gospel call to poverty and simplicity.  His path was that of the cross, something proven by his reception of the stigmata later in his life.  To pray in the cave where Francis used to come was a true blessing and the fresh air was so good for my lungs. 

After trekking back down the hill, we visited the Cathedral of San Rufino (patron saint of Assisi) where Sts. Francis and Clare were baptized.  Though hungry and seeking dinner, we decided to go see the Basilica of St. Francis lit up at night, since no restaurants were open yet (Italians don't dine until 7 or 8 pm).  This was a phenomenal decision and the lit church simply took our breath away.  After a delicious dinner in "La Boca del San Francesco" ("The Mouth of St. Francis") and a tasting of some of Umbria's (the region of Italy that Assisi is in) finest sweet treats, we turned in for the night. 

Our final day, Sunday, brought us to Convento di San Damiano to meet up with Fr. Carola and a group of Bernardians he had taken up for a day trip (this was a pleasant surprise for us after we had already planned the trip to hear that they were coming for a day!).  The rain didn't dampen our spirits as we spent the afternoon exploring the Basilicas of St. Clare and St. Francis.  We got to pray by the tomb of St. Clare, the beautiful companion of Francis, who founded the Poor Clares cloistered religious community, and see relics of both saints, including their tunics, the shoes that Francis wore to contain his stigmata, and even locks of Clare's beautiful blonde, curly hair!  This was quite magnificent.  The tomb of St. Francis was undergoing construction, unfortunately, but being in this magnificent church dedicated to him and seeing the thousands of frescoes and pieces of art depicting him throughout the church was truly phenomenal and viewing additional relics, such as his chalice and the handwritten original rule of the Franciscan order was incredible.  Seeing the family home of St. Francis at Chiesa Nuova was a final highlight of this fabulous trip. 

What a beautiful weekend...a chance to walk in the footsteps of two very holy saints...to bond as sisters in Christ...to relax and enjoy the serenity of nature and of this lovely town.  God blessed us with so many good things in Assisi and I am grateful for this trip.  Oh!  One more thing!  When we got back to Rome, Fr. Carola took us to a steakhouse for dinner!  It was so good to eat my BBQ ribs, since meat is often lacking in our diet over here!  They were well worth the