(5/29/00) Well, we're down to the final stages of packing and (in my case) worrying. I've learned enough Italian to say "I want some coffee" and "Where's the bathroom?" I should be able to survive, though I might also learn to say "The pope looks frail, doesn't he?" in case I have to make small talk at a dinner party.
Here are some details about the trip, for anyone who is interested.
We will be bouncing back and forth between two conferences. One is at the Mariopolis Center in Castelgondolfo, which is the Pope's summer retreat 45 minutes outside of Rome. This one is sponsored by the Focolare Movement and is called "Unity in Communications." The other conference is at the Vatican and is the year 2000 official Jubilee of Journalists.
The point of both conferences is for media representatives from all over the world to get together and talk and pray about the sorry state of our vocation. Highlights: Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement, will be delivering the keynote address at the Focolare conference, and I'm sure that hanging out at a papal retreat is going to be pretty cool by itself. My friend Barbara Nicolosi will be telling the rest of the world's media about the Act One Program. (I'll be there to offer comments as a member of the faculty.)
The Jubilee of Journalists is nothing BUT highlights. I am particularly looking forward to the prayer session in the Sistine Chapel for journalists only. The same night there is evening prayer in St. Peter's Square for the Holy Father. The next day there are several meetings in Paul VI Hall in the Vatican. The next morning there is a procession through the Holy Door at the Basilican of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. In the afternoon there will be priests available to hear confessions. (I like the idea of confessing to a priest who doesn't speak English!)
On Sunday June 4th, the pope will say Mass in St. Peter's Square, and afterwards the journalists will have a Papal Audience.
I plan to make my own pilgrimage to the Gesu, the headquarters of the Society of Jesus. There I can visit St. Ignatius' tomb and see the rooms where he lived when he wrote the Constitutions. I can also visit the tomb where St. Francis Xavier's arm is buried. I have it on good authority from people with S.J.'s behind their names that the rest of him was taken from Cochin, China, where he died, to Goa, India. They also told me that his preserved body was on display in India until the day a woman came up and bit off one of his toes. (Little tidbits like this are what makes hanging out with Jesuits worthwhile.)
I'm planning the Gesu for my birthday, June 2nd. I plan to explain to St. Ignatius that I'm praying hard for his Society (I guess he's already aware of that) and that in return, I'd appreciate it if he'd pray for my bladder. (Maybe I should be talking to St. Francis Xavier about that. He's my hero, too, and it would seem he'd be the patron saint of body parts...) If my bladder continues to have an incurable disease after that, I'm going to declare it a divinely sanctioned incurable disease, because if St. Ignatius can't get God to fix it, God obviously has a special purpose for my knowing the location of every restroom in every mall in southern California. Any way I look at it, I'll feel better.
That night we're going to celebrate my birthday at a restaurant that sounded wonderful in all the travel books. It's the Rooftop Restaurant at the Hotel Hassler, which is a grand old hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps. The restaurant is seven stories up and overlooks all of Rome. I can't imagine a better birthday dinner than that.
When we return, I'm sure I'll have all sorts of restaurant reviews for other people who are planning to do the pilgrim thing before the Jubilee Year is over.
We leave Rome on the 6th and travel to Florence by car, with planned stops in Sienna and Orvieto. We leave Florence on the 8th and spend the rest of the trip in Venice.
On June 12th we will be home -- fatter, poorer and probably incoherent.
A Special Section for my Mom...
...who always wants to know if we're staying somewhere safe. (If expensive signifies safety, then the answer is yes. Rome hotels make Manhattan hotels look like bargains!)
Here are our hotels, in order:
St. Regis Grand Hotel, Rome
Majestic Hotel, Rome
Helvetia and Bristol Hotel, Florence
Hotel Europa & Regina, Venice
I've tried to find a good page on the Castelgandolfo, but I couldn't. I guess the Pope doesn't want any summer visitors.
For anyone who is reading this with evil intentions, while we are gone our house will be guarded by an alarm system, a house sitter and a deadly attack cat.
Ciao for now!