Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

Sorry for the recent silence, friends. As you might have guessed, I was pretty tied up with exams, preparation for exams, recovering from exams, and all the other fun that I'm discovering the European education system to be. But it paid off, as I have successfully completed my first year of formation at the NAC and my first year of studies at the Gregorian. It's a nice feeling and a little daunting to think that it all starts up again in a few months. But it's been a great year, so spiritually enriching and culturally rewarding, and I thank God for that.

Early tomorrow I return to the USA and to Arkansas for a little down time before I start my parish assignment early next month. Many thanks for all the prayers and kind words of encouragement this year, as well as for reading my thoughts and ramblings and keeping it fun for me. I hope you'll continue with both, as I plan to give an update occasionally on what the summer brings.

So, that's it for now. One year down and many more to go, but for now my thoughts basically go something like this ...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Summer Shout-Out

Happy June! Although it doesn't particularly feel much different here in Rome than it did in, say, early May, summer is definitely upon us. Summer vacations are in full swing, we're back to Ordinary Time in the liturgical year, and the baseball season is well under way (though my beloved Cubs still seem content to hover around the .500 mark). Hope you're getting the chance to experience some sand and surf, fresh mountain air, or whatever your particular summer restorative of choice might be.

I'm still about three weeks away from wrapping up here, and the long year is beginning to grate on me a little. However, I don't have much room to complain since, as many of you know, I'll be returning to the US and to Arkansas this summer for a couple months. Most of my fellow soon-to-be Ex-New-Man classmates won't have that luxury. It's a kind of ancient NAC tradition/rule that a seminarian's first summer is spent abroad (i.e. anywhere but North America), engaging in pastoral work, studying a foreign language, or serving the poor. While I had hopes and aspirations of doing likewise, in the end, for a variety of reasons, my diocesan superiors and I decided it would be best that I return home for a parish assignment in Arkansas, seeing as how that will be where I will serve as a priest.

It's not what I had expected when I first flew over here, but I think it's for the best. I have precious little experience in the parochial setting for which I am preparing and this will hopefully afford me the chance to really see what the day-to-day life of a priest in Arkansas is like. As a nice bonus, I'll have a little time before and after my assignment to relax and visit with family and friends. And, after almost a year here, I'm beginning to miss the good ol' US of A so it'll be nice to be in familiar and comfortable environs again. I have to keep my excitement muted a bit though since, as I said, most of my classmates will have to wait another year for the same opportunity. I don't take it personally, but I find myself occasionally receiving a dark look or a jealous word as a response to any inquiry about my summer plans.

The North American College, from the cupola of Saint Peter's Basilica, now in quiet study as her students prepare for exams.

As I mentioned, exams are under way here and the NAC is pretty quiet as folks are either studying, chilling out, or packing up to get out of Dodge. This is the time of year when envy can start to creep in about which school one attends. The guys at the Angelicum (Dominicans) not only get to take their exams in English but they usually wrap up at least a week, and sometimes two or even three weeks, ahead of those of us that are at the Gregorian (Jesuits) or Santa Croce (Opus Dei). My exams, for example, are spaced out four or five days a part on average which is great, on the one hand, since I can take each one in stride and have a little down time before needing to start studying for the next. On the other, when you have six or seven exams, the whole process is dragged out over several weeks and can become a bit of a grind after a while.

Anyway, as I said, summer is upon us. Last week, Rome hosted the Champion's League final, pretty much the Super Bowl of European soccer but with double the global audience (likely some 300 million or so). FC Barcelona and its star player, Lionel Messi, convincingly defeated Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of Manchester United. The city was swamped with fans for the few days surrounding the match, and although there was some violence and hooliganism, I think the Roman officials did a pretty good job of keeping things calm. A few days before that, a match of nearly as epic proportions was played on the pitch at Oratoria San Pietro as the North American College faced off with Redemptoris Mater (of the Neocatechumenal Way) in the Clericus Cup final. The Clericus Cup is an annual league for soccer teams from the various seminaries of Rome. It receives a decent amount of (albeit, slightly amused) attention from the local press and even the global press -- check these out. This year was by far our best showing thus far, as the NAC Martyrs went 8-0 in the regular season and were undefeated heading into the championship game.

Tailgating prior to the Clericus Cup championship. The Italians in attendance were fascinated by this: "We've only ever seen this in movies!"

Game day spirit. Yes, that's a real mustache.

Though the Martyrs fell a bit short, 1-0, it was a fun chance to show the kind of sports style that we in America have. We did some tailgating (sans alcohol, of course) prior to the game, and showed a lot of spirit, with inventive chants (e.g. to the ref, "One more eye and you'd be a Cyclops!") and some fun costumes, including Captain America, Elvis, Sgt. Slaughter, and a gorilla. Of course, we absolutely flabbergasted the Italians with all of this. The journalists covering the game were almost more enamored with the hundreds of cheering fans on both sides than with the game. Although we didn't win the match, a good time was had by all.

If you don't like the game, you can always admire the view.

Also, a few weeks ago, during the most blisteringly hot stretch of the summer thus far, I had the pleasure of hosting and hanging out with my cousin, Mark, who, true to our family's instinct for wanderlust, tacked on a trip to Rome to an already-planned venture to Europe. Although the heat was brutal, and a lot of my schedule was taken up by classes and unavoidable house events, it was nice to spend some time with him and catch up a bit. Of course, we sampled the big three of Roman culinary delights: pizza, pasta, and gelato. We lucked into great tickets and just about the best possible seats at the pope's Wednesday audience for that week (he was fresh off his trip to the Holy Land) and also trekked up to the top of the cupola of St. Peter's Basilica, a climb I haven't made in some six years or so.

Some sbandieratori (medieval flag wavers from Tuscany) performing for the pope.

I warned him not to wear shorts.

We hit some other highlights throughout the city, such as the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Forum, and the Colosseum, and though I'd seen each of these before, it was fun to see them again with someone who hadn't, especially a close relative. It brought back some memories of my first time to Rome and was a reminder (which is needed sometimes, believe it or not) of just how awesome the city and its attractions are. And of course, Rome has a special spiritual significance for us Catholics, from the relics of martyrs of old to the grand Baroque churches to Pope Benedict today, and I think my cousin was able to get a sense of that as well. My thanks to Mark for making the effort to visit! I hope you make it back to Europe soon.

Back to the books for me. I'll try to get on the promised but as of yet undelivered review of my Easter trip after my next exam.