Sunday, May 6, 2007

First Real Break - Sunday


What a nice thing to wake up when the sun is already up. For the last two weeks, it's been dark when my alarm went off at 6 AM, but today the sun was out when the bells of the tower on the property woke me up at 9 AM. There were very few Brothers around when I made my way down to the communications office to check my email and do just a bit of work. I had promised one of the Brothers here that I would edit the English version of a pamphlet that he was writing. It's a 28-page document and I had been able to do a few pages, finding many expressions or phrases or tenses that needed correcting. It was turning out to be a bigger job than I had anticipated. Yesterday, he'd asked me if I could have it done by this evening so that he could get all of the translations to the printer, and I said that I would try. After working on it for another 30 minutes or so, it became clear that I would have to spend most of the day on this little project. So I wrote him a polite email, attaching the work I'd done so far and saying that it would be unwise for me to not take a break today from the work, since I had been fully occupied for the last two weeks. I'm glad I did that. I don't know what he thought, but I'm sure that it will be okay.

I went to the roof to catch some of the sights around the Motherhouse and found Br. Stephen Touey and Br. Miguel Campus up there catching some rays. I pulled up a chair and sat with them for a while; a good way to start a Sunday.

Later, Br. Roch and Paul emerged from their caves and we decided to show Paul some of Rome. We made our way via the Metro to the Ottaviani stop and walked through the main street to the Vatican. Near the Piazza, there was a wide sidewalk that butted up against the Vatican wall. Arranged along that sidewalk were twenty or more street vendors with their Gucci (fake) bags and Rolex (fake) watches and all sorts of things laid out neatly on blankets or sheets. About 3/4 of the way through them, we noticed some police officers non-chalantly walking to that part of the street. I turned around, and magically the streets were clear of all the vendors. They had managed to pick up and move on within about 7 seconds. It was amazing. Of course, when the police had moved past, it took just about as long to set everything back up and be back in business.

At the Vatican, we went through security and spent a good amount of time inside. The strangest thing to me was the fact that as soon as the herd of people stepped inside that entry door - inside the biggest church in Christendom (except for the one in one of the Aftican countries that's supposed to be a couple of feet bigger) - they froze in their tracks, whipped out their cameras, and stood there as if they had been planted in the ground, blocking the entrance of everyone else behind them. All they'd have to do is walk 20 or 30 feet further in, and there would be no difference in their pictures. But no, they had to respond to that instinct of capturing the grandeur of what they saw immediately, as if it would disappear if they waited a couple of minutes or seconds. Saint Peter's had been there for a whole bunch of centuries and would likely remain, but they acted as if it would disappear within the hour, and so they ran about, trying to see and capure everything RIGHT NOW.

In the middle of Saint Peter's, Roch noticed that there was now a mark showing where the new Cathedral of Los Angeles would reach down the nave. And, of course, we paid close attention to the statue of De La Salle in the middle of the nave. I'd love to see what the place would look like with all of the lights turned on, but I saw no box where you could throw in a Euro or two to get them to light it up.

We walked to the Piazza Nuove and then walked on until we came to the Pantheon, a truly impressive building with an oculus (i.e., a hole) in the middle of the dome. Notes near the entrance said that 15 small holes on the floor make sure that the water that accumulates after a rain storm is drained away. Lots of gawking around here too, and hordes of tourists, most of whom wore the unofficial earth uniform of jeans and a T-shirt. Seeing virtually everyone taking pictures of everything made me reflect on the whys and wherefores of our obsession with capturing the memorable and the beautiful. It probably has more to do with a desire to control than with a desire to appreciate. It made me think of a phrase in a poem by Billy Collins: "Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera eager to eat the world one monument at a time?"

Then it was off to the Trevi fountain, stopping for some street pizza along the way. From there, we made our way to the Spanish Steps, and then I took my leave to return to the Motherhouse for a 5 PM meeting of the Central Commission, in order to get ready for tomorrow's sessions of the Chapter. Somehow I'd lost my sense of direction, and it took me 15 minutes of wandering before I found my way to the Metro entrance (yes, I did stop and ask someone, finally).

Back at the Motherhouse, I dropped off my stuff in my room and went to the meeting. Yesterday, all of the members of the interim Central Commission were also the ones who were elected to those positions by the Chapter Body. Brother Lorenzo told me that this was the first time in the history of the Institute that the same people who were initially appointed as temporary members (in order to get the whole thing going for the first week or so) were also then elected to those posts. Well, they're a very good group. I'm not surprised.

At around 6 PM, however, I had to leave the meeting - my part in tomorrow's session had been covered by then - and meet up with Evelyn and Bro. Pedro, both of whom had said that they were interested in joining me at the Byzantine Liturgy at the church where the Sant'Egidio community celebrated, in Trastevere - a wonderfully alive and intimate section of Rome. We left soon after and made our way to the nearest bus station, where we caught the infamous # 46 bus to the first stop past the Vatican (watch your wallet). Then it was a brisk walk down some narrow streets for about 15 minutes - streets lined often by small restaurants and shops - until we arrived at the piazza in the middle of Trastevere and went into the church, where the liturgy had already started. We found some places near the front and then entered into the wonderful singing, smells and bells and rich liturgical tradition that came from St. John Chrysostom in the 4th century, a tradition that apparently has changed little since that time. I tried to follow in the booklet they provided and a lady next to me would helpfully point to the right section every once in a while. The whole thing was mostly in Italian. Only in the church would you have a Greek liturgy sung in Italian to Russian music by a Dutchman, a French woman, and a Mexican Brother. I thought it was great.

Afterwards, we met up with Br. Santiago and Br. Patricio from Argentina, who were also attending the Mass. We went to a nearby gelato place for our "dinner" and then wound our way back through the streets of Trastevere to the Vatican, where we caught the 916 back to the Motherhouse. To say that that bus was full would be an understatement. We were sardines in a can, and at every stop the whole mass of people would jiggle and rumble, and out would pop one or two people at the door, only to see four more people try to get on. When we finally got to our stop, I was only too happy to breathe fresh air again. Of course, I'd hung on to my shoulder bag for dear life, suspecting everyone around me of being a pickpocket or a thief (not uncommon at all on these crowded buses, so I'm told). How's that for an end to a fine day in Rome?

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