Showing posts with label italy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label italy. Show all posts

25.10.20

On How To Meet a Pontiff (Or, That Day I Attended a Private Audience with John Paul II)

Private Audience
When I was a Roman Catholic Seminarian,
and the very young age of  nineteen,
I was in a private audience with the then Pontiff
of the Roman Catholic Church, John Paul II

To say that I met and chatted with the leader of the Roman Catholic Church would be a stretch. But I did kiss his ring. And I got to see him in his private chapel and in his private library in the Vatican.

I attended a private audience with about twenty-five other people — mostly priests and seminarians. It was the year 2000 — around Christmas time — and I was in Rome with other American seminarians from the American College in Leuven, Belgium (where I was a college seminarian at the Catholic University of Leuven). At the time I was studying to be a priest, and our group was invited to have a private audience. The story went that when John Paul II was a seminarian in Krakow, Poland, his seminary was suppressed by the Nazis and apparently, the American College, in Leuven, had sent over, secretly, supplies, books, and the sort, to Poland, as a sign of support and solidarity.

We were in Rome for two weeks, staying as a guests at the Pontifical North American College (located on the Janiculum hill) — but we didn't know what day our audience would happen. There are security protocols one follows when scheduled to meet the Pope. The Vatican gave a call to our group leader, a Benedictine priest named Aurelius Boberek, the night before and he then contacted us to be on the ready. We're meeting the pope! 

The Bronze Doors
The night I heard the message I had to scrap my plans for the following day. I was planning to visit the catacombs of Saint Callistus. Oh well, I thought, a papal visit trumps all of that. So we had to wake up early — to arrive at the Bronze doors of the Vatican Apostolic Palace at the crack of dawn. You enter the doors from the right colonnade in Saint Peter's Square. Once we were green-lit to proceed, we were inside the Apostolic Palace — which extends as a grand loggia, designed by the Renaissance artist Raphael. It serves as an official portal and links up with the jumble of buildings that comprise the palace.  

John Paul II had a private chapel in the papal apartments, located in the upper floors of what is officially called the Palace of Sixtus V, where he celebrated an early mass. It was so quiet when we arrived one could hear a pin drop. The Pope enters the sanctuary fully vested and he celebrated the Mass in the old Latin rite style — facing the altar (and not facing the people). I think I read one of the readings for the Mass (Or, maybe I read the intercessions. I cannot remember, exactly). So did my classmate Brent Necaise, who was a student with me — I was from Louisiana and he was from Mississippi). Afterward, the Pope's private secretary, a fellow by the name of Stanislaus Dziwisz, escorted us to the private study (or was it the library?) of the Pope. 

It was Christmas time, so in the Pope's library there was a stately Christmas tree with ornaments painted with images of John Paul II. I remember thinking that was funny for some reason. I guess if you are Pope you get used to seeing your image affixed to everything from postage stamps, money, and ornaments. I remember all of the furniture was elegant but not overstated. It was a brightly lit room. And there was a wooden barrister bookcase with nicely appointed leather-bound books. 

The Pope entered shortly after we had congregated and took a seat in a white plush chair. Everyone in our group lined up to meet him one by one, by kissing his ring, and stating our home state in the United States. When it was my turn he said softly, "Oh. The Mardi Gras," because it was announced I was a seminarian from Louisiana, and when another seminarian said he was from Kentucky he said, "Oh. Race horses." And it went like that — and each of us received a rosary and a holy card. 

The picture I have of the event is not the best — because it's a photo I took much later of a framed copy of the photograph that my aunt has hanging in her house in Covington, Louisiana. She was always proud of my decision to go to the Seminary — and I think she still has the picture hanging in her living room. 

Stray Observations

  • The bronze door to the Apostolic Palace is really cool. It's massive! A Swiss Guard stands by to protect the entrance. There is a long hallway (which, as I stated above, was designed by Raphael) and to the right an ornately designed staircase that takes you up to the levels of the Apostolic Palace.
  • I remember the Pope's chapel had an image of the Polish version of the Virgin Mary — entitled Black Madonna of Częstochowa.
  • John Paul II was about eighty-years old when I visited him in the Vatican and he had already been pope for about twenty-two years.
  • The pope would die about five years after the above photograph was taken.
  • When I was in Rome to visit the Pope, it was a hectic time for me. I was studying philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium — sent there on a scholarship from my home diocese in Louisiana, under the auspices of the Benedictines, of whom I was a student scholastic) and I was living at the American seminary (located at 100 Naamsestraat). We traveled to Rome and were visitors to the Pontifical North American Seminary in Rome. I was also hosting my cousin and my mother — who were in Rome at the same time as me. I was juggling doing seminary stuff, keeping up with my studies, and playing host to my visiting family. I remember it was all very hectic, very "sturm and drang"! 
  • We got lost in Rome several times! The streets wend this way and that. My mother hurt her ankle because we walked so much.
  • My favorite place in the Vatican is the necropolis of Saint Peter (also called "The Scavi". Buried under Saint Peter's Basilica, it is an ancient Roman cemetery. The story goes that when the Apostle Peter was crucified in the first century by the Romans, the site where the Vatican now sits was a Roman Circus. After Peter's death, nailed to an upside-down crucifix, he was hastily buried on the Vatican Hill by his friends so his body would not be pecked away by predator birds. Christians revered the site, and built a church near his grave. Hence, the reason why the Church in Rome grew up around this spot. It is possible to visit it but it takes a lot of planning and scheduling to get tickets. It's called "The Scavi Tour." You literally go underneath the ground and voilà you are suddenly in the site of the ancient cemetery. It is a bedazzling adventure, for sure.
  • When in Rome — do as the Romans do and have dinner at 9:00 in the evening and a glass of red wine with a serving of very thin pizza.

15.5.19

Family History: My Mother’s Doctor is a Roselli

Pam Roselli visits Dr. Eric Roselli
Mom with Dr. Eric Roselli at the Cleveland Clinic
Mom called me the other day. “Greig,” she said. “I met your cousin.” She had been in Cleveland, Ohio to visit an aortic specialist. Mom has been battling an auto-immune disorder for a decade now. The latest development has been an inflammation of her aorta which doctors have told her point to a possible aneurysm. So my mom and older brother went to see Dr. Eric Roselli. Dr. Roselli will perform surgery on her sometime in September. So I asked my mom how she knows for sure Dr. Roselli is my cousin. The surname “Roselli” is not uncommon among Italian Americans. Lake Michigan is, according to legend, filled with Roselli’s attached to cement shoes. And in the Vatican City, one can find examples of the work of Cosimo Roselli.
    Mom had a hunch; there was a connection with this particular Roselli because she told me she had a feeling he was related. She said, ”So when I asked him to tell his story he said his grandfather Ercole (Hercules in Italian) emigrated from Italy and he had had a brother named Joseph.” Mom said her eyes lit up. My grandfather, Joseph, emigrated from Italy in 1923. He had a brother named Ercole. They were separated after my grandfather came to the United States after the death of his mother and they didn’t see each other for decades until they were finally reunited as adults. The stories matched! My grandfather, when he emigrated, lived in Detroit. He was a young man, and eventually, he moved to Louisiana. Ercole finally settled in Detroit too and stayed there. So if both stories corroborate - my father and Dr. Roselli are first cousins.
    Dr. Roselli’s father is my father’s uncle. We both share a common paternal grandfather. And this Dr. Roselli will take care of my mom (who is a Roselli by marriage). Mom kept the surname even after she divorced my father twenty-five years ago. I guess she liked the name! And she was raising my two brothers and me, so it made it more comfortable when she was dealing with stuff related to us kids. She never changed the name. So this story is really about my mom who is a cancer survivor, and now she’s battling this recent inflammation of her artery. She’ll have surgery done, and the chances are good she’ll come out of it with a clean bill of health. You've got the Roselli’s on your side!

I've written about family history on my blog - check out related articles here.

29.4.11

Travel Diary: Fountain Lover, 2007

Roma, Italia
Roma is a City of Fountains
Visiting Rome, I notice fountains. Lots of them. Rome is a city of fountains. Washing my face in a fountain feels refreshing. The city lends itself to wandering, to existing among its old, palatial buildings.  

It is Also a City of Squares
It is a city of squares. Of tightly winding streets that curve and turn every which way — I know because I have been lost in them. And I have gotten others lost. When you travel alone, getting lost in a city feels adventurous. Getting lost in a city with others — especially with others who expect you to know the way — is embarrassing.

It Was My Time as a Catholic Seminarian I Spent the Most Time in Rome
My mother and my first-cousin met me in Rome when I was spending the Winter there — I, along with a group of seminarians from the American College in Leuven, Belgium (where I officially was a student at the time), was staying at the North American College (near the Vatican). It is the American seminary in Rome (and at that time I was a young seminarian). We met the Pope and I spent a glorious Christmas in the Eternal City.

Getting Lost in Roma — With Others
My family was staying at a hotel on the opposite side of town from where the college is located. Since they knew I would be in town, they made travel plans to visit me. In between my duties at the seminary and so on, we met often and meandered through Rome's old, city streets. Trying to get to their hotel one evening, we were chased by Roman dogs — that was scary — and I was lost. At that time — it was 2001 — people still used paper maps to get around town. We eventually found the hotel — but for a long time we were lost, going up and down streets, as I turned the map over and over trying to get my bearings.

I am not generally good with maps — but I have learned through the years to plan a route and to follow, read, and generally be directed by signs — and with Google Maps, Apple Maps, Open Maps, and all of those nifty smartphone map apps, it is a lot easier to find one's way. 

25.11.10

Cinema Paradiso: The Best Ending in a Film

One of the best endings in cinematic history is Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso (1988).
First There is the Film's Score
     The score by Ennio Morricone is the most moving cinematic piece ever produced for the silver screen. The music is deliberately made to induce emotions and I think it is what adds to the overall sympathetic tone of this movie.
Second There is the Film's Meta-ending 
     To fully appreciate the ending, one has to watch the entire movie. The last scene is a kind-of-love-letter to cinema itself. As a boy, the protagonist, Totò, befriends his hometown's cinema projectionist, Alfredo. In this small skirt of a town in rural Italy, the Catholic Church has considerable sway over what her parishioners can watch at the local cinema. The parish priest personally censors the films on view and directs Alfredo to edit out any scenes that depict kissing. At the end of the movie, Alfredo who has since died, and Totò, who has become a famous movie director, there is a discovery. Can you guess what it is? The discovery becomes the movie's final scene. And it brought me to teachers. If there is such a thing as poignancy without sentimentality, it's this film.  

15.8.10

Salo: A Film You Really Don't Need To See


Learn about the Pasolini film Salò. It's another film I add to my list of films I cannot stomach to watch completely. 
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (1975)
I know it's kind of presumptuous of me to suggest a person not see a film, but I think Salò is the only film I would ever give the warning, "you may not want the images in this film to scar you for the rest of your life." If you're okay with people eating feces and very graphic torture/sex scenes, then you'll have no problem. It's not so much that the violence is so intense, but rather, it's Pasolini's underlining message. 
The film documents horrific events masterminded by members of Italy's fascist elite during the Second World War. An oligarchic assembly chooses from the most beautiful youth in the surrounding towns rural areas to systematically torture and destroy. The message is blunt. Given enough prestige and power, people will live out their cruelest nihilistic fantasies if given the opportunity.

24.3.10

Photograph: Swiss Guards

In 2007, I visited the Vatican and took this photograph of two Swiss Guards.
Swiss Guards at the Cancello Petriano
Swiss Guards Standing Guard near the Cancello Petriano in the Vatican City. The Paul VI Audience Hall is visible in the right background. The Teutonic cemetery is also visible straight ahead and to the right is part of the Colonnade of Saint Peter's Square.  (Image Credit © 2007 Greig Roselli)