Dispatch from Rome , A.D. 2005
By Gene Openshaw
|Nuns on religious pilgrimages climb Rome's "Holy Stairs" on their knees.|
Kicking off our one-week Rome tour, I popped Piazza Navona on my group. Wow! The scaffolding was down, the workers gone, the machinery removed, the floodlights came on, and finally tonight — after months of cleaning and restoration — the square looked old again. Water gushed from the Four Rivers Fountain in the center. A street singer strummed and sang in his best American accent: "Nog Nog Noggin' on Evan's Store." Romans in fur coats and scarves trickled into the square to sip coffee at outdoor tables, nonchalantly looking warm.
Imagine only 50 people in the Sistine Chapel at mid-day. No jostling. No loudspeaker shouting "Silenzio." No clapping guard demanding reverence. Just us and Michelangelo's history of the universe from creation to the Last Day. There are more people on the ceiling than the floor.
Images of Rome are almost stark in winter. A Baroque fountain spurts in a Renaissance square around an Egyptian obelisk. A kid in soccer sweats parks his scooter and pees against a Roman column.
The nun from Poland hikes up the Holy Stairs... on her knees. She kisses and caresses the Holy Door, then kneels before it and says a prayer before entering the church. San Giovanni in Laterano is the seventh and final pilgrimage church she's visited in three days. Inside, priests man confessional booths, awaiting penitent sinners from all nations.
Rome is the capital of the "Seventh Continent" — the almost one billion Roman Catholics spread across every nation, language and ethnic type. Swahili-speaking sisters, Romanian theology students, extended Mexican families, and Bostonian feminists are all converging on Rome during this special Holy Year. There is perhaps no greater melting-pot experience anywhere than walking into a church in Rome filled with pilgrims.
Gene Openshaw wrote the above dispatch, while guiding our one-week tour of Rome. Gene met Rick in the seventh grade, and they traveled through Europe together after high school. Gene, a Stanford graduate, has co-authored several books with Rick since they self-published their first book together, Europe 101, in 1984.