On Tuesday morning we arose bright and early, ready to set off to Rome for the next part of our Pilgrimage. We arrived at Lyon in plenty of time for our flight to London, where we would then catch another flight from London to Rome.
Excitedly, we boarded the plane and, excited by what was to come in Rome, we awaited take off. After 30 minutes on the tarmac, we realized that something wasn’t going quite as planned. It was then that we heard an announcement, stating that a minor technical hitch with the aircraft meant at least another 45 minutes delay to our journey.
Finally, the engineers found the plane’s ‘instruction manual’ and were able to fix the problem. We were thankful for the safety standards of British Airways, that located the problem and ensured our safety during our journey. We were less appreciative however, of the fact that our connecting flight to Rome had been missed!
On arrival at London’s Heathrow airport, we discovered that we were not able to fly to Rome the same day and that we would be spending a night in London, courtesy of British Airways. Being ‘luggageless’, BA gave us a pack containing some toiletry essentials and a big, white T-shirt to act as a nightie! Now that would have made for an amusing group shot!
The hotel we stayed in was called the Renaissance and was part of the airport complex. It was beautiful. Part of the deal was a complimentary dinner and breakfast, where again the true Marist Family Spirit was alive and well, as we chatted about this unexpected London experience, and about our experiences of the Pilgrimage thus far.
After a great nights' sleep on a bed with more pillows than the Myer bedding department, we set off to Rome on Thursday, split across four separate flights, the first group leaving at 5.30am.
Depending on their time of arrival in Rome, some Pilgrims high-tailed it across the city, exploring the wonderful and captivating sites and soaking up the atmosphere. Despite one incident of some luggage that was temporarily lost (later returned to our accommodation, thankfully), we were all in high spirits.
Most pilgrims met during the evening for a traditional Italian dinner or bruschetta, pizza, pasta, wine and not to mention, the best coffee had for a couple of weeks! Yet again it was great to sit and relax with fellow Pilgrims over a meal, whilst soaking up our surroundings.
With coins at the ready, we moved on to the Trevi Fountain. As we joined the masses of people surrounding the Fountain, I wondered whether the people of Rome ever actually sleep, or whether they just sit and enjoy each others company all night. The Fountain really does look absolutely spectacular in the evening. So, after some coaching on what shoulder to throw the coin over, we cast our coins into the fountain. After throwing the coin over our left shoulder, it seems we´re all coming back to Rome! Once we had finished snapping photos, we made our way to our accommodation, Villa EUR, many of us with gelatis in hand! Villa EUR is in prime position, being adjacent to the Marist General House and is actually owned by the Brothers. Here again we experienced warm hospitality and a very comfy bed!
On Thursday morning we experienced the chaotic nature of Roman public transport during peak hour, as we set off by Metro to the Vatican, where we were going to visit the statue of St Marcellin Champagnat. On the way, we unexpectedly met Br Giovanni on the train! Br Giovanni lives in Rome and, as it turns out has a fabulous knowledge of the Vatican. We were grateful to Br Giovanni, who offered to be our guide at the Vatican and gave us a great deal of interesting information.
Once we´d had a look around St Peter´s Square we made our way to the Swiss Guards to seek permission to visit the statue of Marcellin. After Br John McMahon utlised the art of gentle persuasion, we were allowed through the gates. The statue was so much larger than I had imagined, taking pride of place in the last available of the larger alcove spaces surrounding the Vatican.
To me, the statue depicted Marcellin´s strength and tenderness. The strength was shown in the build of Marcellin, as his eyes appeared to be looking forward with determination. It portrayed Marcellin´s tenderness, through showing his love for children with a child both on his shoulders and at his feet. We joined together in prayer and, following a group photo set off on our way to explore the sights of Rome.
In small groups once more, we marveled at the splendor and sacred nature of St Peter´s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. We devoured the history found at the various sites, such as the Roman Forum, the Vatican Treasury, the Colosseum and the Pantheon. Between us, I imagine that we would have also devoured much pizza and gelati!
All a bit weary from trying to cram the sights of two days into one, we were quickly re-energised once arriving back at our accommodation and moving across to the General House, where we spent the remainder of the evening.
Firstly, our Pilgrimage group met to discuss the plans for the next few days, and then we were joined by two Marist Brothers, Br George Fontana & Br Jose Maria Feree who took us on a tour of the General House. One of the first things that struck me was the various artwork throughout the House, expressing the spirituality of Marcellin and the story of the Marist Brothers. My favourite artworks are found in the General Chapel of the House where there is a sculpture on each side of the altar. On the left side, an angel calling out to Mary and, on the right, a sculpture of Mary with her hand to her ear. This artwork may mean many different things to many people but to me, it serves as a reminder that the word of God is hard to hear – we must always remember to listen!
Returning to our meeting room, we were then joined by our Superior General, Br Emili Turu and Vicar General, Br Joe McKee. What a fabulous opportunity this was! We listened to their stories and spoke about many things regarding Marist life. Br Emili was particularly interested in our reflections on the Pilgrimage thus far, and on hearing our thoughts and opinions on the General Chapter.
As Lay Marists, I think I can speak for the group in saying that the desire to listen to our thoughts and opinions was both reassuring, in knowing that we are really valued and empowering, knowing that together with our Marist Brothers, we too are entrusted with the mission of carrying out Marcellin´s work in our lives and times.
Time seemed to fly when we were speaking with Br Emili and Br Joe. Before we knew it, it was 7.30pm. That meant, it was time to experience some more, genuine Marist hospitality as we joined the General Council and other community members for the evening meal.
Sitting at round tables, we each enjoyed conversing with members of our wider Marist family. I had the great pleasure of dining with Br Ernesto, originally from Mexico. I am amazed at the language abilities of the brothers. During dinner, Br Ernesto told us quite modestly that he “only speaks 5 languages”. Only 5!? My goodness, if only I could say the same!
For many people, if they were told they were having 25 guests for dinner, it´s possible that not all would be overly enthusiastic about it. However, at the General House, as we wandered around on our tour, and as we enjoyed dinner together, the Brothers and community members seemed truly overjoyed to have us with them, each going well out of their way to speak with us. The Brothers weren´t trying to seem interested in us, our backgrounds and experiences, they were truly interested in us and our lives, just as if we were part of their own family.
At the beginning of this pilgrimage, I was thankful for being part of the Marist family that is found in my school of Catholic College Bendigo. In the first few days of our Pilgrimage, after getting to know members of our group, I began to feel truly at home in our Australian Marist family. Now, having met and enjoyed the company and rich conversations with Marist Brothers and Lay Marists from the places we have travelled, I realise that we are part of something much greater, found in the spirit of our international Marist family. Working together, with a common mission to make Jesus known and loved through Mary and the example of Marcellin, just think how much we can achieve!!