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Rome Diaries - Week 119

May 5th, 2011

On my way to the bus, after a wedding at St. Peter’s, I come across Benedict XVI’s tribute to Blessed John Paul II. The exhibit takes the form of a “river,” according to its creators. Scattered amid mural-sized photos and panels of text are the ordinary but precious memento’s of a life: a report card, a First Communion certificate, a tattered scapular. As the floor of the Charlemagne Wing of the Bernini colonnade is an inclined plane, the visitor travels “upriver,” pausing to consider the young priest’s kayak and mountain-climbing gear and, a little further, his cordovan-colored shoes and silver crosier topped with an expressionist crucifix that traveled with him on pastoral visits around the world. A curtain of fringe momentarily slows your progress as gun shots ring out, the assassination attempt. The final section pools out to show diplomatic successes, the end of Communism in Eastern Europe and the pope’s last years as a virtual prisoner to Parkinson’s disease. It is an exhilarating experience to go over the course of a life so full and so dramatic and humbling too: in the midst of it all, Blessed John Paul II always carved out the space and time for the necessary spiritual reflection, something merely busy people don’t do.

May 6th, 2011


I escort a 78 year-old priest who came to Rome to celebrate his 50th anniversary of ordination. When I ask him how he spends his days living in Chicago he says, "Oh, I'm a youth minister at the Korean Church. I started out just doing their Masses once a week. Now I plan their retreats and other events too." In the morning he roots about the bargain religious goods store Casa del Rosario until he finds a bag of 25 plastic rosaries going for 10 cents each. He gets two bags. “I need a lot because I give them out to everyone," he explains. Later he puts the plastic bag on top of the tomb of Saint Paul, for extra blessings.



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