Rome Diaries - Week 60

From 2006 to 2011 Paulist Father Tom Holahan served as vice rector of the Paulist church in Rome. During that time he had the opportunity to spend time exploring the historic sites of Rome as well as the hidden ones. The blog features excerpts from this travel diary. A new selection appears each week.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- August 25, 2008

A woman whose low-income apartment was redeveloped appears at church. For a number of weeks, she stayed with family and friends, putting her belongings in storage. Now she is on the street, unable to afford housing but still able to pay for storage. She spends the nights in one of the churches that remain open 24 hours a day for Eucharistic adoration. If she falls asleep in the church, she is gently nudged awake. During the day, she can sometimes stay in the empty apartments of her friends for a few hours of rest. The homeless have to be ingenious to survive because the city’s shelters are only for short term use.


September 19, 2008

It is not the best day to see Bracciano, the small town perched on the rim of a crater lake just 45 minutes from Rome. But a misty day can lend the right mood to a town that has not lost its medieval qualifications. My train follows the path of the Via Claudia, the Roman road that opened up a route over the Alps to the Danube. Immediately outside the station, I realize I am at the very top of the crater rim and soon see an outcropping of rock on which the castle and its warren of streets are built. Town streets are concentrated around the castle heights because malaria was a threat here until modern times. The moat has been colonized by restaurants, fruit stands, car parks, brambles and a long stretch of illegal shacks. For Bracciano, the glory days begin with the Orsini family and end with them. In the course of their nearly 300-year rule (1419-1696), some protected the pope and others battled against him. In 1495, Gentile Virginio Orsini was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI Borgia. Gentile had taken the French side in a failed attempt to gain the Kingdom of Naples. Mounting debt induced the Orsini to sell Bracciano to the Odescalchi who still possess the castle, renting it out for celebrity weddings (Tom Cruise in 2006) and concerts. The town does hold a charm. A woman prays by an image of Mary, her hand firmly placed on the statue’s arm; a bakery’s open door fills the street with the smell of fresh bread; mail is delivered into the hands of a passerby since the postman recognizes her on sight. I stand on a 16th century bastion, which, at the time, was an expensive military improvement for the Orsini; it is now the perfect viewpoint to survey the enormous lake -- and not a restaurant, not a post card seller in sight.


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