Saturday, October 9, 2010

We're Here!

Although we had been awake for a little over twenty-four hours (at least those of us who hadn't been able to catch a nap on our two flights to Rome), we had a full afternoon ahead of us! After leaving the airport in Rome, we boarded a tiny, twelve-seater bus to take us to our first hotel.

We settled in and unpacked a bit before Father Joe led us on a short walk through the streets of Rome into the heart of Saint Peter’s Square – The Vatican.

Though I had been there before, it was completely overwhelming to stand at the home of our faith tradition, the true center of the Catholic Church.

We walked through the colonnade for a few minutes, looking forward to the time we would be able to spend in the cathedral the next day, before heading back to the hotel to meet the bus that would take us to Genazzano, home to the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel.

This particular name for Mary is certainly not foreign to us Villanova students! As an Augustinian community, we ask for her intercession at our regular Masses and some Villanova students even reside in the residence hall named after her. As such, we were all looking forward to making this first, official stop on our pilgrimage to see the icon we all knew so well.

What most of us hadn’t known was the miraculous story of the icon itself. While traveling to the shrine, Father Joe told us how the icon had originally resided in a church in Albania and mystically travelled to the shrine in Genazzano that we were about to visit. Even more amazing, the image now appears to be suspended in mid-air without any structural support!

Leaving the bus, we walked through the incredibly quiet, tiny town until we reached the shrine. While the local congregation was praying the rosary before their evening liturgy, we spent some time praying the day’s evening prayer in the chapel that serves as the resting place of Blessed Stephen Bellesini, O.S.A. An Augustinian, Stephen Bellesini was devoted to serving the poor, especially the children of his community, educating them and providing for their well-being. After prayer, we visited the image of Our Mother of Good Counsel itself before being shown the room where Stephen Bellesini died. How wonderful to see so much Augustinian history on our first day of pilgrimage!

We boarded the bus yet again on our way back to Rome, and had a wonderful first dinner together outdoors, enjoying the culture and laid back atmosphere that bella Italia offered. It was a great way of getting to know each other and to relax from our hectic days of travel. We all fell asleep quickly - tired but looking forward to the tour of Rome and all that it would hold in store for us.

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