Reflections, Special Edition: Religio’s Favorite Moments

We laughed, we cried and took a lot of pictures during our time in Italy. Here, the Religio staff ponders its favorite moments from our 10-day adventure…

Neha Tara Mehta and Hoda Emam in Bari. | Photo by Michael Wilner.

Neha Tara Mehta and Hoda Emam in Bari. | Photo by Michael Wilner.

“Naples has to be the creepiest city in the world, and that eeriness triples at night. My favorite moment was walking around the city with some classmates, furtively looking down dark, abandoned streets, hoping that nothing would jump out from within the dark crypts of the many churches. Finally, we countered the terror of the night with the glow of freshly baked pizza, stuffed as we were from our four-course meal only an hour before. As amazing as our learning experiences were, nothing stands out like snapshot moments with friends.” — Anne Cohen

“From the moment we arrived in Italy it was non-stop running from one meeting point to another. I was determined to take in every bit of this exciting experience. It wasn’t until we were on the bus heading to Naples that I peered out the window–at the sprawling hills with wind turbines perched on top, endless green pastures with herds of sheep and beautiful country cottages tucked behind grape vineyards–that the intense experiences of Rome hit me. I quickly took out my laptop and began typing every minute and grand experience. I remembered the sweet lady I met on the train to Laurentina who was determined to hold a discussion with me using the few words she knew in Spanish. She patted my hand gently as she described her experiences of seeing Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Then there were the goose bumps, heart palpitations and sudden anxiety of heading to an unfamiliar location and landing a great story, a familiar feeling that I crave often. I watched as every scene perfectly unfolded before my eyes as if someone is flipping the pages of a book.  It was an incredible feeling to know that God wanted me to be in Italy and in that exact location at that very moment. The events and experiences on our trip to Italy serve me a reminder of why I have chosen this career path and why no other profession will suffice.” — Hoda Emam

Professor Goldman at the Islamic Center of Rome. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Professor Goldman at the Islamic Center of Rome. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

“Entering the Sistine Chapel was truly one of the most amazing experiences – not simply on our journey but of my life. I remember learning about Michelangelo’s work as a young boy but witnessing it first hand left me speechless. Although it was prohibited to take photos, the images will forever be with me.” — Brandon Gates

“Professor Stille and I had been planning the study tour of Italy for a full year. I even got to Rome a day early to make sure that I — and the city — were ready for you. I rode the bus to Leonardo da Vinci Airport on Friday to pick up the class. My favorite moment was when I saw you coming through the gate. The adventure was beginning!” — Professor Goldman.

“Like most days of our Italian sojourn, the fourth saw us functioning at warp speed. We spent the morning lost in the galleries of the Vatican Museum, trying to keep up with Dr. Lev’s fascinating explanations. Later that same day, we wandered into The Community of Sant’Egidio’s headquarters in Trastevere, Rome. As we entered a resplendent courtyard, brimming with flowers and the errant souls of nuns long passed, there was an overwhelming sense of quiet. At 6 p.m., in the middle of our conversation with representatives of The Community, the courtyard bells began to chime and everyone turned silent until the bells had stopped. It was explained to us that a moment of silence is observed by all at The Community at the same time every day to encourage tranquility and self-reflection. This was something I had craved but not had much to time to indulge in since our arrival in Rome. I was therefore extremely grateful to have had a few moments to be lost in thought in such a beautiful setting. — Raya Jalabi

“As the sun set over the valley below, three classmates and I sat on the crumbling wall of a 12th century castle, eating bread and cheese bought from a local food purveyor. As I threw an olive pit over the wall into the abyss below, and the bells of San Michele rang in the distance,I had one of those ‘pinch me I’m dreaming’ moments – it felt cliched in an absolutely perfect sort of way.”  Sarah Laing

“We were so caught up with reporting during our six days in Rome that the very rare moments that we get to stop, take a deep breath and soak in the sights really meant more than we thought it would. Two moments stood out for me. The first was walking into Raphael’s Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. The second was going to Trevi Fountain at 2a.m. without the throngs of tourists pushing about for a view. Those were my quiet reflective moments – the spiritual energizer to keep going and a reminder that if Michelangelo can achieve the “impossible”, these obstacles that I face are nothing compared to that. — Trinna Leong

Teresa Mahoney interviewing nuns. l Photo by Trinna Leong.

Teresa Mahoney interviewing nuns. l Photo by Trinna Leong.

“It was our second day in Rome and Trinna and I were wandering around Campo dei Fiori, one of Rome’s main squares host to lively cafes, restaurants and street artists. We instantly spotted a cluster of about 10-15 nuns, who one at a time, entered a nearby church, then walked out about five minutes later. We were instantly curious. After some hesitation, thinking maybe I’d be interrupting some kind of sacred prayer ceremony, I approached the group and asked what they were doing. I was directed towards the head nun, Sister Teresita (coincidence?), who spoke English and for some reason I was surprised by her answer: They were travelling through Rome and were taking turns using the bathroom in the church. Though it’s easy to be humbled by the immense grace of women so passionately committed to their work and prayer life, I was reminded that nuns are human too.” — Teresa Mahoney

After nearly ten days of non-stop reporting, the serendipitous discovery of a castle in San Michele with a sweeping view of the valley beneath took us back to another time and place. Nothing seemed more important, urgent and compelling than just lying back and watching the slopes cascading beneath us claim the sun for the night. — Neha Tara Mehta

“The roadtrip from Rome to Ardea, getting lost and being welcomed by a Rom family into their home were easily some of the most memorable adventures in Italy. But meeting Father Igor from the Russian Orthodox Church was the pivotal moment that made all of that possible. He graciously gave us the phone number of a Rom gypsy, Zoran, who immediately invited us to his house when we called, saying Father Igor was a great man and that he’d be happy to take us to a gypsy camp outside of Rome the next afternoon. That short phone call left me with an incredible sense of excitement for the adventure ahead.  Bogdan Mohora

Bodgan Mohora and Anne Cohen in San Michele. | Photo by Michael Wilner.

Bodgan Mohora and Anne Cohen in San Michele. | Photo by Michael Wilner.

“Few moments in life can beat seeing the ex-President of your country clean up your dinner plate – but that’s exactly what happened at the Lay Center at Foyer Unitas Rome, where we were guests to dinner on a Friday night. A middle-aged woman had introduced herself to us as “Mary”, and I was happy to hear her Irish accent, but feelings of embarrassment quickly took over as I realized that plain old “Mary” was in fact Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland until very recently. I wasn’t seated at her table, but I spoke to her after dinner. She was chatty and friendly, as she carried our empty and half-empty plates to the kitchen, rolled up her sleeves, and began washing.” — Ines Novacic

“My favorite moment was our visit to the Romanian Orthodox church. Their monastery is a very special place, located in the outskirts of Rome and surrounded by vineyards. We were received with open arms by Bishop Siluan Span and two nuns, who talked about the church’s struggle to reverse the negative stereotype of the Romanian community in Italy, usually associated with crime and illegality. I felt privileged to be there in such amazing circumstances, with the opportunity to have a peek into their lives and their faith.”  Andrea Palatnik

“Getting lost  — whether in the nooks and crannies of San Michele streets while hunting for a castle to watch the sunset or roaming from Trastevere to the Colosseum taking every wrong turn possible. But always feeling found — whether in a professor’s embrace at Rome’s airport, at the home of a gypsy family who could only communicate with me in smiles not words, or being reunited with my classmates after a five-hour midnight train ride from Rome to Foggia.” — Neha Prakash

“I went to a Catholic high school, so seeing the manifestations of all that I had studied was, in a word, breathtaking. At various different points throughout the trip, I felt I was almost walking through history – both mythical and Christian. Though much has been changed and modernized about Italy and its major cities, I felt there was a level of respect for the spirit of history that had passed through the streets of Rome, evident in the majestic old buildings and stories of old that seeped through every cobblestone. It was overwhelming – in a beautiful way.”  Anam Siddiq

Professor Stille and the Romanian Orthodox nuns. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Professor Stille and the Romanian Orthodox nuns. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

“Several things stay in my mind from our Italian trip. A fresco I had never seen in the Vatican Museums: on the ceiling of the Sala Costantina the extraordinary image of a ancient marble statue that shatters when placed in front of the crucifix, an amazing illusionistic painting by a Sicilian artist I had never heard of named Tommaso Laureti. The gorgeous cloister of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples with its wood ceiling carved into the most beautiful sculptures. The bizarre Renzo Piano church dedicated to Padre Pio: in the crypt where S. Pio’s body lies there are mosaics of the life of Christ and then in the corridor outside, one wall shows the life of Saint Francis and on the opposite wall, the life of Padre Pio. The iconography was very striking: three figures who all received the stigmata, Christ, Saint Francis and Padre Pio. But also extremely impressive to me were the efforts of our students who were busy tracking down stories, drumming up sources and running off to do interviews between sightseeing outings and programmed visits. Hoda found a whole hotel full of Libyan war refugees with amazing stories and stayed most of the night with Nathan and Francesca to film their tales. Neha (Prakash) and Bogdan who showed such initiative in tracking down sources in the Roma community, rented a car to meet them and visited a gypsy encampment. And discovered that the Christian gypsies have the same negative stereotypes about Muslim gypsies as most Italians do about gypsies in general: they’re criminals, dirty and they make trouble. Both these were rich interesting stories that I hadn’t seen in the Italian press and they were done by young American journalists operating at a considerable disadvantage, straight off the plane with no Italian language skills. But they showed real enterprise and commitment.” — Professor Stille.

Francesca Trianni and Brandon Gates watch the sunset on Monte Sant'Angelo San Michele. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

Francesca Trianni and Brandon Gates watch the sunset on Monte Sant'Angelo San Michele. | Photo by Andrea Palatnik.

“For my story, I spoke with an Italian Jewish woman who had survived the Holocaust. She couldn’t speak English, and so we conversed with the aid of her daughter, who acted as a translator. At one point in the interview, I asked her if the years that have passed since World War II have helped her mitigate the horrors she had faced as a five year old in 1943, one of which was her 17-year-old brother’s death at Auschwitz. Her eyes brimming with tears, she looked at me straight in the eye to answer; and this time, I didn’t need a translator to understand what she was saying. She placed her hand over her heart, and replied, ‘It never goes away. It still hurts inside.’”  Aby Sam Thomas

“Whether it was listening to the stories of Libyan rebels in a Roman hotel with Hoda and Nathan, visiting a Rom camp with Bogdan and Neha P., or asking a group of gay Catholics about their lives in Rome, my favorite moments were all the ones that helped me look at my country, and its dynamics, with fresh eyes. All these encounters were incredibly inspiring, and introduced me to an “Italy” I had never met before.” — Francesca Trianni

“My favorite moment was jogging to the Colosseum with Francesca and licking the Colosseum after an all-night reporting marathon. It was dawn and the city was serene and quiet and we were both exhausted but we ran the whole way. We took some pictures of the majestic structure and Francesca graciously did not judge me as I licked the place where gladiators battled centuries ago.” — Nathan Vickers

“Waking up to church bells in San Michele reminded me of the Muslim call to prayer. Between this experience, the chaotic noises of Naples and the tranquil melodies of the vespers in Rome, I’d have to say my greatest memories from the trip will revolve around tremendous sound.” — Michael Wilner

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