March 15: A (Working) Roman Holiday

By Dana Forde

March 15, morning—

Our trip began as we trailed into the John F. Kennedy International Airport Thursday.  We all used the same term to describe the beginning of our reporting trip to Rome—“surreal”.  Most of us had just escaped from our grad school workshops. Many of us had just handed in the final draft of our master’s projects. And suddenly, we were heading into the story of the century: the appointment of a new pope to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

The Religio team gets an exclusive view of Rome only hours after landing. Marie Telling / Religio.

The Religio team gets an exclusive view of Rome only hours after landing. Marie Telling / Religio.

As we gathered at our departure gate, we noticed that one of us was missing. David Palacio, a Marine who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, couldn’t find a taxi that would get him to JFK in time for the 6:55 p.m. flight.

As we boarded the plane, however, dialogue about Pope Francis dwindled and the new topic of discussion focused on something more immediate: getting some sleep so we would be fresh when we arrived to report in Rome.

While some managed some sleep, others watched movies and stared at the plane’s monitors, which detailed our travel progress.

As we made our way over France, native Marie Telling-Lepas said, “It’s actually like we’re following the sun.”

She was right.

As night turned to day in the Mediterranean, hints of sunlight peaked through the windows of our Alitalia plane.  We arrived weary but eager to see the sights at about 8 a.m. local time.

Stephen Jiwanmall hardly slept on Wednesday night because he was working on the finishing touches of his master’s project. But that didn’t stop him from emerging as the most excited Religio staffer.  It is his first time traveling to Europe.

“Just watching the ocean and the clouds and the mountains was crazy,” Jiwanmall said. “I just feel so blessed.  The fact that I’m here now is just the greatest.”

He is looking forward to speaking with students studying in Rome who attend his alma mater, La Salle University.  The school will celebrate its 150th anniversary next week, he said.

Jiwanmall couldn’t believe that the location of our hotel, Hotel Emmaus, is literally just steps away from Saint Peter’s Square and the Vatican.  Journalists, tourists and residents alike busily walk the Square in advance of Tuesday’s formal installation of Pope Francis.

Harman Boparai looks off a roof top in Rome. Marie Telling / Religio.

Harman Boparai looks off a roof top in Rome. Marie Telling / Religio.

Mustafa Hameed marveled at the city’s architecture and charm.

“It’s easy to be religious when everything looks this nice and when you’re surrounded by this much beauty,” said Hameed who is Religio’s co-managing editor. “It’s one of the few places in the world where you can really feel the history.”

After a brief rest at the hotel, we visited the Pontificia Universita della Santa Croce: a seminary led by Opus Dei.  The institution is just around the corner from a Jesuit guesthouse that Pope Francis, formerly Jorge Mario Bergoglio, recently stayed in.

Pontificia Universita welcomes seminarians from all over the world, including India, China, and various African nations, said Development Coordinator Colin Howell.  After guiding us on a brief tour of the building, its roof offered breathtaking visual rewards. Rome, the Eternal City, lay before us.