March 21: Saying Goodbye

By Kimberly Brooks

March 21-

A statue guards St. Peter's Basilica. Angela Reece / Religio.

A statue guards St. Peter’s Basilica. Angela Reece / Religio.

Although we had been in Rome for a week, it seemed that only a day had passed since our starry-eyed arrival. And here we sat on Thursday morning, sipping English breakfast tea, and eating warm croissants at our last formal breakfast at the Hotel Emmaus, just a stone’s throw from the Vatican. Professor Goldman used the occasion to bid us a heartfelt farewell since he was returning to New York that afternoon in preparation for Passover. He shared he was proud of our work, what we were able to achieve, and gave us a special reminder. “During this course, I have asked that you call me Professor Goldman,” he said, “ But after graduation, you can call me Ari.” He explained that he felt a bit of formality was necessary, especially when traveling with students, but added, “ I have great affection for you all.”  He then explained that the Scripps Howard Foundation – the organization funding the annual trip – had asked that we accomplish two important things. The first was to take a group photo. In our seven days, we had taken several. The second, and somewhat unexpected request was to simply be successful in our careers. “You have to prove that we spent their money well. They should say, look how successful the Class of 2013 is. It’s all because of that religion trip!”

While Professor Goldman was leaving town, we had one more day in Rome. Up to this point, our itinerary was brimming with meetings, events and dinners. But on this afternoon – thankfully blessed with warmth and sunshine – we all dispersed around the city to get our own last-minute interviews, photos, and footage for stories we would assemble once we returned. Lauren Davidson shot off to report on the Jewish community and accusations of anti-Semitism in the Five Star Movement. Our co-managing editor, Morgan Davis, traveled to St. Catherine’s Russian Orthodox Church in the morning, and a Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the afternoon, to see the relationship between these denominations and the new pope. Jeff Tyson met with the public relations director of the Mormon Church to talk about the construction of the new Mormon temple in Rome. Stephen Jiwanmall returned to the North American College to cover the seminarians’ annual basketball tournament. Katherine Theofanous filmed inside a tiny shop that created the papal garments. Mustafa Hameed interviewed an Islam expert, while Jesse Marx headed to the Village of Caritas to research lay movements. Professor Stille  – always reporting – said he would head over to Parliament to speak with members of the Grillo movement.

For the rest, the day was a welcome opportunity to relax, retrace parts of the city, and be present in the moment. Angela Reece and Dana Forde returned to the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. Tasneem Nashrulla and David Palacio walked through the concrete arches of the Coliseum. Marie Telling lunched with her mother on the Spanish steps. And others, like myself, fit in a quick nap before our last festive dinner.

David Palacio, Lauren Davidson and Tasneem Nashrulla explore the Colosseum on their last day in Rome.  Morgan M. Davis / Religio.

David Palacio, Lauren Davidson and Tasneem Nashrulla explore the Colosseum on their last day in Rome. Morgan M. Davis / Religio.

The last supper – on Professor Stille’s recommendation – was inside a well-lit, cozy restaurant called Da Enzo tucked away on the cobble-stoned path of Via dei Vascellari. The men were the first to arrive. The ladies were a bit late; as they took extra time primping for what would be an intentionally long – and sleepless – night. At two tables, a variety of conversations ensued – everyone buzzing about the week’s events, and laughing over wine, fried artichokes, creamy burrata, and handmade pasta.  Professor Stille captured the attention of the students at the end of his table with discussion of his childhood and his new memoir, The Force of Things.  We learned about his upcoming sabbatical to France, anecdotes about his son Sam, and his other interests aside from Italian history like his desire to travel and report in Bhutan. Stille, a young 56 years old, said, “Journalism is your license to curiosity. It should be fun. If not, it’s hard to know why we do it.”

After cups of tiramisu and cherry cheesecake, the group moved down the street to a modern minimalist bar for more wine and reflection. With the end approaching, everyone’s minds were centered on how epic of a journey this had been.  “For me, it was the first time I could see the religious diversity of a place that I had always considered not so diverse,” Jeff Tyson thoughtfully said. “It opened my eyes. The pope was amazing. But for me, it was seeing how complex Rome really is.” Harman Boparai had come to understand the power and influence of the Roman Catholic institution. “To know that anyone here, or a poor Catholic man as far away as Zimbabwe both pray and believe in this Church, right here in the Vatican, is just amazing.”

Religious or not, it seemed something had deepened inside of everyone. Perhaps it was the reverence we witnessed inside St. Peter’s square – thousands of people in complete silence – during the installation mass. Or maybe it was all of the conversations around faith that made us reflect on our own. The week had opened up some sort of internal vault that made us realize we were here for a reason, we were supposed to – needed to – experience all of this. The idea that something as basic as curiosity could lead us to something so historic made us feel that if we had ever questioned our path before, we were now in the right place.  And we all knew we would be back for more. Maybe not in the Vatican, but for another adventure in this big beautiful world, reporting, understanding, and living.  But for this moment, we shared a few more glasses of wine until we were left with only one final thing to say. “Arrivederci Roma.”