Tuesday, our fourth day in Rome, dawned gray and chilly. But by the time the Covering Religion class made its way over to the Vatican Museums— past tight security and through the mobs of foreign tourists and Italian high school students and into the courtyard of the museum – the sun was shining brightly.
The class huddled amongst lemon trees and ancient statues, as Agnes Crawford, an art historian and tour guide with Understanding Rome, explained the various nuances of the Vatican’s geographic and political history, pointing out crucial details to take note of while roaming the museum.
“It’s amazing: I had no idea the Vatican was such a cultural cross-section,” Santiago said about the museum. “For every bit of Catholic art and iconography, there were Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, and Greek representations.”
While the class wasn’t able to cover all 54 rooms within the Vatican Museums, students enjoyed galleries like the Raphael Rooms, the Gallery of the Busts, the Gallery of Maps — and, of course, the Sistine Chapel.
“Seeing the Sistine Chapel was an experience beyond words,” said Marissa. “I couldn’t wrap my head around the symbolic organization of it, let alone the intricacies of the painting itself and the stories behind every image.”
Once the Vatican Museums tour wrapped up, a small group enjoyed a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with the Rev. John Wauck, an American Opus Dei priest and professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. Some of the students had been to the basilica before but they said tour was unlike others. “It was a completely different experience seeing it with a priest as the tour guide,” said Zara. “Father John’s ability to bring every bit of history to life made the tour not only interesting but meaningful for even those of us who are not Catholic.”
“Seeing the La Pietà sculpture and absorbing the energy of the church were memorable moments on the trip thus far,” Daniel added. “That’s why I decided to take two minutes to pray in the Basilica; to give thanks and gratitude for the opportunity for being able to return to Rome.”
During the rest of the afternoon students went off to report on different assignments, going to places like the Great Synagogue of Rome, the Prazi neighborhood of Rome to shadow St. John’s University students feeding homeless immigrants, a refugee camp on the outskirts of the city near Romanina, and a Syrian refugee relief center in Campoleone, South of Rome. The class met up for dinner later Tuesday night at Le Terme del Colosseo, a charming restaurant that had arched ceilings, stone walls, and costumed performers who belted out classic Italian opera songs to accompany dinner. Figaro Figaro Figaro!