Happy Roman holiday!

Students studying at the Bernardi Campus in Rome are all smiles, and why not? They're enjoying a trip to the Euro Chocolate Festival held in October in Perugia. Pictured far right is Thanos Zyngas.

Happy Roman holidays!

by Thanos Zyngas
Director, Bernardi Campus
Rome, Italy

Another study-abroad semester in Rome seems to be flying by very quickly, and our Catholic Studies program students who study in the Eternal City and reside at UST’s Bernardi Campus are already more than halfway through their fall semester. The holiday season is drawing near, and the Eternal City is busy preparing for the upcoming celebrations. From blinking colorful lights strung across neighborhood streets to lavishly decked windows in the most fashionable boutiques, Rome is putting on her party dress and it’s a wonderful sight to behold.

Our students this semester have had plenty of opportunities, in fact more than any other student group in previous years, to heavily explore the plethora of Rome’s beautiful historical sights as well as to become and remain strongly alerted into the spiritual aspect of their lives and grow deeper in their faiths. Several of them have traveled to little towns and Benedictine pilgrimage sites all around Italy. Among the sites they visited were Subiaco and Monte Cassino.

“Subiaco is the place of the cave in which St. Benedict stayed for three years, from age 15 to 17, and received his vocation from God,” junior seminarian John Norman said.

For a trip that does not even cost much to a town like Subiaco northeast of Rome, it is definitely worth going, Norman added. “You can find beautiful frescos in an impressively built monastery that extends out of the side of the cliff where the Holy Cave (the Sacro Speco) of Benedict is.”

Another inexpensive trip that senior seminarian Seth Gogolin took was the one to Monte Cassino, a rocky hill about 80 miles south of Rome to the west of the town of Cassino (the Roman Casinum having been on the hill). It is noted as the site where Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery, the source of the Benedictine Order.

“We were able to spend a little over an hour at the monastery, which was enough but we could have spent several hours there praying, looking at the artwork and the horizons from the mountain top,” Gogolin said.

In addition, throughout the semester our students had the opportunity to participate in several religious events at Vatican City, attend the Wednesday morning mass audience with the Pope, and meet important figures of the Catholic Church. Among the events was the special consistory of the 23 new cardinals that Pope Benedict XVI installed on Nov. 24 in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the feast of Christ the King. Among the new cardinals, two are from the United States: Archbishop John P. Foley, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, and Archbishop Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the first cardinal from a Texas diocese.

Making the out-of-the-classroom experience complete for our students in another culture is also being willing to embrace the history and come up close and personal to the many historical sites Rome has to offer.

“There are so many places to see here in Rome, that it is difficult to pick just one place,” sophomore student Kelsey Askwith said. “I, of course, like all the national monuments and the big tourist attractions, because they wouldn't be tourist attractions if they weren't great; however, I also like some of the 'off the map' places we have been to, especially places where you can go downstairs and see ancient Roman houses.”

Besides the historic monuments and archeological attractions, other students also have enjoyed other parts of the culture. “I love chocolate and the view from the top of the city of Perugia out over the valley was incredible,” junior John Lodoen said, referring to his day trip to Perugia during the annual Euro Chocolate Festival held in October.

“The Perugia Chocolate Festival was just such an experience,” sophomore Connie Hafner added. “I felt very immersed, and actually part, of the Italian culture, as the Italians were all so happy and excited to be there. And there was tons of great chocolate!”

And the experience in the Eternal City is not over yet. There is still plenty to see and plenty to experience, and even though the semester in Rome will be coming to an end in less than a month and a half, students will always remember with joy and nostalgia the memories and experiences they will have built during their four months in the Eternal City.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays and all good things in the upcoming new year!

Buon Natale e Tanti Auguri,

~ Thanos