The night is cold, snow blankets the earth, and I am indulging my memories—allowing them to transport me, with the help some of old snapshots, to faraway places and earlier times. Want to come along? I have secrets to share!
It has been my great privilege to lead four pilgrimages to Rome—well, five, if you count our family’s four-country motoring adventure in the Jubilee Year.
Ever ancient, ever new, the Eternal City is always beguiling, a city of reverence and flamboyance, passion and panache. Always, after a few days of dodging Vespas and walking my feet off to see antiquities and unimaginable things, it’s good to go home to American soil; but once I’ve slept off the jet lag, Rome’s siren call echoes in my heart and I can’t wait to return.
Vatican City, the locus of my Catholic faith, is an independent city-state which lies entirely within the city of Rome. It is situated across the Tiber River from central Rome, and the great dome of St. Peter’s Basilica is a commanding presence above the shops and apartments of the city. Travelers who arrive from the Via della Conciliazione, the main thoroughfare, will enter the embrace of Bernini’s Collonade, the welcoming arms which stretch out from the great door of St. Peter’s.
Vatican City is actually the world’s smallest nation—smaller than an average-sized golf course—yet it contains more than 150,000 pieces of art and sculpture, dating from ancient times to the present.
Within the walls of Vatican City are St. Peter’s Basilica, the Governatorato, the Obelisk, museums, chapels, fountains, the papal apartments, a post office, a jail, and various offices necessary for the administration of the Catholic Church in the world.
But occupying more than half of the 109 acres of the walled city-state is the Vatican Gardens, a tranquil escape from the sweltering streets and the throngs of tourists. Here the sound of flowing water, emanating from fountains and waterfalls, is interrupted occasionally by the screech of a green mink parrot, common in the evergreen boughs. Pope Benedict strolls in the Gardens many afternoons with his private secretary.
As conference director for Legatus, I was able to arrange a private tour of this sanctuary, which is not on the typical tourist itinerary. I’ve posted a few of my pictures here—I hope you enjoy them!