Wednesday, September 21, 2005

All Roads Lead to Rome

On Monday we bussed up from Civitavecchia, Italy to the eternal city-Rome. Our tour began at the ancient Trevi fountain where we, of course, threw in a coin to guarantee our return. I had thrown a few lira in, in 1966, when my brother Dave and I motorcycled around Europe, and there I was again - so I know the old superstition was true!

Then we hiked up the 137 Spanish Steps that the French had built to join theirs and the Spanish quarter during the Spanish occupation. After snapping several obligatory pictures, Susan and I wound our way by foot through the narrow streets to the Tiber River. We crossed over an old Roman bridge built almost 2000 years ago to the Vatican side and spent a bit of time chatting with several black-market salesmen. I did learn again that when you get them down to their lowest price and they cry from their pain of loss, there is still a better deal 30 feet down the street.

Earlier that morning the line to tour St. Peter's Basilica meant a 2 1/2 hour wait. By afternoon it was down to about 10 minutes. I noticed the door of Jubilee by the main entrance which is only opened every 25 years. During the year 2000 it remained opened and anyone who walked through it was supposed to receive absolution of their sins. That's why 2 1/2 million youth walked through that door during World Youth Week in 2000.

The 600 foot, largest church in the world was magnificent. It was completed in 1626 after 100 years of construction. The design was created by renaissance architects Raphael and Michelangelo. The tomb of St. Peter supposedly lays under the main alter, where only the pope himself is allowed to officiate in the Holy Eucharist. The Pieta (Mary holding her dead son Jesus), sculpted by Michelangelo when he was only 24, as well as the mosaics (that you would swear were paintings) are breathtaking.

I'm sure it takes the 1/4 million dollars a day that entry fees total to maintain the magnificent structure. In the colonnades, we saw the home of Pope Benedict and the window he appears at to bless the thousands of worshippers who wait every Sunday and Wednesday (the street hawkers also claim that each of their cheap trinkets is covered by his power-filled blessings).

I noticed also the obelisque of Emperor Caligula in the centre of the courtyard. He was the chief persecutor and murderer of Christians in 200 AD, but above his memorial stands a bronze cross and a remnant of the real cross (reportedly) of Jesus, which shows the victory of Christ over the Roman polytheistic powers.

Later that day, we gazed at Constantine's arch, commemorating his victory and the legalizing of Christianity in 323 AD. We owe a great debt to the emperor who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Beside the Arch, stands the 50,000 seat Colosseum. We walked where innumerable Christians had been tortured publicly, as well as where gladiators had fought to the finish for both their freedom and for reward. It is a moving and sober tribute to the genius as well as the emptiness of mankind.

Rome is a fascinating city. It is intensely religious and yet spiritually void. We looked, we were awed, we imagined what living in the distant past might have been like, we considered the brevity of our lives-then we went back to where we were before we arrived. It was an exhausting and exhilarating day in Rome.

On the ship Sunday before we arrived in Civitavecchia, just after passing between Sicily and Italy we passed the world's most active volcano, Stromboli. It rises like a broken cone out of the azure Mediterranean. Stromboli has erupted almost continually over the last 2 millenniums. In 2000 several people were killed. It was fuming smoke as always when we sailed by. What fascinated me were the several homes which had been built on the slopes. Why would a few hundred people choose to live on an active volcano? It reminded me of those who live their busy secular lives either ignorant or apathetic of the dangers of ignoring the imminent power of God.

Back to the ship we went, after our busy day of touring, to eat some more rich foods! Though a nap might have been better.

So, that's it for our last port. Soon we will be docking and saying goodbye to our floating home. This time next week we will be back in Canada -- loaded with wonderful memories and an empty wallet.


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