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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Travels in Rome: the eternal city

Published: March 23, 2012
Section: Features

“So, how was Rome? What did you guys do?” Upon returning from February break, I was asked this question by almost everyone I encountered. When I first touched back down in the United States, I received a call from home asking me to describe my trip in one word. The word I chose was indescribable. Every time I briefly described my trip, I felt as though I was selling it short, that I couldn’t adequately convey my experiences or what they meant to me.

There is a clear reason why Rome has been dubbed “The Eternal City”; Everything seemed to exist outside of time. Every street is soaked in history, and everyone from Constantine to Michelangelo, to a long succession of Popes has made an impact. Rome collects elements from its long history to fill every corner with something spectacular. History is not set aside and roped off, but instead incorporated into the modern city. We walked over the bridge where Constantine converted, we touched the doors of the Pantheon and we ate dinner over the site where Caesar was murdered. In true Brandeis spirit, we even played a game of Ultimate Ninja inside the Colosseum as homage to the gladiators who fought before us.

It may seem at first as though five days would not nearly be enough time to experience fully a city that has so much to offer. As an experienced traveler, this was the shortest trip I have ever taken, but I believe it is by far the most meaningful. For five days we put aside outside stress, project due dates, waiting applications and all of the other commitments that can easily weigh down a Brandeis student. We packed much more into our days than could ever be done on campus, even by the standard of a Brandeis overachiever.

We made sure to take advantage of our time and see as much of the city as we could, often choosing to walk through one more museum rather than rest at the hotel. We saw all of the major sights multiple times, until walking past the Pantheon became a daily occurrence. We took time to wander, explore, stop, stare and take in the awesome sights before us. We would take the time to lean our heads back and stare at the ceiling of the Sistine chapel for more than an hour, sitting and relaxing atop the Spanish steps at night.

On the plane ride to Rome, a fellow student asked what this trip signified for me as a Catholic. Upon considering the question I responded that it seemed more of a Pilgrimage for me as an Italian; after all, Jesus never went to Rome. I soon realized how wrong I was, for much of my religious history was centered in Rome. Walking through St. Peter’s Basilica was breathtaking. The building itself is gorgeous, and the atmosphere of a history of religious devotion is overwhelming. In the mountainside town of Assisi, we visited the tomb of St. Francis (who essentially started the order of the Franciscan monks), and reflected deeply on simplifying our lives. Father Cuenin, Brandeis’ Catholic chaplain, held two masses, one in Assisi and one beneath St. Peter’s on Ash Wednesday, and both services were also meaningful to the non-Christians in the group. We had several students who were not Christian, but were still able to appreciate the history of Rome.

My favorite thing about Brandeis has always been the people here, and this trip was no exception from that. As our leader, Father Cuenin was an expert on all aspects of Rome including the historical, religious and social. He lived in the city for eight years, and had been ordained in St. Peter’s. He gave us a true insider’s look, showing us the best restaurants and giving us all of the background information throughout the trip. Prior to the trip, I only knew a few of the fellow students. Now I have 16 new friends, some of whom I consider myself very close with. We still get together after the trip, and I am grateful now to have each and every one of them in my life.