Saturday, June 29, 2024

June 29, 1996: The “Honeymooners” in Rome

June ends beautifully, with the great Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. This always leads me to reminisce about the Eternal City. As I've said before here, Eileen and I are both "Romans" by virtue of the (different) times we each lived and studied there in our youth, and by our great excursion together at the beginning of our married life. We 
spent three and a half weeks in Italy for our "honeymoon" back in 1996. We were able to make this trip because we didn't seek a "lovers' solitude" experience; we spent all but five nights at the homes of friends. It was a real trek, from Rome to Assisi to Florence to Ravenna to Milan to the Italian Riviera. I'm so glad we did it then, when we had the time and the energy of our youth. I'm glad that, while we were still able, we rode trains and buses, slept on floors or (worse) the infamous Italian "letto," and hauled bags that got bigger and bigger as we accumulated loot along the way! 

I recommend this kind of honeymoon for you young folks, especially if you are humanities buffs like us. Trust me, you will never be able to throw yourselves about with such freedom as in these early days of marriage. Soon come the babies, and the kids, and before they grow up your bodies will have slowed down, and you will have settled expectations and habits, as well as tricky joints and bad backs and arthritis. Many older people still travel with gusto, but that sheer energy and “flexibility,” that spontaneity and lack of preoccupation with agendas or plans are qualities that are strongest when you are young. 

Youth is the time to explore, to rough it, to embark on physically arduous adventures, especially with your spouse. Go somewhere beautiful and fascinating, full of human history and aesthetic richness. Or go on pilgrimage to the places where God's love has touched the world. You will build a foundation of common experience that will stay with you forever.

In Rome we spent a week and a half at an apartment not far from the Vatican, with a friend's mother. This lovely old woman cleared a room for us, made coffee for us every morning, and often fed us abundantly in the kitchen at night (even if we had already eaten). I have never found a restaurant that can match the culinary magic that happens in the simple Italian kitchen. Oh, my my!

We went to all our favorite spots in Rome and shared them together. We brought our newly married life to the tomb of St. Peter, and prayed a long time. We explored churches and ruins and great art. June 29th sticks in my mind because we went to St Peter's basilica for the ceremony in which the Pope (then Saint John Paul II) invests new Archbishops with the pallium, a woolen band worn as a sign of their particular responsibility and their communion with the Pope.

It was a beautiful ceremony, very crowded of course, so that we barely had a glimpse of the Pope. (We had no idea, at that time, that we were going to meet him in a few days!) Afterwards, in the midst of the crowds, we bumped into a little bishop from Malaysia—whose name I do not remember—and struck up a conversation with him. He was the first bishop to bless our marriage.

I wonder where he is today. He may well have gone home to the Lord by now. We never did get his name.

Among many things, Rome is also a place of unusual meetings and unexpected changes in plans. It is a place where all the cultures of the world gather, dialogue with one another, and celebrate together the One who brings true unity to the whole human family.