Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Adventures and Stories from Italy

by Steve Ray on May 18, 2005

Leaving Milan, Augustine’s Bones
The last few days have been a whirlwind. We left our hotel and walked to the Avis Car Rental early in the morning. (Our little Opel parked in Pavia.)  We drove 12 hours from Milan to Rome. Along the way we stopped in Pavia to visit the Church of St. Peters with the Golden Ceiling (St. Pietro in Ciel d’Oro). There was great artwork of St. Augustine and his bones in the reliquary under the High Altar (see the picture at left). We took a lot of pictures and wrote down the info we will need to film here in a few years for our upcoming DVD “Doctors of the Church: Defining the Faith.”

Driving in Italy
I just love driving in Italy – no real speed limits and there they KNOW that the left lane of the autostrada is for PASSING, not for sightseeing. Even when I was driving at 160 km an hour I would often get passed by a Mercedes or fine car would blow past us like we were standing still. The traffic does not “stay between the lines” like here in the US. Driving is much more fluid, like walking in a crowded street. Everyone just flows, merges, scoots around and no one gets angry. It is a very civilized way to drive. (Picture to right shows out the windshield as we drive in downtown Rome — some of the streets are very narrow.)

Eucharistic Miracle of Orvieto
Anyway, we drove all day enjoying the beautiful countryside. Italy is gorgeous full of greenery lush with trees, flowers, vines, and birds. We drove through Florence (Firenze) and it broke my heart not having time to stop and linger. We climbed the plateau to the ancient city of Orvieto north of Rome to visit the famous Eucharistic miracle. A priest who was doubting the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was celebrating Mass in a nearby town. As he raised the host blood began gushing from the “bread.” He quickly wrapped in the corporal and rushed it to the bishop in Orvieto. The cloth is now on display in the Duomo Church (see picture to left).

I never knew of these miracles when I was a Protestant. We were completely ignorant of such things. My guess is that some Protestants would claim it is a trick of the devil to keep people in the Catholic Church where they will never hear the Gospel and get saved. I’m not kidding.

Aurelia Residence
Aurelia Residence is where we always stay in Rome. It is only 10 minute’s away from St. Peter’s on foot and the apartments are situated in lush gardens. Breakfast is out on the roof (solarium – sun room). It is far cheaper than a hotel but we have a full apartment to ourselves. If you are going to Rome, let us know and we will get you set up to stay with these wonderful folks. (Janet and I standing by the fountain at Aurelia Residence.)


Pentecost Mass, Our 11th Anniversary as Catholics
Morning took us to the Pentecost Mass with Pope Benedict XVI. Because it was an ordination Mass (21 priests from around the world were ordained) and since we arrived late on Saturday evening, all the tickets were gone. When we arrived we got the best seats outside but St. Peter's Square soon filled to compacity (see picture to left).

But it ended up working better for us in the long run anyway. From outside we could see things better and we were not squished into a back row somewhere inside the church where we may not have been able to see anything (maybe making the best of second best, eh?) We arrived at 9:30 and found good seats in St. Peter’s Square and watched the whole 2 and ½ Mass on huge TV screens. (Pope at consecration to right.) I must admit that when the Mass started with music rolling out over piattza with bells ringing and Pope’s opening prayer – I got all choked up! I was SO proud to be a Catholic. The Mass was beautiful and the ordinations very touching. We even received the Eucharist as priests come out into the Square which was packed. I think less than 1 in 100 received. I tried to anticipate where the priests were going and Janet and I pressed through the crowd to receive the Body of Christ.

It was HOT as you can see in the picture of us sitting under an umbrella with a handkerchief to cover my bald head. I did not want a fried scalp! (see picture to left)

When the Mass was over Benedict came out and blessed us all (see and hear video clip of Popes Blessing) and to pray the Angelus.


The Pope escapes the heat of summer — to the high ground of Castelgondolfo. Our friend Massimo took us to his apartment up on Castelgondolfo for the afternoon and for dinner with his family and friends (see picture to left). Fantastic food is everywhere in Italy! Janet and I think it is the best food in the world. Massimo drove us around the lake, through the mountains and then we walked around the ancient town until dinner.

 There is one road in the volcanic mountains where cars roll up hill. Don’t ask me how, but there were plenty of cars there proving it. It might be an optical illusion or some magnetic field, but we stopped our car, put it in neutral and it rolled up the hill by itself. Don’t ask me how.

Ancient Ostia
We got up early and drove west to the Mediterranean where the Tiber River flows into the sea. We visited the ancient ruins of the huge Roman port city of Ostia. Everything that came in and out of Rome by sea went through Ostia. The ruins are stunning but I was searching for the old Christian Basilica (see picture to right) where it is certain St. Augustine and his mother Monica would have celebrated Mass while waiting for a ship to take them back to North Africa.

Augustine and Monica
Augustine had been teaching in Milan and had listened to the lectures of St. Ambrose the bishop of Milan. Augustine converted to Catholicism, due to the prayers and devotion of his mother Monica. They were returning to North Africa (now the country of Algeria) when his mother caught a fever and died in Ostia. You can read about all this in St. Augustine’s Confessions.

An epitaph was written for her tomb and a portion of the epitaph can still be seen on the wall in the Church of Aurea in Ostia (picture to right). Her body was eventually taken to the Church of St. Augustine in Rome near the Piazza Navona which we visited later in the day.

The afternoon was spend taking pictures for our upcoming videos of David, Elijah, Abraham, the Fathers and the Doctors. The churches of Rome are LOADED with marvelous art. I take my camera gear and with Janet’s help we gourge on a feast for the eyes and the lens.

We visited the Pantheon for a masterpiece of David writing the Psalms with the help of an angel (see picture to left) and much more. Then on to the Church of St. Augustine (Agostino) with some of the most beautiful art from the Old Testament and from the life of Augustine. His mother Monica’s bones are under a side altar. Monica is my wife Janet’s confirmation saint so it is extra special.

Church of St. Augustine
There is also a statue of Our Lady of Troubled Pregnancies (see picture of Janet praying there again for pregnant daughter-in-law Anna). While there a few months ago we prayed for our daughter Cindy’s upcoming delivery of our grandson Damian Augustine Brown with no reason to think it was a problem pregnancy. When we got back to our apartment we heard the baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. We were SURE glad we had prayed. Shortly thereafter my daughter’s water broke for no apparent reason and the baby was delivered by emergency caesarean with the cord wrapped three times tight around his neck. The doctor said the water breaking was unusual and saved the baby’s life by forcing an emergency birth. Wow!

Two Legionaries Priests
A young priest named Fr. Christopher Scroggin had read my books and wanted to meet me. So he brought is his friend, and writer for National Catholic Register, Fr. Alfonso Aguilar and we took them to dinner at our favorite restaurant in Rome – La Pilotta di Mario. Two more intelligent, devoted, orthodox and fun guys you will never find (picture to left). We had a great time discussing the Bible, theology, and much more until they pushed us out to close the restaurant for the night. They invited me to come to Rome to teach apologetics to the Legionarie priests and all the seminarians. I readily agreed.

By the way, Massimo (Max), who took us to Castelgondolfo is a waiter at La Pilottas and here is a picture of him (picture to right).

Returning Home
We rushed back to pack and the next moring we returned our car, boarded the plane and flew home. I just woke up with jet lag and I’m sitting here looking out over the pond and flowers in the back yard giving glory to God.


Liturgical Change to the Mass

by Steve Ray on May 18, 2005

The first major liturgical change we noticed when in Rome!

For those who live in the Bible Belt, this is just a joke. Actually, I found out that Pope Benedict, even though being Bavarian, doesn't even like beer.