PC Blogs

Friars in the Forum

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The famous Roman Forum was our second site visit of the semester.  The format of our course, The New Testament in the Eternal City, includes not only classroom lectures but also site visits each week.  More than simply “fun field trips”, these site visits are an integral part of the academic component of our study abroad program.  Each week the site is to be integrated with the content of the classroom lecture.  And while we’re on site, there is even more academic input from me and the occasional guide who leads us.  So, pens, notebooks and course texts are not left behind!  Instead, the site itself becomes both our classroom and the focus of our study – our “text”.

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Our lecture was on the Roman context of early Christianity and our trip to the Roman Forum gave us a feel for what it was like to live, work, shop, participate in politics, and pray in ancient Rome.  The basilicas, government buildings, temples, and areas of commerce included in the Forum helped us to understand how it functioned as the political, religious, and social center of ancient Rome.


One of the advantages of studying the New Testament in Rome is being able to have an “up close and personal” experience of the ancient Roman Empire through the architectural and artistic remains of it that can be found throughout the city.  Walking into the Pantheon, climbing the stairs inside the Colosseum, or trekking through the Roman Forum are all ways to experience the Roman context of early Christianity.

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Here is what some of the students said in their essays about our Roman Forum visit:

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“The Roman Forum, through its architecture and culture, can act as a ‘primary source’ when studying Christianity and the New Testament in particular.” – Alexandra Brady

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“… with the erection of the Arch of Constantine, Christianity gained official notice in the Roman Empire. The arch, which honored Constantine’s victory over a rival emperor,  seems to refer, however,  to both Christian and Pagan beliefs.” – Chris Burrows

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On our tour of the Roman Fourm we observed many situ artifacts in their original places that contribute much to the history of Christianity… One artifact that combined both religions was the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina originally build around 141 AD. ..In the 12th century AD this temple was converted into the church of San Lorenzo after the legalization of Christianity…”  -Grace Maxim



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“A visit in the modern day to the Roman Forum is interesting because you are able to see many of the Pagan remains from ancient Roman society, but you are also able to get a glimpse of their transformation. Many of the old Pagan temples, such as the Temple of Romulus, have been converted into Churches.” -Nick Berardi


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San Clemente: Archaeology and the New Testament

“The intricate design and archaeology of San Clemente reveals invaluable information and background about the New Testament.” Ashlee Robinson

Interior-chapel San Clemente church 12th cent

One of the things we are learning in our New Testament in the Eternal City course  is that archaeology is imperative for the study of the New Testament. There is no chance of understanding Jesus, Peter, Paul, Mary, or the early Christians without understanding their world.  And there is no way to reconstruct their world without archaeology.  In fact, archaeology is so important in Rome, that the Vatican has an office devoted solely to its study called The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology. 

left-aisle San Clemente 4th cent church

How can the study of archaeology help us to understand the New Testament?  This is the question we asked during our recent site visit to the Basilica of San Clemente. Our Scripture course includes not only classroom lectures, but also on site visits to particular places in Rome that are significant for Christian history, theology, and spirituality.

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By tradition, St. Clement (92-101 AD) was a bishop in Rome who gave his life as a martyr for Christ. Fourth-century accounts speak of his forced labor in the mines during exile to the Crimea in the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) and his missionary work there which prompted the Romans to bind him to an anchor and throw him into the Black Sea.  His relics were recovered and are under the main altar of the church.

According to the oldest list of Roman bishops, he was the third successor to St Peter in Rome (after Linus and Cletus). The First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, known as the “Roman Canon”, mentions St. Clement in the list of bishops and saints of Rome through whose merits and prayers the faithful seek help and protection.  The church in Rome dedicated to him is said to be built over a first century house which belonged to his family.

StClementMass San Clemente churchThe church of San Clemente is like a “layered cake” of archaeological wonder.  The present basilica is from the 12th century, but underneath is a 5th century basilica and below that is a first century house, warehouse, and Mithraic temple.  These sites were excavated beginning in the 19th century under the guidance of an Irish Dominican priest, Fr. Mullooly, who was prior of San Clemente.  Indeed, the Irish Dominicans have been the custodians of San Clemente since the 17th century.  In this way, Providence College has a kind of “connection” with San Clemente since they are both Dominican institutions.

the-mithraic-schoolroom San Clemente church 1st centArchaeological artifacts can profoundly affect our understanding of the New Testament’s message.  And visiting some of the most important archaeological sites in Rome this semester will teach us much about the lives and beliefs of the early Christians.

tufa-block-building San Clemente church 1st centHere are a few quotes from the papers the students wrote after our site visit:

“This excavation, along with many in Rome, has helped to give insight into the meaning of aspects of scripture … Therefore, these discoveries are not just for mere curiosity but are important to understanding the Catholic faith in its truest form.” Matt Griffin

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“Our first site visit to San Clemente emphasized the points of revelation, historical context, and the importance of the written word that we had discussed in our first class.” Grace King

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“Having San Clemente be our first site visit seemed to be very appropriate in understanding the purpose of the New Testament. Its history is more than just an interesting tour—for Christians, it still holds relevance today.” Evan Juliano

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Let the Roman Adventure Begin!

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Providence College in Rome Spring 2016 has gone live!  Our Program has begun its tenth semester of transforming lives with the study abroad experience at the heart of the Church.


Last week, 29 students from Providence College and I arrived in the Eternal City for a semester abroad.  The CEA Rome Team welcomed us with open arms and big smiles upon our arrival and then gave us an intense four day Orientation Program that helped our entry into the Italian way of life and our academic study program.

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 CEA Rome Center


This week we started classes and Monday morning we began our New Testament in the Eternal City course, which is central to our PC in Rome experience.  The course consists of classroom lectures and site visits around the city so that Rome becomes a “classroom” for us.




During this first week of introductions, orientations, and new beginnings, I asked the students what they were hoping for from their study abroad experience in Rome.  We talked about why they chose Rome as a destination and what they expected from our Program.  Here’s what some of them said:


“I am hoping to take advantage of the deep culture of art, history, and theology that this city has to offer. I also want to gain a more broad cultural perspective.” Jamie Russo

“I want to spend less time thinking of myself and my culture… I want to be taken outside of my comfort zone in a way that changes the way I see the world and myself.” Alley Harbour


“…I am hoping to gain world knowledge through staying in Rome and traveling across Europe. I am very excited to see many of the sights that I have only heard about and eat my way across Europe.” Bryan Blum


“This semester I would love to become comfortable speaking Italian among locals. I also hope to visit my grandfather’s relatives, and see pictures of him when he was a child in Italy. I’m very thankful for this opportunity to study in Rome, and truly want to make the most of it.” Gianna Luciano


“I chose to come to Rome because of my family ties. I have family living in Sulmona, in the Abruzzo Region of Italy. I’m hoping that I can get in touch with my family roots and history while I’m here. Rome is also the perfect city to further expand my Roman Catholic beliefs.” Peter Rocco DiCenso



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Tempus Fugit! Arrivederci Roma!

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“…Of course studying in Ireland, Paris, or London would be an amazing experience, but Rome is the only place to fully grasp the entirety of what the Church really means and what faith really entails.”  Rachel Reilly

“Studying in Rome has exposed me to the roots of the religion I live and practice everyday. Living and studying in the place that is heart of Christianity, my faith has flourished… Rome has proved that as a theology student it is a lot more interesting to be the neighbor of Pope Francis than to sit in Siena hall at 8:30 in the morning!” Kathryn McDougal

“Why study theology in Rome? When you enter a church in Rome you are filled with the feeling of amazement as you now have a deeper and richer understanding of the history behind the church and the New Testament.” Colleen Toomey

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The Fall 2015 P.C. in Rome program is fast approaching its end.  As we say in Rome – tempus fugit – time flies!  Although there is a tinge of melancholy in the air, because we know we’ll be leaving Rome soon, we are grateful for our time here and the experiences we’ve had. There’s a Roman tradition that says if you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, you’re guaranteed to return to Rome.  By now, all of us have probably thrown more than one coin there!  This week is final exam period and our lives are full of exams, papers, presentations, and final projects.  We’ll enjoy a festive CEA farewell dinner to end our academic semester and then start packing to go home. Trevi fountain

As we make a list of things we still need to see and do before departure, I asked the students to share their thoughts about their experience with PC/CEA in Rome. I asked them to reflect on their time here in Rome and their experience of studying Theology. What they would say to a student back home who is considering studying abroad next year?  What advice might they give to someone who was considering spending a semester in the Eternal City?  Is there any reason why Rome should be the preferred place for studying Theology?


Here’s what some of them said:

“The answer to the question “why study theology in Rome?” is simple: because there is no better place to do it!…Having the Vatican as my neighbor and visiting new Basilicas every week has been an incredible experience that I didn’t even know I would have…
There is no better place to learn, understand, and appreciate the foundations of our religion than in Rome. It’s that simple!”  Kristen Sheridan

“It is an amazing opportunity to get out of the classroom and see famous Roman monuments and Basilicas that tie into the theology we are learning in the New Testament. Nothing can compare to seeing these connections first hand!” Brittany Aylmer


“It is a truly humbling experience to walk through an amazing Roman church with family and friends and having the ability to explain the theological themes presented in the artwork and images. Not only do you learn about the Church as a whole, but you learn about yourself, your inner personality, values, and beliefs.”  Jordyn D’Esposito

“Rome is an ideal place to study theology because it is the center of the Catholic Church, and theological landmarks and ideas can be found throughout the entire city. Rome is not only rich in theology, but in general history as well, which makes it a perfect place to study.” Tori Strain

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“The real question should be why not study abroad in Rome? There is no other place to be able to truly unravel the mystery of Christ. Not only do I feel closer with my Catholic religion, but also I feel as if from this experience I am able to go on and positively spread the word about what I’ve learned. Needless to say there is no place like Rome, my new home.”  Jenna Zolla

“I have grown up a practicing Catholic my whole life and I have learned more in these past 3 months about my religion than any other theological setting I have ever been a part of in my life… I have never felt better informed about the history of my faith until studying it in Rome… learning about theology in Rome is unlike any other theological experience because you get to see everything first hand which makes everything you learn in the classroom come to light right in front of your eyes.” Claire Beatty

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“…to actually physically see these famous Basilicas that hold magnificent mosaics, architecture, and history makes a tremendous difference when learning about them.  Actually seeing many theological sites that are so important to the world, helps you grasp why and how they are there…This is why you should study Theology in Rome – especially Rome because it has so much history to offer.” Elizabeth Kirby

“Studying Theology in Rome is like meeting the saints and great theologians. They are brought to life through knowledge and they are given a face and context in Rome. Your textbook is the city, and the pages are endless and more beautiful than the last.”  Ana Gadoury

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“I have been given the opportunity to see the New Testament through the eyes of an early Christian Believer. And its absolutely fascinating. To be able to go into the Catacombs, and see the symbolism, the artwork, of the early Church. To hear the stories, and see them come alive through the mosaics in churches like San Clemente. To walk around St. Peters and know that the obelisk I was gazing at was the same one St. Peter gazed at as he was been crucified upside down. And as weird as it may sound, I know that the spirit of the early Christian Church is still within this Holy City: flowing and moving, inspiring, and serving as a great testimony about a man named Jesus Christ.” Vanesa Zuleta

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Diplomacy, Religion, and Conflict Resolution: A View from the Field


Besides taking classes, going on site visits, and participating in cultural experiences in Italy, our students also attend academic colloquia each semester.This past week our PC in Rome Program sponsored an academic colloquium at CEA with Victoria Alvarado, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican.

Her lecture topic was “Diplomacy, Religion, and Conflict Resolution”.  She spoke about her experience in promoting religious freedom and diplomacy and partnering with religious leaders worldwide to work for peace in the face of violent extremism.


A career diplomat, Mrs. Alvarado joined the U.S. State Department in 1996.  She has held a range of overseas and domestic assignments focused on Latin America, Muslim-majority countries, and on the nexus between national security and religion.  Mrs. Alvarado recently completed a senior-level Master’s degree program at the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs, where her thesis assessed the effectiveness of partnerships between governments and religious leaders in countering violent extremism.


Coming just five days after the Paris attacks, her topic, peace building in the face of violent religious extremism, was very apropos.  Mrs. Alvarado began by tracing the history of religious freedom in the United States and explaining how embedded it is in the American project. She then explained how the U.S. State Department has evolved in its treatment of religion as a serious part of diplomacy. This is because of the growing importance of religion to foreign policy and national security.


Mrs. Alvarado’s Washington assignments have included director of the Office for International Religious Freedom, strategic planning adviser for the Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations, and director for Central America and Caribbean Affairs at the National Security Council. She commenced her assignment as Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in August 2014.


She explained the multi-pronged approach that the U.S. State Department has in incorporating religion into the education, mandate, and policies of American diplomats around the world.  This is evident in the Religion and Foreign Policy working group, the Secretary of State’s religion and foreign policy mandate, and the creation of the post of senior adviser on religious minorities.


After her lecture, there was a robust question and answer period during which many students asked about current affairs, the refugee crisis, the reality of ISIS, and the U.S. government’s policies to combat violent religious extremism. In fact, Mrs. Alvarado ended up staying longer than expected to interact with students and answer  every last question from the floor. Afterward there was a reception where the conversation continued over refreshments.


The purpose of these colloquia sponsored by CEA and PC each semester is to give students and faculty an opportunity to interact outside of the classroom in high quality academic exchange and dialogue.  Indeed, our Fall Colloquium helped to “keep the study in study abroad” – which is always one of our mottoes here in Rome. Keeping the kind of academic integrity that Providence College expects and requires is a constant focus of our programming.  And our evening with Deputy Chief of Mission Alvarado did just that.


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St. Paul Outside the Walls

“As a dedication to the person and martyrdom of Paul, it is one of the four patriarchal basilicas to be visited on one’s spiritual pilgrimage to Rome.” Giana D’Avanzo

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“Upon entering the portico of St. Paul’s outside the walls, the pilgrim encounters a vision of paradise in the center garden. The grand statue of the apostle in the center reminds the traveler that it was Paul’s courageous teaching that led to Christianity’s firm hold within the city of Rome.” Alexandra Lawrence

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Recently, our New Testament in the Eternal City class visited the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. This basilica, built over the tomb of the apostle Paul, enshrines the witness of martyrdom for the sake of the Gospel. As the patristic writer Tertullian stated, “…the apostles poured forth their whole teaching, along with their blood into the Church of Rome…” Like St. Peter, the apostle Paul culminates his ministry of the Word with the spiritual victory of winning the crown of martyrdom.  As he states in II Timothy, “… the time for my departure is near, even now my life is being poured out as an offering.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and now what awaits me is a crown of glory that will never fade, life on high in Christ Jesus..” (4:6-8)

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Although St. Paul’s martyrdom, like St. Peter’s, is not mentioned in the New Testament, the evidence of Patristic writers testifies to his execution outside of the walls of Rome on the road leading to the port city of Ostia.  St. Paul was beheaded and his body was buried, according to tradition, by a pious Roman matron named Lucina, in a nearby pagan cemetery. Today the magnificent basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls stands over the site of his grave.

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St. Paul’s tomb is below the altar, behind a grill, where a small red light burns constantly. If peered at through the grill, it is possible to see the marble cover of the sarcophagus with the inscription: “To Paul, Apostle and Martyr”. The cover has holes, made for direct contact with the inside of the tomb. Through these holes, in ancient times, pilgrims were able to lower down objects to touch the sarcophagus of the Apostle. And these pieces of cloth became prized relics for the ancient pilgrims.

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After our visit, as usual, the students wrote papers connecting our lectures on St. Paul and his apostleship to the Gentiles with the art and architecture of the basilica.  In this way, they are being trained to “read” a church and its artistic program from a theological and biblical point of view.

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“The cross is depicted on the central bronze doors of the Basilica. In this depiction, the names of the four evangelists and the images of the twelve apostles are represented and acanthus leaf wraps around the entire cross. The acanthus leaf historically represents eternal life and by interweaving it with the cross, apostles, and evangelists, it stresses how the cross is the key to absolute salvation.” Tony Ravosa

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“Above the columns of the naves run a row of Papal portraits. Popes are the successors of St. Peter and St. Paul, which makes it interesting to see these portraits, because the Pope labours to free the message of Jesus from any cultural restraints or encumbrances, as St. Paul did.” Rachel Reilly

Pope Francis mosaic St Paul's Basilica


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“All along the sides of the church are statues of the apostles in niches and all around the church are portraits of the popes. This is fitting because, as successor of St. Peter and St. Paul, the bishop of Rome is to continue the ministry of St. Paul in an ardent zeal for the promotion of the good news of Christ.” Colleen O’Connell

Arch mosaic St Paul's basilica

“… the major mosaic of Jesus is the largest and most serious, portraying him as a judge. Jesus looks stern because the image represents him during the second coming. Christ is holding a shepherd’s staff, further highlighting his role as judge during the Parousia.” Jordyn D’Esposito

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Go Friars!


Assisi Day Trip

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Last week CEA arranged a trip to Umbria for us. We visited the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare, co-founders of the Franciscan Order.

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On the bus ride up to Assisi, I was able to share some reflections about St. Francis and his remarkable life. We discussed his family life, his dramatic conversion, and his mission to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the forgotten.  I told them about his trip to meet the Sultan on a mission of peace and his efforts to heal divisions and reconcile enemies. Finally, we discussed some of the “iconic scenes” of his life which live on in the history and spirituality of the Franciscans.


As a true reformer, Francis challenged the Church of his day to conform itself more closely to the Gospel of Christ and the ideals of the Sermon on the Mount.  We also discussed the choice of the name “Francis” by our current Pope. Upon reflection, we realized that perhaps we are witnessing in our own day another “Francis revolution” with the preaching and example of Papa Francesco.

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The basilica of St. Francis was the highlight for most of us.  We were able to decipher many of the frescoes that portrayed biblical stories and then had the challenge of understanding the stories of Francis’ life in their context.


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Using our New Testament in the Eternal City course as a backdrop, we could more easily understand the stories of the life of Francis and the birth of the Franciscan Order.

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There is a story – some would day legend – that St. Francis and St. Dominic actually met and became friends.  Their meeting and fraternal charity towards one another is to be a corrective to any rivalry or “unholy competition” between the two religious Orders of Franciscans and Dominicans.  Their encounter has been portrayed in painting, stained glass, and sculpture by both religious families.  (In fact, there is a stained glass window in St. Dominic’s Chapel on campus that depicts it.)

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More than just a way to escape from the “big city life” of Rome, these cultural trips in our study abroad experience expose students to Italian culture, art, architecture, food, and history. The sights and sounds of Assisi and the Umbrian countryside made a lasting impression on everyone who went. image

The fresh air, beautiful sights, good food and camaraderie reminded us how special the study abroad experience is.  Assisi is known as the “city of peace”. And it did not disappoint!


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PC Friars and the Papal Audience

“Seeing the pope was a heartwarming experience that made me feel blessed to be a Catholic”. Claire Beatty
“Seeing Pope Francesco was an experience I would not trade for the world. I was honored to be a part of it, and to represent the Providence College Friars there as well!” Mackenzie Griffin
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 Last week the P.C. in Rome program attended a Wednesday Papal Audience with Pope Francis. Each semester I register  Providence College in Rome as an official pilgrimage group so that we are recognized at the Audience we attend.  And so we were thrilled to hear “Providence College” formally welcomed during the introduction when various pilgrim groups and visiting dignitaries were introduced at the beginning of the Audience. Go Friars!
“Besides being just a few feet away from Pope Francis, the best part of the Papal Audience was when Providence College was given a shout out in front of the whole audience.” Victoria Strain
“I feel so lucky that I am able to study in the heart of the church and have the ability to walk out my door and listen to Pope Francis speak.” Catherine Crotty
The Audience consists of prayers, Bible readings, a short talk by the Pope, and then greetings and blessings to all who are present, in several languages.  At the final Blessing, the Pope also blesses any medals, rosaries, or other mementos that those present have brought for his Blessing.
“I am so grateful for being able to experience the Pope in person and to be able to share it with my fellow Friars. I can’t wait to bring back gifts to my family members that were blessed by him.”  Kendall Connor
 Pope Francis has recently been using his talks at the weekly audience to offer some catechesis on marriage and the family.  The talk he gave to us was about how our freedom is shaped and sustained by our fidelity to the choices and commitments we make throughout life. Fidelity grows through our daily efforts to keep our word; indeed, fidelity to our promises is a supreme expression of our dignity as human beings.
“Listening  and seeing Pope Francesco was inspiring, magical, and interesting! This event tells me what it means to have the Catholic faith in my life and how important it is.” Elizabeth Kirby
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Attending a Wednesday Audience is a very unique experience.  Although open to all, you do need a ticket if you want a seat.  Tickets are free, but you must show up very early to get inside the Square since it’s open seating.  The Audience begins with the Pope riding in his “Popemobile” around the Square to be close to the people.  Pope Francis has the custom of making several passes through the Square so that as many people as possible can see him up close.
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 “The simplest word that could describe my experience at the Papal Audience is joy. Not only the immeasurable amount of joy I felt to be in the presence of the Holy Father, but seeing the joy on his face while welcoming people to the audience was equally as rewarding.” Lauren Ioli
“I found it very heart-touching when people handed their babies to the Pope for him to kiss/bless.” Jackie Gray
“Wednesday morning was unlike any other experience I’ve had abroad and one of the most memorable moments of my life… Seeing the Pope was by far the best moment I’ve had in Rome. I can truly say I feel blessed, literally.” Carly Tovell
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 “Papa Francesco’s smile and overall presence warmed my heart. Waking up at 7:00 am today was definitely worth it!” Jillian Giorgio
“Pope Francis has a very noticeable air about him that exudes love and acceptance and being able to share that love with my fellow Friars made it even more memorable.” Claire O’Connor
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 “…going to the Papal Audience has also taught me about the responsibility I should have towards my faith. Seeing so many others turn out to see the Pope revealed to me a sense of unity within the Christian community, and exemplified the importance of discipleship.” Darragh Quinn
“Everyone gathered there, from all across the world, seemed to come together in faith.” Sierra Loya
“Getting the chance to attend a papal audience was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had here!” Abby Shelley
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Go Friars!

Visitors from the Home Campus

imageThis week the P.C. in Rome Program was pleased to welcome two visitors from Providence College.  Mr. Chuck Haberle is the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs and has oversight of the Center for International Studies.  Dr. Terry McGoldrick is an Associate Professor of Theology and the Chair of the “Rome Committee” in the Theology Department.

imageThe purpose of their administrative visit was to familiarize themselves with the P.C. in Rome program “on the ground” so that they can effectively administer the logistics and details of the Program back home. 20140218-114007.jpgAlthough only on a short stay with us, they were able to pack in a host of activities including class observations, meetings with students, faculty, staff, and administration, and even a tour of some student apartments for a true picture of what daily life is like here for a semester abroad.


Mr. Haberle and Dr. McGoldrick met with the CEA Rome Team and discussed academics, housing, student life, co-curricular opportunities, and partnerships with Italian universities in Rome. image



One evening  they met with students for an in-depth conversation on their experiences here and asked what they would tell potential students who were considering a semester in Rome.  The students were able to relate the blessings as well as the challenges of “Italian life” and living in the chaotic, busy, but also beautiful city of Rome. They told them about the wonderful experience they are having and the places they have already seen in just eight weeks.


We were especially happy that their administrative visit was this week since we were able to bring them with us to the Wednesday Audience with Pope Francis.  image

Administrative visits like this are important because it strengthens the bond with the home campus and helps to ensure effective collaboration between P.C. and CEA.  By familiarizing themselves with P.C. in Rome, Mr. Haberle and Dr. McGoldrick can now bring back a deeper appreciation of how our program, in a unique way, perhaps, from other study abroad experiences,  flows from the very heart of the College mission as a Catholic, Dominican institution.


Go Friars!


St. Mary Major and Luke’s Gospel

“It is important to know that the Mariology can never stand on its own. It always starts with Christology.  The focus is never on her, instead it is on her son, Christ.” Chelsea Lynch

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This week’s Blog is devoted to our recent visit to the basilica of St. Mary Major. After a lecture on the Gospel of Luke, we toured the basilica which is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God.  Luke’s theology of Mary in his Gospel is highly developed, casting her as a model of discipleship.

Built in the 5th century, in honor of the title “Mother of God”, conferred on Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD, this church is a testimony to the essential role of Mary in God’s plan of salvation history.

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“Since Jesus is truly God and truly man, then it needs to be understood that Mary is mother of both the human and divine Jesus. Mary is given the honor by the Holy Spirit to “house” the Son of God for nine months, and by doing this she houses the very presence of God in her womb.” Connor Spatz

St. Mary Major

According to a medieval legend, the Basilica of St. Mary Major was actually built because the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius (352-366AD)  in a dream and told him to  build a church dedicated to her where the snow would fall that night.  The snow Mary promised did appear on the Esquiline hill on August 5th, which is now the liturgical feast of our “Lady of the Snows”.  As the legend goes, the Pope drew in the snow with his staff where the basilica would stand.

“The Virgin Mary appeared telling Pope Liberius to build a Church on the Esquiline. The Church honors Mary and acknowledges her as the Mother of God.It is a testimony to the essential role Mary played in God’s plan for salvation history.” Aaron Giroux

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Since medieval times Romans have believed that the relics of the Manger of Bethlehem or even the whole Grotto itself was transferred into the Basilica of St. Mary Major. For these relics the Oratory of the Crib, the Oratorium ad Presepe was built. Since ancient times, on Christmas morning, a procession of the Santa Culla, the Holy Crib, is held in the basilica.

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“The Confessio in the basilica further emphasizes Mary’s importance in salvation history, as the birth mother of Christ. Placed in front of the altar, it contains a fragment of the crib of the Infant Jesus from Bethlehem. The relics provide a positive contribution to the study of the Gospels because these come from the material from Jesus’s lifetime.” Kathryn McDougal

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The walls of the central nave and the triumphal arch at the end of this nave are decorated with mosaics from the time of Sixtus III (432-440AD), making them the oldest mosaic cycle in Rome .

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This mosaic salvation history cycle is completed by the scenes of the Incarnation and the infancy of Christ on the triumphal arch.

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The apse mosaics are not as old as the ones of the central nave and of the triumphal arch. They were created during the pontificate of Pope Nicholas IV (1288-1292AD). The apse is decorated with stories of Mary’s life that are below the central scene of the Coronation of the Virgin.

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The most important one of this cycle is in the center. The Dormition or the Transitus is the traditional representation of the firm belief that Mary, after her earthly life, is now with her Son. This tradition is common to both the Eastern and the Western Church.

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“In an almond shaped nimbus known as a mandorla…the image shows that Mary did not “ascend” into heaven but was carried by her Son, who is her Savior and the Savior of the whole human race…This is significant because Mary brought Jesus into the world, but here the roles are reversed as he brings her out of it.” Darragh Quinn

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Pope Paul V built the chapel for the most venerated image of Virgin Mary, the Salus populi Romani. This icon of the Byzantine style is from the ninth century, but pious Medieval Romans believed it was painted by the evangelist St. Luke. Mary is represented holding Jesus, who is dressed in a golden tunic and holds the book. The hands of Mary are crossed in front of her child. One hand exposes two fingers, which is a sign of the two natures of the person of Christ, who is both human and divine.

Mary Major10

 Go Friars!

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