During the course of one 7-day period, PC and CEA students participated in a one-day excursion to Naples, had mid-term exams, participated in our first colloquium, attended a papal audience, and some are now traveling in Italy or elsewhere in Europe on a weekend excursion. While not the norm, this week was not entirely atypical either, mostly because it illustrates how students studying in the PC-Rome program are called upon to engage at all levels: intellectual, spiritual, aesthetic, historical, social, and gustatory, to name but a few.
Our tour guide met us at the Garibaldi metro station in Naples. In her introduction, she noted that we would travel backwards, starting with contemporary Naples and going back millennia to the times of Greek and then Roman conquest and occupation of the strategically located city. The metro station was the perfect place to begin; it has only been recently completed. All sixteen metro stops are distinctively adorned in the style of arte povera, modern art installations designed by different Italian artists that feature commonplace materials and themes, such as the mosaic wall featured on the wall behind the students in the image above left. During our tour, we walked around the historic center, seeing the various styles and eras reflected in the art and architecture and physical layout of the city, learning about its history and its place in Italian culture. This, of course, also included its distinctive cuisine. Students particularly enjoyed our mid-morning break at the famous Scaturrchio pastry shop: the espresso coffee and the sfogliatella, a pastry filled with a ricotta cream, were delicious.
Allied bombs destroyed the roof of the Church of Santa Chiara in August 1943. The fires burned so hot that some of the marble columns and sculptures were charred. Students toured the church, which has been restored to its original Gothic state, marveled at both the beauty and the serenity of the cloisters in the attached monastery, and then saw the excavations of Roman baths located at the perimeter of the complex. At the entrance to the church, they were wowed by two toddlers, who were dressed up as the Pope and as Mother Theresa. Parents often dress children in costumes during Carnevale, the festive time before Lent. Many of our students were very intrigued by this custom.
One of the most awe-inspiring moments was our visit to the Sansevero Chapel, a small Baroque chapel that is filled with the most amazing sculptures. Among them are the Veiled Christ (Sammartino, 1753) and Disillusion (Queirolo, 1753). Both of these, the prone figure of Christ covered by a veil and the figure of a man trying to disentangle himself from a large net, are carved from a single block of marble. They are astonishing in their beauty and intricacy. Click here for some images.
Of course, no visit to Naples is complete without tasting the delicious pizzas, including pizza Margarita, rambling through the narrow winding streets, or browsing its many shops, including the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street dedicated to the production and sale of nativity scenes. While the day trip to Naples was a wonderful day of discovery on a number of levels, it was only the beginning of a week of continuing engagement. This has also been mid-term week. We remind our students that this is PC in Rome. That means the expectations regarding their academic work are high. Students must balance their time and energy so that they can read, study, reflect, and recall as they submit reflection papers, case studies, or take exams. We recognize that it is not easy for our students, given the many distractions of living in Rome. On the other hand, we emphasize that they are here to study (abroad). They must learn to manage their affairs or suffer the consequences of poor time-management skills or decision-making.
On Tuesday night, Providence College and CEA were privileged to host Sister Judith Zoebelein, director of the Vatican documentary, Nostra Aetate: “the leaven of good”, at our first colloquium of the semester. The film features interviews with religious leaders in Rome, the Holy Land, Malaysia, Africa, India, Latin America, and the US, all of whom reflect on the impact of the Vatican II document on inter-religious dialogue from the perspective or their own faith tradition. This is a really inspiring dialogue and call to action that flies in the face of all of the hate and demonizing we’ve been witnessing in recent times. It raises important questions for both believers and non-believers about how they respond to the “other” and calls on the members of the audience (as does Nostra Aetate) to open their hearts and their minds and to resist the calls to violence that seem to be proliferating around the world.
The very next morning, students in the New Testament attended a papal audience in St. Peter’s Square. While the entrance of Pope Francis always electrifies the crowd and we were privileged to be in attendance, the audience made manifest the themes that were raised in the documentary the night before. In a concrete and tangible way, students were witness to the universal Church. The Pope’s address and the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans were first spoken in Italian. These were followed by translations in Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Russian, and English. The English-speaking pilgrims at this week’s audience came from England, Ireland, Norway, India, and the United States. The audience itself reiterated the themes of inclusion and encounter stressed in Nostra Aetate. The final blessing extends to all present and to all of their loved ones.
Given all of these activities, there was not a lot of time for reflection. Students still had to finish their exams and mid-term projects. Some were also planning their weekend travels, while others were looking forward to staying in Rome and just relaxing a bit. This past week may seem overwhelming, but it has provided experiences that will form the basis of recall and reflection for years to come. And that is one of the ultimate goals of the study abroad experience–personal growth.
Thanks for tuning in. Go Friars!