Tempus Fugit! Arrivederci Roma!

Tempus Fugit! Arrivederci Roma!

Posted by: on December 2, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

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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

Nov 2015 PC in Rome Spatz Photo 2

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

NT textbook

“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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Go Friars!



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

Posted by: on November 22, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome


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.


Go Friars!



Besides taking classes, going on site visits, and participating in cultural experiences in Italy, our students also attend academic colloquia... MORE

St. Paul Outside the Walls

Posted by: on November 11, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

“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!


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Assisi Day Trip

Posted by: on November 5, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

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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!


Go Friars!


Last week CEA arranged a trip to Umbria for us. We visited the town of Assisi, the birthplace of St.... MORE

PC Friars and the Papal Audience

Posted by: on October 28, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome
“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!

“Seeing the pope was a heartwarming experience that made me feel blessed to be a Catholic”. Claire Beatty “Seeing Pope... MORE

Visitors from the Home Campus

Posted by: on October 21, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

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!


This week the P.C. in Rome Program was pleased to welcome two visitors from Providence College.  Mr. Chuck Haberle is... MORE

St. Mary Major and Luke’s Gospel

Posted by: on October 15, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

“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.

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 Go Friars!

“It is important to know that the Mariology can never stand on its own. It always starts with Christology.  The... MORE

The Lateran Basilica and Matthew’s Gospel

Posted by: on October 1, 2015   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

“The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a useful guide to teach the lessons of the Bible.  The intent of this Basilica is to lead the viewer on a visual journey through the Old and the New Testaments.” Elizabeth Kirby

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Last week our New Testament in the Eternal City class made a visit to this basilica of St. John Lateran.  We were studying Matthew’s gospel which includes a theology of the Church that is founded on Peter and the Apostles.  Matthew also stresses the Church’s connection to the Old Testament and Judaism in general.  This view of salvation history sees the Church as the “new Israel” and Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and theology.

“The Old Testament portrayals serve as a foreshadowing for the coming of Christ in the New Testament…  It is this “Biblical Concordance” that showcases the history of salvation in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.” Ashley Alemian

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The inscription on the façade of the Basilica of St. John Lateran reads: “The Most Holy Church of the Lateran, Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City and of the World”.  This cathedral of Rome owes its origins to the Emperor Constantine in the 4th century and was where the Popes resided until the 14th century when the papacy became centralized at the Vatican.

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st john lateran12We were able to study some of Matthew’s theological themes contained in the  structure, mosaics, statuary, and paintings of the Basilica of the Lateran.  Reading the “text” of the basilica the students discovered a salvation history similar to the one in Matthew’s gospel.

“The images on the left side of the nave represent salvation history in the Old Testament, while the right side represents fulfillment of these scenes through Jesus. The most important fulfillment, perhaps, is the depiction of Abraham being stopped by an angel from sacrificing his son Isaac, being fulfilled through the illustration of Christ’s crucifixion, marking the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history.” Luke Fitzgerald

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Along the central nave leading to the main altar are statues of the 12 apostles, over which are base reliefs of alternating scenes from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Above these are oval portraits of the 12 Old Testament prophets.  This artistic schema is not only beautiful and impressive, but tells the story of Jesus the Messiah, much as Matthew does, with his stress on Old Testament fulfillment.

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“The central nave of St. John Lateran shows the history of salvation within Christianity by depicting the twelve apostles and supporting them by twelve reliefs that truly show that the life of Jesus the Savior, prophesied in the Old Testament was fulfilled in the New Testament.” Rachel Reilly

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“Water is repeatedly a symbol of life and birth especially in the New Testament as well as in Saint John Lateran where there is a large baptistery… The baptistery is in the shape of an octagon to symbolize 8 sides: the 7 days of creation, and the 8th day symbolizing eternity and immortality.” Sarah Viens

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 Go Friars!


“The Basilica of St. John Lateran is a useful guide to teach the lessons of the Bible.  The intent of... MORE

PC and Santa Priscilla

Posted by: on September 25, 2015   |Comments (0)|Theology classes in Rome

“Our tour guide told us that over 400 martyrs were said to have been buried in these catacombs…These martyrs, in their suffering, mirrored the suffering of Jesus Christ before them.” Vanessa Zuleta


Last week our site visit for the New Testament in the Eternal City class was the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.  Because of the great number of martyrs buried there and the fact that it is mentioned in the most ancient documents of Christian topography and liturgy, it is called the “regina catacumbarum” or the Queen of the Catacombs”.


There are over 50 catacomb complexes underneath Rome stretching for nearly three hundred miles. Many of them have ancient Christian inscriptions and decorations.


Although there are several Christian catacombs that are open to the public, I chose Santa Priscilla because of the richness of the artwork and inscriptions.  It has the oldest image of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the so-called “Greek Chapel” is an absolute treasure trove of frescoes depicting biblical images from the Old and New Testaments.


Contrary to popular Christian imagination, the early Christians never lived in the catacombs.  In fact, it would have been dangerous even to pray publicly there as a group since it could have led to discovery and arrest during the days of the Roman persecution of the Church.


The catacombs were a place of burial and remembrance.  The frescoes and inscriptions are testimony to the faith of the early Christians and their hope of resurrection.  The tombs of the martyrs take pride of place and are usually richly decorated.

“As I observed the graves of our spiritual predecessors, I found myself in awe of their faith. Even in death, they formed a community where they could rest in peace… The beautiful frescoes serve as a testament to their faith…” Sierra Loya


During our tour, the students were able to connect many of the motifs of the frescoes and inscriptions with theological and spiritual themes from our New Testament course.

“A wealthy woman by the name of Priscilla dedicated these specific catacombs to be used as a cemetery for Christians… Around many of the tombs is drawn the symbol of a fish representing the statement, “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior”. Anthony Ravosa

“Through the depths of the Catacombs of Priscilla, themes in the Gospel of Mark are on physical display. These burial grounds provide great evidence of how early Christianity was practiced based on the inscriptions and images remaining in the catacombs.” Claire O’Connor


“…the Gospel of Mark, and our visit to the catacombs demonstrated that once you understand the “secret” of the Gospel of Mark you can understand the true message of Christianity: that you must lose your life in order to regain it.” Julia Textor


“Many look at the brutal ways by which Christians were executed under Nero or Diocletian and think it occurred during a less civilized period far in the past. In examining the current situation in the Middle East, it is apparent… that the message in the Gospel of Mark is as important to suffering Christians today as it was when it was written in 70 AD.” Meghan Donohoe

Go Friars!





“Our tour guide told us that over 400 martyrs were said to have been buried in these catacombs…These martyrs, in... MORE

A Stroll in the Forum

Posted by: on September 17, 2015   |Comments (0)|Uncategorized

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”.


“The Roman Forum presented visual symbols of early Christianity, while the classroom lecture provided textual references to Christianity that tied the lecture and site visit together.” Jackie Gray

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.


“When trying to understand early Christianity, one must look at not only the religious context of this time period but the cultural framework as well…The Roman Forum allows us to get a “picture” of what life was really like historically at the time of early Christians.” Claire Beatty

“After visiting the Roman Forum, it is clear that Rome was the first true home for early Christian architecture. The Forum is filled with archaeological evidence, which reveals the transition from pagan to Christian houses of worship.” Jillian Giorgio


The Arch of Titus is important because along with the fall of Jerusalem, it also depicts the 70 AD fall of the Temple. This relates to what we learned in lecture because in Mark 13, Jesus predicts the fall of the Temple.” Amy Czarnota


“The Gospel of Mark and the Arch of Titus are two items that give us an inside look at what Rome was like during the first century AD…The relationship between the written word and the physical evidence is what gives us a more solid foundation for learning and clarifying what happened in Rome in ancient times, and most importantly for the authenticity of the New Testament.”Samantha McSweeney


Go Friars!



The famous Roman Forum was our second site visit of the semester.  The format of our course, The New Testament... MORE