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Two Coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome

This is one of my favorite photos with Tom. It is pasted beside my computer on the file cabinet, next to a graphic that says, “All is well in my world.” 

That night in Rome Italy, in January 2000, all was well in my world, as we capped off this late night by tossing our coins in the world-famed Fountain of Trevi.

We had been on a ten-day religious pilgrimage in the 2000 Catholic  Jubilee Year of 2000 in January. It was four things in one for me: a pilgrimage; a work project of writing and photography for the diocesan newspaper; a triple news video assignment on our travels, the pilgrims and pilgrimage,  and a vocations video on our diocesan seminarians studying in Rome for the priesthood. It was also the first overseas travel experience both Tom and I had.

Our group of pilgrims traveled into Chicago by bus on a very snowy day through the snow-zone of the Lake Michigan land border and boarded the giant 727 Lufthansa airbus for the long flight over Greenland and into Rome the next day. Our hotel accommodations were just off Vatican Square, and the night views were charming.

The Christmas Cretch of the stable and holy figures were still in St. Peter’s Square.  I have awesome photos of the moon rising in the black nighttime skies behind the Vatican dome. I the photographer, was surrounded by the famous ancient and artistic Roman columns circling us.

It was a busy pilgrimage. We jostled with the Italiano press as we filmed from the upper balcony our general audience with the late Pope John Paul II. He, in his address, greeted the pilgrim group, among thousands below us…. “from Ka…La….Ma…..Zoo”.

Previous to this pilgrimage time, I had taken a reading fancy to the history of Karol Wojtyla, his Polish background, his work in the arts with youth, and his work with world leaders for peace and his faithfulness and inspiration he gave to his native homeland of Poland to “stay brave and be strong and the iron curtain will fall.”  So I appreciated the opportunity to be in the presence of this man, who now was close to the end of his life on earth.

We made visits to each of the Basilicas in Rome; St. Peter, St. John Latern, St. Paul and St. Mary Majoria taking in minutia of facts about religious history and the master artists, Michelangelo’ Sistine Chapel in Rome, and the statue of David  in Florence,  and Italian fresco painter and architect Giotto in St. Francis Basilica in Assisi.

We crawled through the underground paths of the catacombs, where early Christians hid but were willing to brave death for this new religion of Christianity. Our pilgrimage priest guide celebrated Mass with us in the catacombs and when we sang “Faith of our Fathers”, it rang completely through my historical bones and gave me goose bumps.

We could not take our video equipment underground in the catacombs and photography was discouraged in the general instructions but John insisted that Tom take some photos for the record. It turns out that at the elevation of the host, I hear, “czhic, czzick.”of a finger pressing a camera button near me.  And this was the photo I turned over to the national Catholic News Service and it ran in papers around the country. We were not sure if we had to put Tom in the witness protection plan or not, but no harm came from it.

I also had become interested in knowing more background on the fascinating St. Francis before and after he became so dedicated totally to God and founding his order of brothers, the Franciscans. The saint, who loved the land, and would have been our “green saint” of modern times.

I fantasized walking over more of the hills and valleys of his beloved Umbria. I loved walking the stone streets lined with the stone shops that took us pilgrim right back to the late Middle Ages as we were celebrating the arrival of the new millennium.  You could almost expect St. Francis, as a young man and extravagant balladeer to pop out from one of the buildings and coerce you to sing and dance with him.

So there were many fabulous experiences, seeing, learning, composing sound bites and images, video scripts and newspaper texts along the “once in a lifetime” experience we were having. We started as a complete group of strangers making our way along a shared path and finished the pilgrimage as a group of friends who had bonded together and revealed what was important and inspiring to each of us.

The happiness apparent in this picture at Trevi was the culmination of one wonderful night Tom and I shared with the three contracted video communication professionals who accompanied us on this trip to capture the experience for the diocesan record. I was used to doing videos in our western Michigan diocese with them in the schools, parishes, and ministries throughout forty-seven separate parishes.

These twenty-minute quarterly video newsletters brought a sense of unity to the diocese as different areas were spotlighted and could shine their light for others to see. I loved my work with the video company Susan and John led and Matt performed main camera duties. The work was exciting and we were all perfectionists and we had a lot of fun creating “The Good News”.

This was a large assignment for us in Rome and of course there were no “do-overs” possible, so along with the wonders of the pilgrimage, came the intensity of getting our work right.

We lost the video crew once, when we left the lower St. Francis Basilica after celebrating Mass over St. Francis’ tomb. The pilgrims all hurried back to the bus because the bus driver had said he would have to leave promptly; he had very short approval to park where we were. Without sighting the crew, we assumed they were on the bus when ,in fact, they were enjoying the fabulous Umbrian field and valley views from the upper level, thinking we had not left yet. Two pilgrims got lost on the way back to the bus, shopping in Assisi.

Sometimes it was difficult to video in places I had prearranged authorization, so Susan, found herself running “interference” distracting the St. Peter’s guard by talking about the “Pieta” while we got down the aisles to take film footage.  News reporting happened on site — cold, cold, wind blowing sites. And the Italiano policia were always about whenever we set up shots in St. Peter’s Square and negotiations on the spot began all over again.

We were under the expert guidance on the Italy side of the pilgrimage of a young woman, Simone. She was a native of Rome, who lived and worked in the city she loved. She thought she had the perfect job showing her city and it’s religious and cultural, and arts background to visitors and the constant shine in her eyes let you know that.

On a “free-night” for the pilgrims, she pulled Tom and I and Susan, John and Matt together and told us she had arranged a “real, Italian experience” for just us and she wanted to pull us away from the rest of the group for one night. This would be our time. We were to be ready at seven p.m.

She guided us to an Italian restaurant, off the tourist track, and told us she would be back to check on us. There were not many guests in the restaurant, but we discovered that seven p.m. was an early time for the citizens of Rome to eat dinner. They did, indeed, come in much later in the night.

We were still there much later in the night because none of us spoke Italian and that is the only language the staff spoke. Tom had a little language converter and would come up with short phrases when someone visited our table, but other than that, we kind of pantomimed our way through dinner.

A waiter came over and performed card tricks for us. He told us jokes in Italian, and when he laughed, we laughed. We ordered “something”. And at different intervals, the waiter just kept bringing us more to eat.  I think Tom finally said something close to “check, please” to the waiter in something close to Italian. Up till then, we laughed, told stories, relaxed, and drank wine.

Simone popped back in late in the night, surprised we were still at the restaurant, and shared dessert with us. She said we were not far from Trevi Fountain and she would head our cab driver in that direction before bringing us back to the hotel.

We made our wishes in the cold, crisp Italian winter night, but it was hard to come up with a wish. We were all quite fine having a most wonderful night.

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