“Oh Rome! My country! City of the soul! The orphans of the heart must turn to thee…”
—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
The Rome semester at Thomas More College has always seemed shrouded in mystery to me. Juniors and seniors speak of it in hushed tones, their eyes glowing. Girls wear scarves they bought there, guys regale tales of fountains of wine and mountains of chocolate at festivals. They all speak of Rome as their home, their haven, their earthly heaven. “You’ll understand when you go,” they say. “Rome will change your life.” And no more.
It all leaves me with a little pang, a hunger, a thirst for what I can’t yet explain.
The readings in our curriculum have only whetted my appetite to live in the Eternal City, whether when translating Cicero, The Gallic Wars or Virgil’s Eclogues in Latin, discussing works from Rome and early Christianity in Humanities, or reading Hilaire Belloc’s The Path to Rome for Traditio.
I want to see those fields. I want to taste that food. I want to hear the language. I want to feel the cobblestones.
I want to walk where the men of that great empire did, the empire that was sacked, but never really destroyed. The empire that may be diminished, but has never disappeared, the throne of Western Civilization. I can’t wait for our Latin immersion classes, to meet Dr. Connell, to live under the same sky in a different world. To keep a journal of my days in the great city. To go to the Galleria Borghese and see the intricate leaves on the fingers of Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne.
While Rome certainly provides cultural learning, the semester is also a spiritual pilgrimage. Rome is the earthly capital of Christ’s body and the seat of Peter. My classmates and I will read the writings of St. Paul in the city he preached in, and pray in the Basilica built upon his tomb. We’ll get to spend Lent and Easter in Rome, amid the festivities surrounding the Vatican, and attend the Papal Easter Mass. At the end of April, Blessed Pope John Paul II will be canonized, and many students are planning to be present.
The new Rome campus is exciting. It’s even closer to St. Peter’s than previous classes have been, and our class will be the first to live on this new campus. My classmates and I will be trail-blazers in the millennium-old trails of Rome, and decade-old trails of Thomas More College.
Will I miss my family, my friends, my professors, and all the students on the Merrimack campus? Of course I will. But these cannot and will not be reduced by my being far from them, and my appreciation for them will only be made the richer by the distance. Indeed, it is students’ common experience of the required Rome semester that deepens the communitas at Thomas More.
Rome, I do not expect to change you. I do not demand that you change me. But let me become a tiny part of you, that I might take it back with me and have it always.
Rome is calling. And I am coming.
Roma, videbo te!