Sure enough, as we loaded the bus some hours later, he came bounding out of the chapel, running up to everyone and introducing himself and shaking hands. When we got to the airport, he followed me and another woman younger than I am who was making the journey alone. He told us that the last time he traveled, all of his toiletries were thrown away because they violated the TSA's travel restrictions on the size of containers of fluids you can pack on your carry-on. We advised him to put his toiletries in his checked luggage while he still could, but as we were putting our shoes back on after getting through security, we saw a TSA agent take this man's duffel bag and empty it into the trash. A full-sized can of shaving cream and a full-sized bottle of mouthwash were the victims. This would be a further clue of what we would be dealing with. We walked around together to look for a place to get a snack before we had to board the plane and then the young woman and I took turns going to the ladies room while the other person watched the bags. Not long after, they made the announcement that the flight would now begin boarding. J, as I will call him, was nowhere in sight.
Our rows were now being called and I informed the group's coordinator that J had wandered off and I suggested that perhaps she should have the airport page him overhead to the gate. She shrugged and said she thought I was overreacting as he had flown on other trips himself.
At the last possible moment, he came running from wherever it was he'd been. Through the grace of God, we were not seated in the same row, but as boarded the aircraft, he introduced himself to everyone already seated, and then went on to attempt to introduce me. I gave him a gentle push and told him to keep moving. I was seated next to a very well-kept woman who had the window seat. J made a point of telling her my name and that I was a very giving person. Then he asked her what seemed like a million questions, such as where was she from in California, what county, where she was going, and so on. She asked me how long I had known J and I told her I had only just met him that day.
"Well, he looks harmless," she said, letting me know she got the idea that his elevator didn't reach the top floor.
The flight was uneventful. It was difficult to sleep and I knew that by the time we got to Rome, I'd be hankering for a nap. It seemed like all of humanity had arrived at Fiumicino Airport when we did and it was some ordeal getting through customs. The man at the booth looked at us indifferently, only glancing at our passports and waving us through. We had a few elderly people with us and one gentleman who was clearly not in the best health, so we made our way slowly so that the others could keep up and know where to go.
The tour guide who would spend the next 10 days with us met us and took us to our motor coach, which was thankfully air conditioned. It was very warm and humid, more so than the weather we had just left behind in Philadelphia. We were taken on a drive around the city of Rome where Roman ruins, among other things, were pointed out to us. A few times, the bus stopped and allowed us to get out and take pictures and stretch our legs. We stopped at a typical Roman plaza with a church, tiled streets and fountains and a gypsy quickly made his way toward me, holding out 3 red roses which he insisted I take. I thanked him and handed the roses back.
"You take them and give me a little something for Santa Maria, " he said, pointing to the church, but I handed the roses back and walked away. Out of our entire group of 33 people, I was the first and only one he approached.
The bus took us to a little restaurant where a delicious lunch awaited us. After an hour or so, we were finally taken to our hotel, where I looked forward to stealing a cat nap before our scheduled Mass at the Augustinian consulate. Unfortunately, when we got to the hotel, there was no room for J. Apparently he had canceled going on the trip and then rescheduled, but the hotel never got the word and thus had no room for him. The coordinator approached me and the young woman I mentioned earlier.
"You two are the only ones on this trip I know well enough to ask. Can you please share a room tonight until we work something out for J?"
Neither of us were thrilled about this, since we had paid for private single arrangements, but since we were told it was for one night, we agreed. We had a suite with a common hallway with the bathroom in the middle, so it wasn't all that bad. However, when we later mentioned that we were glad it was only for one night, we were informed that they hoped it would only be for one night. My roommate emphatically stated that one night was all she was willing to agree to and that she expected this to be resolved by morning.
After taking a brief cat-nap that required a TNT explosion to awaken from, we headed over to the Augustinian consulate, which offered a birds eye view of the Vatican. Mass was celebrated in the private chapel where the friars who live there offer their own Masses and gather for community prayer each day. I took note of the priest's vestments and made a private note to ask about them later. They were a beautiful green with small gold crosses embroidered on them and I knew I had never seen them on this friar when he lived in the states.
After Mass, I commented on how beautiful the vestments were and he said he was glad I mentioned them, as he had intended to tell us that they had belonged to Blessed Pope John Paul II. The Augustinians had several of his vestments as it is the Augustinians who staff what would technically be the Pope's parish church and since Augustinians are traditionally the order that serves as the Pope's sacristans. In fact, when we would travel to Tolentino a week later, the sacristan at the basilica who vested the two priests happened to be an Augustinian brother who was JP II's sacristan for years.
Following Mass, we were given a short tour of the consulate and then went up on the roof to enjoy the exceptional view of the Vatican. As we were all pretty exhausted, we then headed back to the hotel for dinner and bed. The wake-up call was scheduled for 6am. Our Augustinian priest was going to celebrate Mass for us at the Vatican the next day at the altar of JP II, which entombs his body. We needed to allow plenty of time to get through security and get through Rome traffic. After Mass, we were scheduled to visit the major basilicas and have a tour of the Vatican museum.
Of course, even the best laid plans can get set aside, as we would find out the next day after Mass.
Back at the hotel, I cranked up the AC, which I later found not every room was equipped with. Our hotel was a former monastery where some of the sisters , or soellas, still lived and which they now ran as a guest house. I learned later that there was a chapel in the house where I could have gone in search of some desperately needed solitude. The beds were small, and the pillows and mattresses were very firm. But, they were not stuffed with straw, although as exhausted as I was, I could have slept on them anyway.
|Circus Maximus, where the ancient Romans held their chariot races|