Thursday 9th April 2015. Where were you at 2.00pm that day and what were you doing? Frances and I were sitting on a restaurant balcony overlooking the lake at Castel Gandolfo in the company of Father Mark Cassidy (one time parish priest at St Anne’s). Mark had picked us up at the airport a couple of hours before and driven us to this wonderful place for lunch. The sun was shining and the food was just magnificent..
Castel Gandolfo is where Popes had their summer palace, although Pope Francis does not use it, preferring to stay in Rome. It is beautiful town and after a walk around we headed for Frascati, a lovely place with a Scottish connection, as the brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie, Henry, Duke of York was a Cardinal, and had a large house there.
We stayed at the Scots Pontifical College for three nights, where Mark is the Spiritual Director. Mark has been in Rome for the last few years and knows many excellent restaurants (where he is very well known!!) Mark also took us to Orvieto in the mountains north of Rome before heading for Bagnoregio a small town built on a hilltop. There are now only about 12 families living there as each year, more of the mountain on which it is built is lost to the rains through landslides. There are still some small restaurants and souvenir shops as well as a lovely church. It is not clear how much longer the town will exist – it all depends on the severity of the weather and the number of landslides.
We also visited a monastery built into a hillside at Subiaco. Its various levels have some stunning frescos and the original monastery was built where St Benedict lived in a cave and founded the Benedictine Order.
After three days in the college we moved into B&B in Rome, 5 minutes’ walk from St Peter’s. We visited the tomb of St Peter deep under the Altar of the Basilica which was a fascinating tour before having the chance to wander through the Basilica itself, something we had done during previous visits.
Having seen most of the other main tourist attractions in Rome before, we opted for a visit to the Gardens at Tivoli with hundreds of fountains including one with a working organ which plays for 5 minutes every two hours. The gardens were part of the Villa D’Este and was a stunning place to visit. After lunch we walked down narrow streets to the mediaeval quarter and into the Cathedral Church of St Lorenzo where there were some amazing frescos and paintings from the 12th century and later.
Sunday 12th April 2015. Where were you at 12 noon that day and what were you doing? We were in St Peter’s Square listening to the words of the Pope as he appeared at the window high above the Square. What struck me was the hush which descended over the Square when he began to speak to the thousands who had come to hear his words. The newspapers the next day, and also the news bulletins were full of what the Pope had said at the main service in St Peter’s which had been attended by members, clergy and the Archbishop of the Armenian Church. The Pope had made reference to events of 100 years ago when Armenians had been killed during the Ottoman rule in Turkey. The Turkish Ambassador to the Vatican was withdrawn, and questions were raised about whether the church should be involved in politics.
Well, Jesus was involved in politics. He said things about what should be paid to Caesar, he challenged the authorities about all manner of things. In the political activity which is going on all over the country at the present time, it is up to people like you and me to exercise our right to vote in the General Election on May 7th.