Sights, sounds, smells enliven Eternal City

By Christopher Gunty

ROME – The bad news, for Italians, was that Spain’s soccer team proved unstoppable in the Euro Cup. The Spaniards had not allowed a goal in the whole series, and as Italy, the underdog, and Spain faced off in Kiev, Ukraine, in the European fútbol final, all eyes around Rome were glued to TV sets in cafés and trattorias the evening of July 1. Italy fared no better than other teams had.

The good news for us pilgrims who had come to witness Archbishop William E. Lori and 43 others receive the pallium from Pope Benedict VI a couple days earlier was that with Italia’s 4-nil loss, there would be no all-night celebrating in the streets; We would be able to get some sleep before our departures for home after a long week of Masses and touring around the Eternal City.

In contrast, a few nights earlier, as Italy battled Germany in the semifinals, we sat at an outdoor restaurant and were nearly frightened as we heard loud cries a few floors above us. We thought it was an earthquake, until we realized that the home team had “merely” scored the first goal of the game.

The great impression that comes over a visitor here is how old so many of the places in Rome are. In Baltimore, we are rightfully proud of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which was built 200 years ago. And when at one Mass Archbishop Lori made a reference to our “so-called ‘new cathedral,’ ” which was dedicated in 1959, he got a laugh from the congregation, especially the Baltimore priests in attendance.

The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen is no longer “new” to us, but it is very new by Roman standards. Consider that the Basilica of San Clemente, one of the churches in which the pilgrims celebrated Mass, is a 12th-century church, built upon a fourth-century church, which itself is built upon the ruins of a first-century Roman building.

Exiting the airport upon arrival in Rome, it “smelled like Rome” – cigarette smoke and diesel fumes. But those scents were replaced later in the week with the smell of incense at St. Peter’s and fresh spices arrayed in bulk containers in the open-air market of Campo de Fiori.

From the trumpet fanfare welcoming Pope Benedict to the Basilica of San Clemente to the strains of accordion music in the cafés along the Borgo Pio and the sound of the burbling water in fountains all around the city, the sounds – as well as the sights and scents – all beckon me to return. I hope I get the chance soon.

And don’t even get me started on the tastes; I could go on for days.

Christopher Gunty is the editor/associate publisher of the Catholic Review.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.