By Raymond Syms, Editor
Step up. Keep up. This is Rome. Again. Buongiorno! Good morning or Good Day!
I had the blessing of visiting Rome for a second time in late June to attend the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) with the small contingent for the Antilles Episcopal Conference (AEC): Bishop Robert Llanos of St John’s-Basseterre, who heads the AEC’s Commission on the Laity and Family Life (domestic Church); Fr Matthew Ragbir, and my wife Tricia. Fr Matthew, Tricia, and I are consultors on the Commission. Archbishop Jason Gordon was also in Rome for meetings and the WMOF.
My first visit was back in October 2010 for an international Catholic media conference. One evening, I met up with Frs Jason Boatswain and Matthew d’Hereaux, who were studying in Rome at the time. They took me around to a few of the popular sites and introduced me to some real Italian pizza.
This time around, I got a better appreciation of Rome before and after the meeting sessions thanks to Fr Matthew R who also studied for two years there. Fluent in Italian, he became our defacto tour guide, translator and at times, negotiator. Grazie, Matteo!
If you’re going to Rome, the most important thing to pack is a good pair of comfortable walking/running shoes. Depending on how long you’ll be there, you’d better pack two. Yes, we all know the saying that ‘Rome was not built in a day’ – and walking it’s cobble-stoned, narrow alleys and streets is hard on the feet!
During our stay, we walked, walked, walked, and walked some more. We checked the number of steps we walked —we passed 10,000 each day. I’d planned to do a run in Rome (wherever I travel to, I want to say that I’ve done a run there) but only had to jog back to the guest house we were staying at to get my e-ticket for the bus. That was all the running I did. The walking compensated.
We stayed at the BorgoNove Guest House, a two-minute walk from St Peter’s Square which was filled with visitors from morning to late night, all under the watchful eyes of the Polizia and two-member teams of Esercito (Army).
The streets were filled with people: think of the thousands walking around on Carnival Monday and Tuesday, only there’s no music. That’s what Italy is like now for the summer. There are tourists from every country – you hear all the different languages as you move around.
Besides walking, you learn to get to your inner-city destination via the Metro (underground subway), bus, or taxi. The Italian organisers were kind enough to include a week-long e-ticket in the package they gave to WMOF delegates. Once swiped or activated, you can just hop on the Metro or bus.
A mask is mandatory on the Metro, bus, train, and taxi. One evening, using the bus to get to another part of Rome, a middle-aged woman began quarrelling loudly. Passengers cleared a path to allow her space to get from the back of the bus to the front to remonstrate with the driver. The reason?
As Fr Matthew translated later (not verbatim as she was swearing in Italian) she was angry with the driver for not ensuring the mask mandate was adhered to. We ensured we always had our masks near at hand. Covid hit Italy hard in the last two years – thousands died. People went around maskless.
Transport wise, there are also the smart cars and scooters. I was drawn to the electric smart cars – two seaters that could park in small spaces, including motorbike spots. I wished I could bring one home.
The motorised scooters were another story. Download an app to pay and activate one, and off you go, into the fast-moving traffic. Residents and visitors zipped in between vehicles on these scooters. I wondered about accidents -who’s at fault? But that is for the adventurous or fool hardy. When you’re finished using it, you can just leave it there for the next user or for collection.
Navigating the traffic means using the pedestrian crosswalks at all times. But there’s a rule, as was explained by Fr Matthew: when you start walking, don’t stop for oncoming traffic, just keep moving and they will stop. It takes a while to get accustomed to that rule, especially if you see a bus coming towards you!
Put up your feet —more next week.