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Taking in the sights…watch out for the seagulls!

By Raymond Syms, Editor

“Waaahhhhh!” Dawn in Rome.

“Waaahhhh!” I open my eyes and turn. Tricia is still fast asleep.

“Waaahhhh!” What the heck is that?! The sound is coming from… above? A baby…on the roof?

I didn’t know seagulls had such a range – like a baby’s cry. Every morning, that cry would be my second wake up alarm. Time to get up. Alzarsi!

The seagulls love St Peter’s Square. The first evening, I stood and watched a small flock of noisy seagulls approach the square, flying low. I instinctively kept my head down as they glided to their favourite fountain, the one on the right, close to where pilgrims queue to enter the basilica.

For them, St Peter’s Square means water and food. They scavage leftovers from the yet to be collected garbage bags along the avenue, chasing away the much smaller pigeons with their size. They’re no match. I overhead a Canadian delegate tell another he had to head back to the hotel to change as a seagull had crapped on his shirt. Beware the gulls.

The other wildlife we saw was in the river. We had just hopped off the bus to visit Trastevere, a restaurant hub, and walked over to the nearby bridge to look down at the restaurants situated along one side of the Tiber River. I noticed something swimming in river. Again: What the heck is that?!

It had a long tail, swam like an otter, but it looked like a big rat! Archbishop Jason started recording on his phone while Fr Matthew took to Google. It’s called a nutria, native to South America.

We saw other people looking at another nutria calmly cleaning itself on the rocks. It then slid into the murky water to join the first one. Fr Matthew later jokingly asked if anyone wanted to have dinner at one of the riverside restaurants. Uh, no eh.

Beneath St Peter’s Basilica

For the two free days before the June 22 opening of the World Meeting of Families, we visited as much of Rome’s popular sights as possible.

We saw or visited places like St Peter’s Basilica, Castel San Angelo, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, Fontana di Trevi, Piazza Venezia, the Church of the Trinity of the Mounts near the ‘Spanish Steps’, the Column of the Immaculate Conception, the Colosseum, Piazza del Popolo, and walked through a small section of the expansive Villa Borghese Gardens. Tricia ensured she went to see the Sistine Chapel.

Seeing them, some for the second time, I wondered how these massive, ancient structures were built so many centuries ago. They have stood the test of time.

My highlight visit though, was being able to see a section of the Vatican grottoes.

On Thursday, June 23, Bishop Robert Llanos, and Fr Martin Sirju celebrated their priestly anniversaries. We left early that morning to see if we could celebrate the anniversary in one of the chapels beneath St Peter’s Basilica. These chapels are usually booked long in advance. Would we be so lucky?

Luck had nothing to do with it: it was all about timing – and the fact we had an archbishop and bishop.

After Holy Mass, we passed the crypts of some of the Church’s popes. It gave me another appreciation of Church history.

In an around St Peter’s Square, and Rome for that matter, there are stores catering solely to clergy. Barbiconi’s, for example, has clothed clergy for generations. Anything and everything needed seems available: priest vestments and shirts of all sizes, chasubles, altar cloth, zucchettos for the bishops, monstrances, chalices.

The other interesting thing, for chocolate lovers like yours truly, was Venchi’s Cioccolato e Gelato. Picture a ‘waterfall’ of chocolate as a backdrop, and two taps flowing with chocolate, not water. Then, wall to wall chocolate of various types.

I marvelled at the ‘chocolatefall’, wondering what the viscosity of the chocolate was for it to flow like that! But I resisted getting any icecream or chocolate from Venchi’s as gelato shops are everywhere. They seem purposely located close to the restaurants, so very often after dinner came an ice cream treat!

While in Rome, I went to bed fully contented.

I slept –like a baby.