Everyone who visits Rome tells some version of the same story. Here’s mine:
We spent the morning touring St. Peter’s Basilica. It was grand and vast, almost more to take in than one could grasp. We celebrated mass at a side altar where Pope John XXIII is interred, his uncorrupted body encased in glass. The morning was overwhelming, to say the least.
After four hours in the Basilica, Mom and I were free to find our way in Rome. Footsore, jet-lagged, and dehydrated, we grabbed a table at the first sidewalk cafe we saw, still inside the security perimeter of the Vatican. Lunch was perfect! Afterwards, we literally grabbed a taxi back to Casa Tra Noi, the driver swearing a steady (but quiet) stream under his breath as he made his way up the narrow hill, every few yards maneuvering around obstacles not envisioned when this street was first cobbled: buses, delivery trucks, SUVs.
We rested for a while on the patio, and I swallowed another miniscule cappuccino, before meeting our tour bus for the drive to the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. At first, I was unexcited to tour another cathedral, but then I realized that this bus trip would show us much of the city we might not otherwise see in our brief time in Rome. And it did: the Colosseum, the Forum, the Circus; we crossed the Tiber River; we saw the balcony where Mussolini harangued the crowds. Our group piled off the bus at a statue of St. Francis that stands across the piazza from St. John Lateran. We posed for a group photo,then made our weary way toward the church. Like most sites in Rome, there was security to go through – though there was no guard in sight here, just a conveyor belt that we all dutifully placed our bags on, walking through metal detectors before retrieving them.
Our guide, Father Andre, in his brown Franciscan robe and sandals, introduced us to the cathedral. I remember bits and pieces of the history he recited, though I wouldn’t be able to reconstruct it without assistance. We looked at the beautiful papal door, opened only in jubilee years (bricked shut at other times). Then we wandered over to the giant front doors. By this time in the day, our group lacked its earlier spry energy, so we waited for the stragglers to gather close enough to Father Andre to hear his next words.
“These doors,” he said, “Were originally on the Roman Senate. Think about that for a minute! That means that Cicero walked through these doors. Augustus Caesar walked through them…everyone you remember from early Roman history likely touched these doors.”
And that was it: my goosebump moment.
Like I said, everyone who has been to Rome has this story. They tell about the exact moment it hit them that they were in a spot where ancient history still lives. I couldn’t have anticipated that my moment would occur at a cathedral I’d never heard of before – but it was an electrifying moment. For me, it was my heart’s true first step on the pilgrimage I had come to Italy to make.