Well it’s been a while since I finished my story on the US trip, and now it’s finally time to move on to the next one, namely, my trip to Rome, Italy. It was a very providential combination of two so far separate conferences/forums coming together in one place at the same time. On the one hand, there is the youth meeting organized by the Pastoral Care of Universities – the preparatory meetings of which I attended in Holland and Romania, as you might recall if you’ve been following the blog. On the other hand there’s the European Forum of University Students which has met in Belgium and Rome before, as also recounted earlier on this blog (see links by clicking the name of the place).
Amazingly enough members of both meetings were accommodated in the same place, Mondo Migliore in the municipality of Rocca di Papa just outside Rome. As you can see above, the location is stunningly beautiful, just opposite the Pope’s summer residence Castel Gandolfo, on the other side of a huge crater/lake. THe funny thing was, though, we arrived there 3 days early. Actually, both meetings were to start on the 9th, but we had been given ambiguous information on one of the meetings, which had a separate part for Italians only beginning from the 6th. In addition to a funny look from the reception we got some free time to spend in bella Italia!
The first thing we did was to get to know our municipality, Rocca di Papa. There was a steep hill which we had to walk up to reach the old square. We didn’t realise how long it’d take and how hard it’d be but we did it and the way back felt much shorter and easier, naturally:) At least we got to see some impressive sights. Above you can see the hill from the modern central square (see pic 1 below), now have a look down from the top of the hill (pic 2 below).
During the 2 days we could spend as ”tourists”, we visited 3 of the pontifical basilicas: St. Paul Outside the Walls (just after the Pauline year and the publication of my book it was a special moment), St. Mary Major (where we went to Mass) and St. John Lateran (near where I went to the Paoline bookshop and got 2 great books for my master’s thesis). We also visited the Forum Romanum, where I and Mari obviously conversed in Latin.
We spotted some Finnish tourists who were typically Finnish (dull, quiet, not realising where they are and what lies before their eyes and under their feet etc). I went up to them (two groups on 2 occasions) and asked them in Latin to take a photo of me. They were initially confused but then realised what I was asking and took the photo. When I thanked them in Finnish, they found it slightly funny but said nothing back. Couldn’t change their Finnish ways.
On the 9th we met some familiar faces over breakfast. In addition to the usual European delegations we learned we were going to be joined by three Middle Eastern delegations: A Hebrew one from Haifa and two Arabic Christian ones from Jerusalem and Beirut. How happy I was to be able to be fully half-European and half-Arabic, as I really am! The Arabic delegations became good friends very soon (see photo above: Arabic delegations in front of Mondo Migliore). But there was an unfortunate incident as well – I lost my camera that morning on the way to the first meeting place (I am posting photos taken by friends). The only exception St. Anthony seems to make it cameras – it’s happened twice already.
Above you see the place of the first meeting of the Youth Forum of University Students. We went through the history of our meetings starting from Brussels, the meetings with the president of the EU parliament Pöttering and the goal of this meeting, which was to define more clearly our mission and sign a mission statement. This was accomplished in a later meeting. Below you see the happy group with the brand new Mission Statement.
If you’d like to read the document, see below. If you find it interesting and want to participate in future, let me know.
One funny incident was that we were told a bus would get us to this important final meeting but no such bus appeared and so we were forced to order taxis, wait for an hour or more and pay for the ride ourselves. We arrived late and finished late and had to skip lunch but there was one advantage: I and Mari made use of the extra time and asked the Hungarian delegation to teach us some Hungarian. So we got a paper sheet full of words and expressions. Photo below in tribute and thanks to the girls.
But as I said earlier, this meeting was partly combined with the meeting designed for university students by the Pastoral Care of Rome and that of several European countries under the patronage of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences. I and Mari from Tampere were the Finnish delegation for both events, but from many countries (such as Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Spain) there were huge delegations sent to this event. The opening ceremony at the Lateran basilica was amazing, not only thanks to the presence of students from all around Europe but also because I got to carry the Finnish flag and sit right underneath the statue of St. Paul which is on the cover of my book (see post below on the book).
In the program of this meeting there were workshops where people would share their experiences and thoughts on different aspects of the Faith. The theme was ”New Disciples of Emmaus – Being Christians in the University”. On the basis of the Emmaus story we reflected upon faith and science as well as the sacraments and evangelization. I got to speak a couple of times and a Russian Orthodox brother gave me a beautiful card of Sts. Peter and Andrew as a token of gratitude and admiration, which was a nice surprise, since I didn’t even know there were non-Catholics in the crowd. In the evenings we would have dinner together in huge groups and then gather outside to sing songs, play and dance in many languages.
Later on there was another big celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica. Before entering the World’s largest church we took some group photos. Then we started moving toward the entrance, where I accidentally or providentially met one of the flag carriers who reminded me I have to carry the Finnish flag. So I parted with the group, which anyways got to sit in the front row just behind us.
After the Mass we had a special audience with the Pope in the Apostolic Palace, which proved to be a very special event, for it was the first time that I got to shake hands with the Pope and look him in the eyes. He zig-zagged through the crowds and I had been smart enough to stay at the very back but closest possible to the central aisle where he’d walk.
Well then, on the last evening we had a great time at a concert just outside the University area of Tor Vergata, the university area where we had been having the workshops and dinners and songs and dances. It was also very near the location of the World Youth Day 2000 Cross. The concert was hosted by an Italian speaking in Italian, but other languages and countries got their share because of multilingual interviews and translations. There was both Christian and secular music in a good atmosphere. It was a celebration of multi-nationality, inter-culturality and catholicity. It ended in a beautiful show of fireworks.
The transportation was fairly well organized (buses took us there and back and we wandered in flocks to and fro singing songs as on pilgrimages:). The worst exception was an accident on the first night when Mari’s bus hit a car because of a stupid dog on the way, but luckily no one was hurt and the group arrived safely at the accommodation. At the concert we had fun with a Spanish group from Córdoba, singing Mala Persona etc (on the last night I saw the beginning of their Sunday Mass in Andalucían dialect:D). On the way back from the concert on the night bus we had fun with the Arabs while the others were already sleeping. We had been joined by an Iraqi Christian from Mosul (where my roots are, too!) and so we had fun with songs and jokes and all.
The most amazing thing, however, was the flight back home. It had already been an amazing providence that I got the ticket on the 6th, because the plane was very full and they said there was little chance of getting a seat with an ID ticket (stand-by). Many, including a couple on their way to their honeymoon trip, were turned down, but I (after a Rosary) and another Catholic girl (actually an old friend of my sister’s) were let on board. But this time, on the way back home, I was actually turned down at the gate (although they had let me through the check-in!) – there were no free seats left.
”No?”, I asked… a second of silence… with no more time to waste, I asked: ”What about the jump seat?” – ”Jump seat? Let me check”, came the answer. And the man checked, and the answer was positive! My dad had taught me to ask for the jump seat in such situations, this is the last resort, the seat in the cockpit right behind the pilot! But then they asked me for my ID card… oops. ”No, it’s my dad who works for the airline… ” When they walked me to the plane, the same question came from the staff. ”No, it’s my dad… but I learn fast and I’ll do whatever I’m told.” ”Well, we can only take staff members… ” The door to the cockpit was opened and the pilot heard the news – I’m only the son of the mechanic. But again I told him I’d learn the required things and happily abide by all his commands. He let me in!
The flight was amazing. The scenery is so much more beautiful from the cockpit. Also, it was incredible to see how many petty details the pilots need to know and handle to make the plane fly safely. With the headphones on I heard all the conversations between different planes and was totally confused at all the codes and sounds and everything. I kept quiet and observed, but the pilots were surprisingly sociable (the nice kind of authentic and real Finns – rehti, reilu ja aito suomalainen).
They taught me stuff about the plane and flying and told me stories and asked me questions. I taught them to reply to the contacts made by the airports of countries we flew over in their own languages (many Slavonic countries, especially Poland, which the co-pilot addressed with a newly-learned ”Jak leci?”). And we ended up talking about theology for much of the trip!
We talked about Jerusalem and peace in the Middle East, Reformation doctrines, female priests, salvation history, hypocrisy, and 9/11. The pilot told an anecdote – he was flying on 9/11 and he overheard a conversation between Helsinki-Vantaa and an Aeroflot plane on its way to the US. They told the plane they cannot go to the US because there has been a terrorist attack and the airspace in the US has been closed. After a moment of silence the answer came in a Russian accent: ”Come again”. ”Yes, there has been a massive terrorist attack in the US and they won’t accept any flights, you have to go somewhere else.” Again a silence. Another heavily accented Russian response: ”Confirm USA closed?”
They had apparently not believed what they heard until they got the same message from Russia when they had already flown past Norway – then they turned back. Luckily my flight didn’t turn back but arrived safely in Helsinki-Vantaa. The most breathtaking sight was that of Helsinki by night from the sky – beautifully lit… I could see all the way up to Järvenpää and further. At the airport Mari surprised me and attacked me from behind – she had not seen me on the plane and had thought I had not made it and thus was happy to see I had come home too. All in all it was a wonderful week, many new friends, new encouragement in the faith and a lot of stories to share – some of which you’ve just enjoyed reading right here.