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Archives From Carthage to Rome: A European experience

November 10, 2021

Editor’s Note: Catherine Bracy, 22, of Carthage, is a recent graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville with a degree in English. As part of her studies with the university, she completed summer studies in Europe. Here, she shares her reflections about that experience.

By Catherine Bracy
For the NCC

This past spring, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a part of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s first Austria Summer Program. It was my first time flying... anywhere! Many other thoughts were concerning me. I was unsure of my finances, the language, and all the logistics involved with traveling. Yet, when everything fell into place, I found myself on a journey that seemed like a dream, and which becomes even more so with hindsight. My trip to Austria was, to use the simple yet profound term my Theology of the Body professor repeatedly emphasized, a gift.

Having arrived a little early, I spent a week getting acquainted with my cozy little room and some people in the Kartause, a beautifully renovated 12th-century Carthusian monastery. Most of the students and staff lived there, attended noon Mass in the chapel, ate and went to class. I was thrilled to see one of my longtime friends there, as well as that one of Franciscan University’s more laid-back friars, Father Matthew Russick, TOR, had come across to be our chaplain.

It wasn’t long before it was time for the big week-long pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi! Having a slight notion of what to expect, we took a bus through the night to reach our hotel, settled in, then off we went the next morning to celebrate our first pilgrimage Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Sometimes we were free to break off into our own groups and explore, though a few days were spent walking many miles on group tours. Most tours were of local churches around Rome, however, we were able to stop at other places as well. Halfway through the first tour, our program director, Brian Kissinger, took us to the gelato shop that had purportedly been John Paul II’s favorite, the Gelateria Giolitti. The ice cream lived up to its reputation!

I was able to pray in front of many saints’ tombs, such as St. John Paul II’s at St. Peter’s Basilica, and in front of the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Mass during one of these days was celebrated in the Basilica Crypt near the tomb of St. Peter himself! One of my greatest opportunities – aside from exploring some of the city, seeing the recommended Capuchin Crypt, and visiting the Vatican Museum – came from shaking the Holy Father’s hand at a general audience. Mr. Kissinger, had arranged to bring us since he and his family had gone for a few years. Pope Francis even paused by Brian’s son to kiss and bless him, since his son was dressed like the pope!

The next day, we were off to Assisi. I was instantly struck by the charming, narrow cobblestone streets, buildings, and the peace that seemed to permeate the city. The healthier, homier hotel food was a definite bonus.

Our first day, after Mass in the Basilica of Saint Clare, was spent hiking up to the Cave Hermitage where Franciscan University’s patron and his brothers often retreated to pray. The next afternoon after Mass and another tour was spent simply wandering the streets of Asissi, exploring some churches, happening upon the tomb of Blessed Carlo Acutis, and buying more gelato and a few souvenirs, of course!

During our walk, a kind man in a shop asked our names. A few of us gave them, and he used a sewing machine to stitch our names in cursive on paper as a gift. Another time, we gave a belly rub to a beautiful black dog lying in a store’s open door, wondering at the peacefulness of the animals and the people. We supposed that Saint Francis’ influence had always protected Assisi.

I returned to the Kartuase, already so in awe of the opportunities I’d received, I thought there were hardly any left. There were still three weeks of a class to start and finish! So I, along with half of the program, found ourselves taking Theology of the Body with the very passionate Dr. Maria Wolter. She would often go on tangents about profound points we were reading in John Paul’s work Love and Responsibility, specifically about how love between man and woman was meant to be at the beginning of Genesis, a gift, freely given and meant to be appreciated. I can definitively say it was the most impactful class I’ve ever taken. In the midst of reading sections of the pope’s work and writing weekly papers, I attended Mass, made friends, joined in praise and worship, and went on a few hikes and swims.

Finally, before our last full week of class, some of us decided to orchestrate our own trip to Poland. Our eventual goal was to visit both Auschwitz and the original Shrine of Divine Mercy. I realized later that the transition – from the sobering barracks, pictures, and barbed wire of Auschwitz to the beautiful Divine Mercy Chapel with the original image, where the Sisters sung and chanted a Chaplet – seemed divinely inspired. It was as though through that course God was showing us how His mercy can always overcome the world.

There are many more small instances I can remember and share, though I’ll stick with my brief original theme. I realize now that on this journey God excelled in His overabundant love, not just through material experiences, but at times spiritually, for me personally.

I am exceedingly thankful to my parents, my now Alma Mater Franciscan University and its study abroad program, and others who enabled me to go. The whole trip was a gift: freely given, making it all the richer, a reflection of the ultimate Giver and His love, fully committed to another’s happiness.

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