By Elena Dini
ROME — Saint Mary’s College of California held its 10th pilgrimage to Rome, in collaboration with The Lay Centre, Jan. 13-Feb. 5. The course, “Walking in the Footsteps of the Early Christians,” part of the college’s January Term Program, brought 20 students to Italy.
Father David Gentry-Akin and Brother Chris Patino of Saint Mary’s College led the group; Dr. Lori King, who is based in Italy and collaborates with The Lay Centre, helped to facilitate the pilgrimage.
Upon their arrival, the students were welcomed at The Lay Centre with a presentation by Dr. Donna Orsuto on the theme, “Making the Most of Your Roman Sojourn,” followed by a lunch where they met the resident community. Christiaan Santini, new Lay Centre staff member and an official tour guide in Rome, explained to the students the historical setting of the Celian Hill.
Saint Mary’s Senior Caydie Tretola came to Rome to visit the renowned historic city, but also to nurture her Christian faith. As a student majoring in allied health sciences, Tretola said there aren’t many opportunities to talk about religion in her usual classes.
“I am a Christian and I am trying to be more connected with my relationship with God and to be able to see the history of Christianity is great,” she said, adding that she was inspired in the seminar by the concept of charity and how hospitals were very much connected with service.
“This really resonated in me because I have been looking for ways of melding science and religion into my vocation,” she said.
The program also offered students many opportunities to live their Christian faith concretely.
“At the Basilica of St. Agnes, I felt a presence there. I remember sitting at the end of the Mass and crying. I was so overwhelmed with good feelings and there are no words to explain it,” Tretola said. “My Christian faith has been very individualistic so far, but here I got a sense of community. Although I don’t like other people to see me vulnerable and in an emotional state, I was able to pray and felt people around me supporting me and that was a very important experience.”
Tretola said she also enjoyed the group’s visits to the The Lay Centre.
“I love how diverse The Lay Centre community is. You can feel the respect and acceptance among the people living there,” she said.
Colin Clancy is in Rome for the third time but this experience was very different from his previous tours, which included a visit to the Scavi, St. Peter’s Basilica and Castelgandolfo.
Clancy said he had a “very touching experience” in Subiaco, where the only painting of St. Francis that was completed during his lifetime is housed in a chapel dedicated to the saint. Clancy said he was so moved by the image that he wept.
“My middle name is Francis,” he explained. “I think this is what this trip is all about: opening yourself up to God.”
Clancy said he also enjoyed the group dynamics on pilgrimage, where students felt comfortable sharing their personal thoughts and experiences.
“In our daily life, our guard is so high, then you come here and leave all that behind, being in an environment where you can be open and not worry about the judgment of anybody and dive deep into your faith,” he said.
The program’s structure also facilitates open communication among the students, including one aspect called the “Emmaus Walk,” where one walks with someone else while sharing and discussing issues. The pilgrimage also offered time to discern important choices.
“Before coming on this trip, I had a big decision to make about my career. Here, I had a talk with Brother Chris about vocation and he told me, ‘Pick whatever is going to bring the most love in the world.’ And that helped me moving forward,” Clancy said.
The students also participated in important events connected with the life of the Universal Church, such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The group participated in the afternoon of prayer and reflection organized by The Lay Centre and the Centro Pro Unione Jan. 23. The group also attended the General Audience with Pope Francis Jan. 29. They brought a zucchetto and Pope Francis stopped to bless it by placing it on his head. The pope also gave a rosary to a student who was celebrating her birthday.
In addition to facilitating Saint Mary’s College JanTerm pilgrimage to Italy, The Lay Centre also welcomes one or two St. Mary’s students during the second semester, while they study at a pontifical university in Rome.
(Photo: Brother Chris Patino)