When I initially had the idea to study abroad during my J-Term, I knew that I wanted to go to Europe. I have always been fascinated by their architecture, their more urbanized way of life and systems of transportation, yet also the immense history that lies behind a façade of modernity. I also happen to be a devout Roman Catholic, and so when I found out that a trip was headed to Rome, Italy, I knew that I had found my course.
Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t intend for this trip to turn into any kind of religious pilgrimage. I knew almost nothing about what I was getting myself into. Heck, I thought I would be lucky if I even got to go into some of the beautiful churches of Italy and France, let alone spend time in prayer, thoughtful reflection, and celebration at holy mass. My travels took me to some of the most beautiful and mesmerizing churches I could ever have imagined seeing; I was able to attend mass in the Vatican at St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Duomo in Florence, in the Basilica of Notre Dame Fourviere in Lyon, and at Notre Dame in Paris. Words cannot describe the immense amount of joy that filled my heart as I was able to celebrate mass worlds away from my home and all that I knew in each city’s respective most famous church. I may not have understood every word, but my knowledge of Latin and the Liturgy itself allowed me to at least be able to follow along and recite the prayers and responses back in English. In numerous locations I couldn’t help but sit and gawk at what was surrounding me—the stained-glass windows in Saint Chapelle I know I will never forget, and the beauty of the chants echoing throughout the walls of the Duomo during mass brought about a flurry of emotions that are difficult to encapsulate with words. In both the Vatican and Notre Dame I spent a lot of time crying—crying at the beauty and the majesty of what humans had created for what once may have been personal glory, but was now full glory devoted to God. At the break for the Sign of Peace during mass, it was truly unbelievable how impactful simply shaking hands with a stranger and offering them peace was. We didn’t know each other, we couldn’t hold a conversation, but we desired one thing for one another: peace. I had found my home abroad.
So many churches lined the streets in both Italy and France, and it was a really inspiring thing to see in a world and culture that continues to deny Christian principles and values for the benefit of the self. My rosary in my hand, I even got mistaken for a priest by a beggar outside of Santo Spirito in Florence! So much of our tours and museum visits dealt with the Church and I feel so much more confident in my knowledge of the Catholic faith and tradition after this trip. I never would have expected that I would glean so much spiritually from travelling abroad; sure, I had hoped, but I had no idea the power with which God would operate in me as I took in some of the most interesting and beautiful urban environments and churches in Europe.