Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Visit to St. Peter's Basilica

View of Vatican City from the Tiber River.  St. Peter's Basilica Dome stands prominent.
My first week in Rome has been awesome!  We started it off with a visit to St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.  Warning: numerous pictures equals lengthy post, so get comfy and enjoy the tour.

Let's Begin with a Fun Fact:
The name Vatican is derived from Latin Vaticanus, which translates as "hill of fortune tellers" - a name that was given the hillside adjacent the Tiber River due to the scads of fortune tellers who would gather to hawk their wares.  In the 14th century when the papacy was returned to Rome from Avignon (France), they kicked out the fortune tellers, set up shop, and adopted the shortened title Vatican for the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Peter's Basilica
We arrived to find a very long line (for entrance into the Basilica) that scooted along pretty fast.  The wait didn't bother me because I was in awe of the 140 statues atop the colonnades surrounding the square - most done by Bernini, one of my favorite sculptors.  That's a lot of chiseling, folks.  St. Peter's Square reminded me of the movie Angels and Demons.  While you all are waiting in line with me, let me give you a brief history of the place.

Basilica History
After Christ's crucifixion, Peter and the apostles began spreading the gospel beyond the borders of Jerusalem. Eventually, Peter's preaching landed him in Rome where he was captured by crazy Emperor Nero and martyred in 64AD.  Tradition states that the crucifixion took place near the ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero (not far from where the obelisk stands today).

St. Peter's Basilica #1
While we believe that Peter was one of the special ones who already resurrected with spirit and body after his death (taking the priesthood authority keys from this earth - to be restored at a future time), some believe Peter was buried near his place of martyrdom.  So, nearly 300 years after Peter's death, Constantine I (the first Christian Roman Emperor) decided to unite his empire by building a church over what he deemed as Peter's grave, and St. Peter's Basilica #1 was created (around 322-349AD).  It was at this old Basilica that Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800.

Fun Fact:  While Catholics believe that the apostle Peter was the first pope, history reveals that the first pope did not reign until 260 years after Peter's death.

St. Peter's Basilica #2
Centuries later (1506), they decided to restore and enlarge the Basilica (that was severely dilapidated), employing some of the greatest artist and architect geniuses of the time: Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.  It took over a century to complete (completed in 1626), but the result was a renowned work of Renassaince brilliance that became one of the largest churches in the world - and certainly the most famous.
Ralph Waldo Emerson described St. Peter's as:
"An ornament of the earth...the sublime of the beautiful."

Whether you are Catholic or not, what stands today is an awe-inspiring monument to stunning Renaissance art and architecture.  The age.  The beauty.  I'm blown away.

Maderno's facade (right) made of travertine stone with giant Corinthian columns, is surmounted by 13 statues of Christ, His apostles, and John the Baptist.

Apostle Peter with Keys
Apostle Paul with Sword of the Spirit

Larger statues of Peter and Paul flank the front stairs to the Basilica.

The Swiss Guard - Security to the Vatican
Woman engaging the talking Swiss Guard
Why, pray tell, are they called The Swiss Guard?  Funny you should ask.  In the middle ages, young Swiss mercenaries were the favored recruits in armies throughout Europe because of their discipline, loyalty, and knowledge of revolutionary battle tactics. When it came to guarding the pope and all of Vatican City, it made sense, then, to employ the Swiss. Hence, the Swiss Guard stand vigil at the Vatican.  (Between you and me, they don't look very threatening).

The guard on left does not speak or move. His comrade on the right can - he even has an FBI-type earpiece.
The Portico - Porch to the Basilica
Pilgrims entering the portico are welcomed with an amazing mosaic ceiling and 5 prominent doors: The Door of Death, Door of Good and Evil, Filarete Door, Door of Sacraments, and the Holy Door.
Holy Door is northernmost entrance
Basilica Portico

The Holy Door (or Jubilee Door, right) is cemented shut and opened only a couple of times per Century.

Fun Fact:  The pope knocks on it 3 times with a silver hammer, he says a password and sings, "Open unto me the gates of Justice," and someone reaches from within to bring him through.  Hm.
Once opened, though, the general public can pay an Indulgence fee, walk through, and have their sins forgiven... (maybe I should pitch this idea to bishops for ward budgets).

Inside the Basilica
As we cattled our way inside, we climbed stairs to the cuppola and found ourselves surrounded by stunning mosaics on floors, walls and ceilings, gold accents, marble and stone sculptures.
The Fenced Walkway is lined with gorgeous moldings and amazing mosaics
Look up:  Inside Dome is all mosaic.  Speechless.
Look Across:  Notice how small the people look in comparison!
The Latin words translate to Christ giving Peter the Keys of the Kingdom
Look down to main floor.  This place is massive - those are people on pews.
View from the Top
Then we headed up another 324 steps to the top of Michelangelo's Dome (yes, he was the architect of the Basilica Dome).  You can take the elevator for an additional fee, but we decided to do the calorie burn.  Total climb from ground floor to top - a whopping 491 stairs!  But the view was spectacular.  Wow.  You could see across Rome.

Images of keys are everywhere in the Vatican in association with Peter: on statues, paintings, mosaics.  In fact, take a look at the overview of St. Peter's Square (below) - it is also in the shape of a key.
View of Rome from the Basilica Dome.  There is still a long line to enter.
Bernini's dual row of columns was designed to encircle and welcome guests to the Basilica.  The Egyptian obelisk in the very center of the square is 3,200 years old, stands 25.5 meters high, and weighs 330 tons.

Fun Fact:  There are 13 obelisks in Rome - more than anywhere else in the world - including Egypt, all brought to Rome by various Roman Emperors.

Another Fun Fact:  The Vatican obelisk was originally in a pagan temple in Heliopolis, when about 37AD, Caligula moved it to Rome to ornament his Circus. The same circus that Nero inherited for his rule. There it stood for 1,500 years until 1585, pope Sixtus V came forth (sorry, I couldn't resist) and decided to repurpose the symbol by moving it to the center of St. Peter's Square and placing a cross on top.

One more Fun Fact: In St. Peter's Square, between the obelisk and each fountain (right and left) there is a round stone in the ground.  If you stand on one of these stones and look at the colonnade, the rows of perfectly aligned columns will appear to be just a single row.  Bernini, you're amazing.

Inside Masterpieces
Then we came down the stairs which led straight inside the main floor of the Basilica.  It's the biggest Cathedral I have ever seen.  ENORMOUS.  Those Latin letters are 5-6 feet tall!
Bernini went a little crazy on this very Baroque Throne
Close-up: Stained glass above the Throne

Floor Mosaics - stunning.
Bernini's Baldacchino (Canopy)
Inside the Naive

The Canopy, said to be directly over Peter's tomb, is a grand 7 stories high. To give you an idea of its mega size, notice in picture (right) the extraordinarily puny man (khakis and blue coat) on the far right. Uh...Ya.
Unbelievable Mosaic of Rafael's Mt. of Transfiguration
Close-up:  Notice the tiny mosaic tiles

The original of this 1520 painting is on canvas in the Vatican Museum next door.

Michelangelo's Pieta
Well, after looking around inside and was just about to leave, I saw it... MICHELANGELO'S PIETA, MY FAVORITE STATUE.

He sculpted the Pieta (pronounced: Pee-eh-TAH, meaning, compassion, mercy) in 1498-1499, and is the only piece he ever signed.

She sits reverently ensconced behind bullet-proof glass.  The beauty!

It was a good thing I stuck around a bit longer because there was a procession that entered the basilica and walked the length of the cathedral. Turns out, it was St. Peter's Day - I was in St. Peter's on St. Peter's Day...pretty cool.

Then we got some gelato and went over to see the Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain
Rome's largest Baroque fountain is in the Trevi District, and known, appropriately enough, as Trevi Fountain.  It's BEAUTIFUL.  I didn't realize it was this big (86 feet high by 161 feet wide).

It was designed by architect Nicola Salvi, made in Travertine stone, and completed by Pietro Bracci.

The fountain is at the junction of one of the original aqueducts that supplied water to the hot baths of Agrippa, and all of ancient Rome in 19BC. In fact, it served Rome for more than 400 years.
The Return Investment
Throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain and you may get your wish. Legend says:
     1 coin  = You will Return to Rome.
     2 coins = You will Return and Fall in Love.
     3 coins = You will Return, Find Love, and Marry.

Sounds to me like someone is making loads of money (they say 3,000 euros are thrown in per day).  Here's me throwing one coin over my shoulder.  I'll let you know if there's a return on my investment.

So that was my super awesome P-day last week.  The rest of the week was pretty great too.

The Spirit of Elijah Does it Again!
One appointment was with Sorella Ferrari, a new convert.  We decided to focus our lesson with her on Family History, and as we talked about the importance of doing the work, the Spirit entered the room very strongly.  Sorella Ferrari understood that genealogy was significant but didn't know why.

So, we read a little of Elder Scott's Family History talk (from a couple conferences back), and after a bit she got it, "They need their work done," she said, "so they can enjoy the blessings of the gospel, but only we can do that for them." Brava.

This naturally transitioned into her sharing stories of her family - about her mother and grandparents, and as she did so, a desire suddenly emerged from within her - like a wellspring - to do their work.  She's now eager to meet the ward genealogy specialist to get started.  Let me tell you, the Spirit was so strong - so invigorating - I came away from that lesson energized.  As the Spirit of Elijah illuminated this woman, we couldn't help but feel lit up ourselves.

Me, Sorella Filippe, Ghio, and Kippen at Zone Conference
photo: Sorella Waddoups Blog
Strengthening the Less-Active
We visited many meno attivi (less-actives) this week - women who don't come to Church for a variety of reasons.  The lessons we shared invited a really good spirit with them as well.

Angel from Puerto Rico
We had a first lesson with a gal named Ileana Rechani.  This faithful woman with a big heart was found by other missionaries, but Kippen and I were the first to actually meet with her.  She is originally from Puerto Rico (my mom served a mission in Puerto Rico!), she speaks perfect English, has lived in many places, but has called Italy her home for the past 20 years.

She shared an experience that reveals the type of person she is:
She was watching the news one day when a story was broadcast of an American couple that had visited Napoli (Naples), and the husband was attacked by thieves leaving him in critical condition.  The wife didn't speak Italian, and didn't have anyone to help her.  Ileana was touched by this story and wanted to help, but her 3 boys at home prevented her from considering it.  But when she learned that the couple was actually from Puerto Rico, in fact he was a Senator from there, the coincidence was too much.  Ileana left her kids in the care of her husband, took a train down to Napoli, and showed up at the hospital to help.

And it couldn't have been more timely because the man ended up passing away, and Ileana was there to comfort, act as translator, aid with legal matters, paperwork, cremation, and necessary travel plans to get him back to Puerto Rico.  During this ordeal, she and the grateful woman became good friends.

When the woman returned to Puerto Rico, Ileana went back home to Rome and resumed life as usual.  But then a month or so later, she started getting calls from reporters and news crews wanting an interview. Apparently, the family she helped couldn't keep silent about this angel from Italy and they took their story to the news who did articles and an entire TV show about her.  Word got back to Italy, and now she was famous.

Example, the Best Teacher
Ileana humbly says she was doing only what her parents raised her to do - love and serve. She followed her father's example.  For years, he would make large meals and give them to needy families in the community.  Ileana and her family never knew about her father's good deeds - that is until his funeral. That's when dozens of people they didn't know showed up to pay respect to the man who blessed their lives.

Ileana agreed to read the Book of Mormon and wants to learn more about the gospel - even desires her family to hear as well.  I get anxious about people who seem this golden because I am scared of doing or saying something the wrong way.  She would be such a great member!  You can see it glowing from her.

Seeing Miracles Daily
That was one of the miracles this week, but truth is that we are seeing miracles daily.  People we talk to on the bus, referrals coming from members and others - so many things to do and so many opportunities to teach!  The work is building here in Rome, like a tidalwave swelling under the surface that's going to sweep over Rome and all of Italy.  Even though I don't feel worthy of it all - I'm so excited and blessed to be here.

Rome Zone Conference
DiCaro and Duffin on left.  I'm in way back, center
photo: Sorella Waddoups Blog
Zone Conference this week, I got to see Mikesell, Di Caro, and Duffin again.  It was fun being all back together, but you can tell President doesn't really know what to do with all of us :).

We were practicing role plays - Mikesell and I were paired-up, and President came over, "Now don't just talk about Palermo you two." We had a blast.

Mikesell says the members in Rome 1 don't like missionaries and are actually mean to them.  She is intent to change their attitudes, one way or another.  If anyone can do it - she can.
Kippen and I with Anziani
photo: Sorella Waddoups Blog

Makes me feel even more blessed to be in Rome 2.

I had the best missionary correlation meeting ever. The Bishop was there and giving us all kinds of great ideas, referrals, and inspiration.  You can see the light of Christ burning in his eyes.  He's a good man, and this is a very good ward because many of the members carry that same light about them.

Can't say it enough, this is a very special place.

Intendent Blessings
photo: Sorella Waddoups Blog
Yesterday, Kippen and I were invited to lunch with the Wilkins, the Superintendents over the construction of the Rome Temple.

They shared how the work was progressing.  It's a little slow because of the pronzo hours and holidays, and because Italians work differently than Americans, but it's coming along.

The Wilkins also had worked on the Palmyra and Ochre Mountain Temples in the past.  They said there comes a moment in the construction of a temple, when the Spirit enters before the dedication.  As it draws closer to being the House of the Lord, it becomes something more special than just a construction site.

They are waiting for the Rome Temple to reach that point.  By the way, they said that it looks Italian on the inside - even the Italian construction workers said so.  Vaulted ceilings.  Domes on the inside.  They said it is beautiful.

I See the Hand of the Lord Everywhere
I want you to know that I'm being well looked after.  People seem to really like me here - they keep saying so.  The Spirit is strong here and I can see the hand of the Lord everywhere.

There is something exciting and almost holy about what is currently taking place in this city, and it is very invigorating.  I feel the presence of my family - my ancestors surrounding me, which is super comforting and cool too.

In fact, our apartment is in a place called Fidene, and all the street names surrounding our house are named after places from Toscana (Tuscany - the place of my relatives) :) .

Well, for those of you still reading this post, blessings to you for sticking with me.
Sisters from the Rome West Zone Conference
Love to you All,
Sorella Ashley Nef

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All Roads Lead to Rome

Final District Picture: Sorella Jackson, Mikesell, Marsh, me, Anziano Burnham, Prete, Kasper, Rigby
More Final Goodbyes
It was so hard to leave Palermo.  It's strange to feel both excitement and dread at the same time.  I wanted to go to Rome, but I also did not want to leave Palermo.  I love it.  And I really love the people in it - the Simoncinis, John, Sorella Giambona, among so many others.
Marta, Marsh, Nef
Marsh and I with the some great Palermo Sisters (that's Riccardo Giambona in back)
Erika made me a cake!
She even colored it pink because she knows it's my favorite color

Goodbye to English Course Students
In front of the Church with our English Course sign
Giorgio - He's like a living Muppet.
We said goodbye to our English Course students.  Giorgio, what a character.  He decided to hug me and Mikesell.  We were the ones who found him on the street.

Ciao to Palermo Chow
Tuesday we had our last run of Palermitano food - pane panelle at Nino u' Ballerino.
Me with Nino
Apparently, Nino u' Ballerino is the most famous street food vendor in Palermo and in all of Italy, for that matter.  He's quite the character.  People from all over Italy talk about him.  The missionary from Torino, Anziano Quaresima, says Nino's celebrity is because of YouTube videos of him.  But the food is good. Especially the pane panelle, my favorite food.  Had my last one drenched in lemon. Yum.

We ate at Ballerino's with some of our English Course Students. That's Giorgio in the middle telling a good story.
Cartocci. Yum.

This pastry is my favorite in all the world.  Known as Cartocci ("cones"), but Mikesell and I call them donut cannoli.  Mmmmmm.

The Last Supper - with John
Wednesday, we got our things finally packed, went to say our final goodbyes, and then headed to John's for our last supper (last pronzo) with him.

We thought his mom was going to be there to make the food, but it turns out John was the chef and made pasta alla carbonara - one of the only things he knows how to make.  It was pretty good too.

He did finger-breakdancing (a trademark of times in Palermo), and we took a couple photos.

Then he offered to help with our bags at the station. Good thing too - I had 3 bags and a backpack myself.  Mikesell had 3 bigger bags, and 3 others sacks besides.

Riccardo came and helped out as well.

Stationary Farewells
My final cannoli, courtesy of Sergio

So, we get to the station and the infamous Sergio was there with a variety of sweets for all the departing missionaries.  I didn't leave a gun, but I did take the cannoli :) .

Big hugs to Jackson
Then we loaded our things, said final goodbyes (rough)...

...and got on the bus.

Will miss Riccardo and John (heart of gold, this one)

Going to miss my Awesome companion, Marsh

Goodbyes are the WORST.  We all teared up.
And then we left.

Traveling Up the Boot
A 3-hour bus ride took us to Catania, where we stayed the night (got to see Sorella Marquis from my last transfer in Cagliari), then took a train the next morning from Catania to Messina where the entire train was ferried to land in Reggio Calabria, then we sallied on up to Rome.  It was a long ride, leaving at 8:45 am, and arriving at about 7pm.

We were going to get pizzas in Napoli (known for having the best in all of Italy), but it turns out that it was a holiday and all pizza shops were closed. Luckily some fellow passengers shared chips, pepsi, and fruit with us to tie us over.

Aaaaand, guess who boarded the train in Napoli? Anziano Duffin!  Guess who his new companion is going to be?  Anziano Di Caro!  Guess who are going to be my new zone leaders in Rome?  That's right - I have a feeling this is going to be gooooood. Wish I had a video of our arrival in Rome because the moment the train stopped and doors opened - Di Caro jumped on the train and grabbed Duffin in the biggest hug, while screaming "DOOFIN!  DOOFIN!"

My new companion is Sorella Kippen - we are getting along great.  We have common interests, and she is bright and bubbly.  Pretty fun.  She has Josh Groban, Les Miserables, and Lord of the Rings on her ipod, so we've set our alarm system to music that wakes us with pleasantries like "You Raise me Up."

Little Signs of His Presence
Looks like the Doctor is in town.  Cool.
Lots of little miracles in Rome.  I can tell the Lord is very present in my life.  It's the little personal reminders that keep popping up. Adele songs come on as I pass by shops that remind me of friends in Palermo.  Ladybugs show up on me and Sorella Kippen.  We discovered the Tardis just around the corner from the Temple grounds.  It just makes me smile.
Ladybugs greet me in Rome. Good things are going to happen.

SPQR - It's a Republic Thing

SPQR, the motto of the Roman Republic, is everywhere. Even on park fountains and sewer drain covers.  What do the initials mean?  Good question.

It's an acronym from the Latin phrase, Senatus Populusque Romanus, or, "The Senate and People of Rome," and originates with the ancient Rome Republic government.

But this is no out of date insignia because it clearly remains a prolific symbol in Rome today.

Public Drinking Fountains
The water in Rome is drinkable, and Rome has cool water fountains.  Watch and learn...
1.  Here is the Fountain...
2.  Plug spout with finger.  Water shoots up...
3.  Voila!

Loving Your Neighbor - The Best Missionary Tool
The Good Samaritan by Walter Rane
I finally was asked to give my first talk on my mission - my very first Sunday in Rome.  I was excited.  I love speaking. My subject: I talked about loving our neighbor and how friendships are the best way to do missionary work.  Since we are all brothers and sisters, our Heavenly Father does not want to save us just as individuals, but as families. Together.  In fact, His gospel and Church was established as a means to unite us into one fold, one family, and get us back to our Heavenly Home.  And He does this by having us reach out and serve one another.  But the irony in that principle is that as we look to save others, the very process ends up saving us as well.
"He that findeth his life shall lose it: 
and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it."
Matthew 10:39
The work of the Lord is to save men and women, which means that our work as His disciples is to do the same.  The whole purpose of the Church is one of looking to each others' needs.  You help me.  I help you. We look to serve someone else.  All for one and one for all.  It's a group effort to leave no one behind.

I think this is the principle many people in the world misunderstand about the Church and "organized religion." Many think they don't need religion because their goal is self salvation.  It is true that if we were religious just to save ourselves, organized religion does seem a little silly.  Couldn't you and God just work it out alone?  

Tools of the Trade
But the truth of the matter is that God works through others.  All blessings and ordinances involve more than one person.  You cannot baptize yourself - someone must perform the baptism and there must be 2 witnesses.  It's the same for every other ordinance.  Deacons pass the sacrament.  Elders lay their hands on your head to confirm you a member of the Church.  You cannot give yourself a blessing of healing.  No one ever lays hands on his own head.  We are simply tools in His hands to bless and serve each other.  Here's another example.
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."
Romans 10:17
How do we hear the word of God?  Through people bearing testimony, prophets writing scripture etc.  Our faith is grown by listening to each other speak of God.  Something very very important I have learned on my mission: Salvation is a group effort.  Yep.  We're all in this together, friends.  It does take a village, and aren't we all children in need of raising? Well, the Lord's goal, and therefore His Church's purpose, is to have us help each other Home.
"I'll lift you and you lift me, and we'll both ascend together."
John Greenleaf Whittier
Anyway, that was my thinking this week, and I talked a little about that, but more of my talk was on the idea of friendship as a necessity in missionary work.

It was a good week.  Today we are off to see the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica.  I am SO PUMPED.
It dawned on me how little of my mission is left.  Less than 4 months remaining.  Where is the time going? So happy to be in Rome.  Next week I will have lots of pictures.  Be prepared!

Maximus Happius Missionarius,
Sorella Ashley Nef