All roads lead to Rome

This past summer, a group of St. Joe students had the experience of a lifetime when they traveled to Italy. Senior Joe Pearson was one of the lucky few to be able to go.

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From the beginning, I knew my pilgrimage to Rome with other teenagers from St. Richard Catholic Church in Jackson this summer would be unlike anything I initially expected.

Other members from my Catholic parish and fellow classmates from St. Joseph Catholic School—where I am a senior—accompanied me. We were all beyond excited to see what lay on the other side of the Atlantic.

This was a dream trip, a once-in-a-lifetime excursion to Italy where our week-long itinerary would take us to the Vatican City, Rome, Assisi and Venice as we took in the wonders and history of Italy. 

Our visit to Vatican City that left me spellbound.

The entire trip started on a Saturday in June when our flight from Jackson to Atlanta was delayed six hours. Consequently, we missed our connecting flight in Atlanta by three minutes and an entire day of touring in Rome.

The floor of Terminal F in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was harder and more uncomfortable than any floor I’ve ever slept on.

When we finally arrived in Italy, our first stop was the Vatican.

“Having the opportunity to go to the Vatican was special. It was an eye-opening experience,” said fellow St. Joe senior Andrew Sanli, who was on the trip to Italy. “It is truly one of the most beautiful places in the world.”

We walked more than a mile. We walked up and down the stairs of the Vatican. We even visited the Sistine Chapel. We were exhausted.

So there I stood, directly under Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam.” It was so beautiful, it merits the constant accompaniment of an angelic choir.

There, I stared at the ceiling in complete amazement while crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in a chapel of the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope, with complete strangers from all over the world.

Not soon after, I saw the back wall of the chapel where Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgment” adorned the wall. In the center was “Christ, King of the Universe, the Righteous Judge.” He was accompanied by the Blessed Mother, watching over souls as they made their journey to Paradise.

My mind drifted back to the year previous, while sitting in Mrs. Sue Dickson’s world history class at St. Joe as she lectured about the Renaissance. It was as if I had physically stepped into a lecture, and I was totally amazed.

Two days later, we were back in the Vatican, this time to see Pope Francis. Thousands of people filled St. Peter’s Square as far as you could see. We waited in anxious anticipation.

From the back came a cheer. Then a chant of “Viva Papa!” In a minute, our tour group stood 10 feet from the Holy Father. We watched as a mother handed Pope Francis her baby. He took it gently, kissed it on its forehead, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

“Being in the square, with that huge crowd of people, put into perspective why the Catholic Church has (its) name – because it is universal,” said Elyssa Lambert, a former teacher at St. Joe who chaperoned the trip. “It’s incredible to have that many people from such (diversity) be so united.” 

I had very little in common with the people who stood in the Sistine Chapel and in Saint Peter’s Square with me that day. But I felt a distinct kinship with them. After all, we journeyed to Rome to experience God in this profound way through artwork. 

I also felt connected to the millions of faithful who had traveled to that same place and gazed at the same things.

That moment – along with my journey to Rome as a whole – gave me incredible insight to the universal nature of the Catholic Church. It also made me appreciate even more God’s benevolence as He watches over the whole of creation, guiding the faithful home.

My father always said to invest in education and experiences. I got both in Rome. To know about something pales in comparison to experiencing it.