World Youth Day 2005

Rome and Assisi

These entries were posted live from the trip and are listed chronologically.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos on these pages are by Brandon A. Evans, © The Criterion


Day 1 -- Travel overseas

Even now, young people and adult chaperones from all over the archdiocese are on their way to the airport. In a few hours, we'll all be in the air and on our way to Rome.

A few details: our pilgrimage group of 170 people has been split into three distinct groups for our travel overseas. Some of us are flying out of Indianapolis, others are flying out of Detroit, and still others are flying out of Cincinnati. With the exception of the Indianapolis group, who are flying first to Philadelphia, then straight to Rome, most of the people are flying to Paris first, where they'll transfer to Rome.

I probably won't have the chance to update with any posts until we actually get settled in Rome. Since I'm with the Cincinnati group, we're looking at an overnight flight with a 9 a.m. arrival time in Rome (keep in mind, though, Rome is seven hours ahead of Indianapolis time right now). For information about updates on other parts of our website, click here

The real kicker will be that as each of the three groups arrive in Rome and join up, we won't be going to our hotels -- first there will be a whole day of touring. It's an interesting idea: that to prevent people from napping all day and/or messing up their sleep cycle from jet lag, everyone will be kept awake and active until we all have a chance to crash that night.

Luckily, they'll be plenty to keep everyone's mind busy. The pilgrims have the chance to walk around the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Colosseum and the Catacombs. After that, we will meet for Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The forecast for the day calls for low 80s with some clouds -- sounds great!

Then, probably with much thankfulness, we'll be able to check in to our hotels near the Vatican and enjoy our first dinner together -- and get some needed rest (and some of us will do some much needed web posting).

In case you're wondering about the picture above...well, since I'm not actually on the pilgrimage yet, I don't have any pictures. So that's a picture of clouds that I took from my backyard the other day. It kind of looks like the view out an airplane window. I tried to get a picture of the sign for the Indianapolis International Airport as I drove past it coming home from work, but it's a little hard to drive and photograph at the same time. I don't even want to post my attempts!

By the way, feel free to click on the picture above for a larger image. Just about every picture that you see posted on this page will be something that you can click on for a closer look. Just letting you know.

Next time: from the Eternal City!

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:25 a.m. (EST) on August 10, 2005 in Indianapolis

Day 1 -- Travel overseas, Part II

As I write this the group of pilgrims that I'm traveling with (about 50 of them) are enjoying a little quiet after our in-flight meal. We're about halfway to our connecting flight in Paris.

Already the flight has been a unique one, not least of all because within earshot of my seat I've heard more than one young person mention that this is there first experience on an airplane. The young man sitting two seats to me left was thrilled at every pitch of the plane and enjoyed his glimpse of the disappearing ground after take-off.

It goes without saying that unless these same young people love long boat rides, that they have not been overseas either.

I would wager to bet, though I can't be certain, that this is the first time overseas for many of the young people -- or the first time to another country, period. My first real trip outside the U.S. was on a pilgrimage I took to World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. Though I thought I was prepared for travel in a non-English speaking country, I was still struck with a deep sense of how much I was a foreigner when I arrived on Italian soil.

I remember looking at all the signs and advertisements in Italian and wondering what they were for, and struggling to do such basic things as order food and ask for directions. There is the overpowering knowledge, especially at first, that you are definitely outside your backyard. All that is comfortable and taken for granted is now a little bit more confusing. Perhaps it was my being young, but the feeling of fright at that thought passed quickly, and within a few days in Italy I was feeling right at home, with a few exceptions, of course. Then came the time to savor all the things that make Italian culture different -- to savor the chance to be immersing in a brand-new culture.

It reminded me, as I'm sure it does to many and will to these young people, of why we value diversity and difference. It's because it reveals to us all the levels of creativity that God bestowed humanity with. Unlike any other living creature, we have the ability to create cultures, foods, complex languages, art and music.

I revel in the thought that this pilgrimage, besides its spiritual benefits, will be able to bless these young people with the chance to experience so many new things. I myself, though I've been to Rome twice before, have never been to Germany, and having studied German for four years in high school always wanted to go. I'm eager for all the chances I'll have to try something new and have (hopefully safe) adventures. At this point in the trip there is so much promise.

And, of course, there is the ever present thought that when our cultural adventure is over, home is waiting for us with all the rightful comforts that familiarity bestows. Our own beds, favorite books, television shows, music and food is still there.

Perhaps that thought should give us all pause to pray for all those -- particularly refugees, whom our archdiocese serves with great devotion -- who either have no home or no home to go back to.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at evening on August 10, 2005 somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

Day 2 -- Arrival in Rome

Throughout the day on Thursday, the three different flight groups of pilgrims from the archdiocese arrived in Rome and immediately boarded buses to go out into the city.

The group that I was with, known as the "Cincinnati group," because of where our flight departed, arrived at about 10 a.m. -- which was about 4 a.m. Indianapolis time.

Our first stop was the Colosseum -- one of the ancent marvels of architecture.

From there, it is only a walk across the street to access the Roman forum. Right in the middle of the city, the forum is host to the ruins of the Roman Senate, the location of the funeral pyre for Julius Caesar and the temple of the vestal virgins.

During our trip into the ruins of the forum, our group split into two sub-groups. Father Jonathan Meyer, associate director of youth and young adult ministry for the archdiocese, led one of the tours. Having spent a few years in Rome studying at the North American College, it seems like he knows every nook and cranny. One of the things he found us was the building which used to house the Roman prison -- the same one that St. Peter and St. Paul were brought to before their executions.

While seeing the forum was amazing, it was far more interesting and far more powerful when our small group climbed down the narrow stone stairs of the prison and into the tiny, dank room where it is believed the saints were held. Father Meyer led the group in a prayer and the chance to, for a moment, reflect on the importance of what had happened in that place.

Another highlight of the day, surely, was when all three groups finally joined up at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (named as such because it is outside of the ancient walls of the city of Rome). The 170 youth and adults then joined another American group -- from LaCrosse, Wisc. -- for Mass with Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and several concelebrating priests.

Only yards away from the tomb of St. Paul himself, we listened to the New Testament reading that recalls the conversion of Paul from a Christian persecutor to Christian saint -- and heard Father Eric Johnson, vocations director, tell us in the homily that our primary role in this pilgrimage was to look for Jesus Christ.

Below I've posted some pictures from our experiences during our first day of touring. None of them have any caption, as time doesn't permit it -- though any pictures that run in next week's Criterion will include full caption information.

As I write this, we are nearing arrival in Assisi for our second day of touring. We will have Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis, enjoy a meal and have a chance to walk around this lovely hillside town that was host to two of the greatest saints of all time -- St. Francis and St. Clare.

If I get time I'll also post a few more pictures from our flight -- and in the coming days I'll work on piecing together some short digital video clips of all we're doing in Italy.

Photos - the Colosseum and Forum:




Photos - St. Paul Outside the Walls:




Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 9:23 a.m. on August 12, 2005 in Assisi, Italy

Day 3 -- Trip to Assisi

Today was spent driving three hours each way to visit the popular tourist town of Assisi, known most commonly as the home of both St. Francis and St. Clare.

During our ample time on the bus passing the beautiful hills and olive tree orchards of Italy, Father Jonathan Meyer led the group in a Rosary and also gave them an explanation of who St. Francis was -- especially to prepare them for the historic sites they were about to see. While commonly known as the patron of animals and a lover of peace -- and even more commonly known as a garden/lawn ornament -- St. Francis was mostly a man deeply in love with Christ; a man so intensely called to imitate Christ that he lived his life in abject poverty, seeking only the sonship of a child of God.

The pilgrims today not only got to see the burial place of St. Francis, but also where died -- and where he lived. They could go into the relic chapel and actually see the famous brown tunic that the saint wore, preserved cleanly under glass. And they also had the chance to celebrate daily Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis, with Archbishop Buechlein (cameras, by the way, were forbidden inside the Basilica, and there were a fair number of guards who were enforcing it -- I was however, able to get a picture or two during Mass...see below).

After Mass, we were all treated to a wonderful Italian lunch at a local restaurant -- soup, bread, potatoes and something delicious called chicken "hunting style." Not only was the food great, but the large windows lining the hall looked out onto the Italian countryside. Since Assisi is a walled city built onto a large hill, the scene in the restaurant and all over the city was breathtaking. We even watched, after lunch, as a heavy thunderstorm moved in just as our scant hour and a half of free time began.

After getting wet enough, and seeing no end in sight, Laura and I opted to make the wise investment of two small umbrellas. From that store, it was a 20-minute walk, mostly up very steep and narrow roads, across the town and to the church of St. Clare. By the time we made it, the single sheet copied map of Assisi was falling to pieces in the rain. In fact, just as we rounded a corner at found the large church, the section of the map that I was in tore apart. And by then, surely, my feet were soaked, along with my pants.

More adventure was to follow as two pilgrims, in the confusion of the rain and the crowd, got separated as we were boarding our buses near the church of St. Clare. It took nearly a quarter of an hour to track them down, but we weren't leaving without them and all ended well.

As it turned out, the two were from our Cincinnati group -- the same group that found trouble by getting split apart in the forum yesterday. As they got on the bus, I felt a certain tension as to how to act toward them. Everyone was frustrated at having to wait for them and lose free time tonight, but yet felt bad for them and didn't want to make them feel worse than they already formed. I was content to nod and go back looking out the window, when -- just as the two young men were making their way to the back of the bus -- someone yelled out, "Form a gauntlet!" The apologetic young men, along with the rest of bus, were able to share a smile.

It was G.K. Chesterton who said that every inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered. Knowing that, and trying to live it, I hope that the inconvenciences keep coming -- and I'm sure that as this trip continues to unfold there will inevitably be many more long as we see them as that.

Tomorrow we start our day with Mass in the great Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City, followed by a tour, a chance to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II and a walk-through of the Vatican Musuem and Sistine Chapel. Then, the rest of the afternoon is free!

Photos - Assisi:



Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 6:13 a.m. on August 13, 2005 in Rome, Italy

Day 4 -- Vatican City (preview)

One young woman on the trip today told me that her parents were watching this blog, as I'm are sure the parents of other young people on the pilgrimage. So far everyone on the trip is safe and happy, though we're all dragging and very tired. The past couple of days have been jammed full of the major sites in Rome and Assisi, and today was no exception.

We not only toured the great Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican City, but had Mass there with Archbishop Buechlein and took and extensive tour of the Vatican Musuem and Sistine Chapel. The afternoon has been given to the group as free time, and I'm certain more than a few people are using it to nap and get ready for our overnight train to Germany tomorrow.

I will post more in the morning (I'm looking forward now to enjoying a nice, long dinner and evening), but until then here are a few preview pictures from our adventures today. So many turned out that I won't know which to pick for the next post!

Photos - Vatican City preview:


Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 5:09 p.m. on August 13, 2005 in Rome, Italy

Day 4 -- Vatican City

This was the day that I imagine many of the young people have been waiting for, especially given the massive amount of news coverage that was given to the locality of Vatican City during the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI this past April.

Today was our chance to tour what many consider to be the most beautiful Catholic church in the world: St. Peter's Basilica. The tiny nation-state of Vatican City is also home, among many other things, to the famed Vatican Musuem, which the pilgrims also got to tour -- a tour that includes the Sistine Chapel (the same chapel used by the Cardinals to elect the pope only months ago).

Our day started with a very rare opportunity. In fact, it was so rare that Father Jonathan Meyer said that in his four years spent in priestly study in Rome he had never seen it happen: our pilgrimage group was allowed to celebrate Mass in the altar immediately behind the main altar of the Basilica and underneath a massive bronze sculpture of the chair of Peter. There are many side altars in St. Peter's, situated along the small chapels that line the sides of the building, and usually visitors can only get permission to celebrate Mass there. Already, several young people have cited the Mass as the highlight of the pilgrimage thus far -- and one young woman said that it was particularly moving when we prayed our creed in the church that has come to symbolize the center of the Catholic world.

As for the main altar of the church, only the pope is allowed to celebrate there. When he does, he is offering Mass on an altar that sits directly above the known resting place of the earthly remains of St. Peter himself. It is a place that has been venerated for Christians for nearly two thousand years at the burial ground of Peter, and recent archeology has all but proven what faith has always known.

After the early morning Mass, the young people hurried to wait in line for the better part of an hour to gain entry into the Vatican Museum, which has priceless Christian and Roman art that dates from all time periods -- from massive sown tapestries to the largest oil painting in Europe. They also walked through the Sistine Chapel, where a bevy of guards and officials constantly monitor the hundreds of people who squeeze in, shushing some and taking others outside for having taken flash photography. All in all, tens of thousands of people visited the Museum the same day that we did.

The pilgrims also get the chance to file past the tomb of the recently deceased Pope John Paul II (there is a picture of it posted below that was taken by my wife, Laura).

The rest of the afternoon was given over to free time, as the young people prepare for the next major task of the pilgrimage: tomorrow we board trains to Milan, Italy, and from there board trains to Germany (overnight). The next day we'll enjoy a leisurely boat ride (with a Mass) along the Rhine River, then an evening festival in Cologne to welcome all those about to take part in World Youth Day.

I will not be able to post for at least another 36 hours, so below I have posted many pictures from our time in Vatican City for you to enjoy. We'll also tour a few more places on our way out of Rome tomorrow -- I will post those pictures in Germany.

Photos - St. Peter's Basilca:





Photos - Vatican Museum:



More pictures previously

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 6:03 a.m. on August 14, 2005 in Rome, Italy

Day 5 -- Leaving Rome

Update: All the pilgrims have successfully made it by train to Germany and are checked into their hotels -- some of the group in Neuss and some in Duesseldorf.

As can happen, the Internet at our hotel in Rome went down before I was able to post the full update on our day at the Vatican. It is below.

As I write this, I'm aboard a European train somewhere in Switzerland, bound for Germany. We left Rome in the midday and arrived in the evening in Milan, where we all had dinner on our own then caught the train we're on now. I'm sharing a room with six other youth, with whom I've been chatting for longer that I should.

What I should be doing is writing stories for this coming week's print edition of The Criterion, but for the past several hours I've been leaning my head out the large window of the train cab along with many others on the train. The sights here are surreal. The Italian landscape and heat give way, slowly and in the darkness, to more Swiss architecture and colder temperatures. The Alps rise above us, elevated concrete roads dart around the railroad tracks and mountains, and the valleys glisten with hundreds of city lights. And that's just in between the myriad of tunnels.

As I should get back to writing, I will post more from the train ride and our final morning in Rome (where we crammed in even more touring), along with pictures for the boat ride we'll take up the Rhine River and from our first night in Cologne.

Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 12:53 a.m. on August 15, 2005 on train in Switzerland

Day 5 -- Leaving Rome, Part II

Today was our last day in the Eternal City, but even though we were catching a 12:46 p.m. train from Rome's Termini station bound for Milan (and from their an overnight train to Frankfort, Germany), there was still more to do and see.

The day started with Sunday Mass, celebrated by the archbishop, inside the chapel of the Casa Pastor Bonus, the hotel which most of our pilgrims stayed in while in Rome. It was a former convent and is still run by religious sisters, and it features a spacious chapel with a modern rendition of the first marytrs of the Church being blessed by St. Peter.

It was there that Father Jonathan Meyer warned the young people that just as difficulties had already been a part of the trip, that they would continue and our job would be to bear them with faith so that God could use them for good. It was an appropriate message coming the day before a lot of hectic travel and before our schedule shifted from our own to that of World Youth Day.

After Mass, the pilgrims loaded their baggage unto a bus and we headed out to take a walking tour of three other major Roman attractions: the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (where the youth tossed a coin over their shoulder as a sign of wishing to return to Rome) and the 2nd century Pantheon.

All the time that remained after that was for a quick pasta lunch in a restaurant that, coincidently enough, featured a strange combination of Italian and German decor. Then it was off to Termini Station, the central station in Rome for buses, trains and cabs.

Now, when it came to our train, the tour leaders reiterated to us that when a train, such as ours, is to leave at 12:46 p.m., then that is when it leaves. NOT at 12:45 p.m. or 12:47 p.m. Tthe trains run to the minute and are merciless upon those who don't measure their lives with the same obsessive accuracy. The trouble and worry came with trying to get more than 170 people, and ALL their luggage, onto train cars already packed with people bound for Milan.

Needless to say, it was unpleasant (in varying degrees for different people). A ticket mix-up on the part of other passengers left many of our youth and adults standing with their luggage outside of the six person cabins in a narrow hallway. It was eventually resolved, and after several hours we arrived in Milan, Italy. While a city known as a icon of fashion, more than one pilgrim noted to me how dirty the city was, how much trash lay around the fabulously expensive looking buildings and the strange people that littered the area.

While those things didn't stand out so much to me, I did note note the high level of commercialism. There were, after all, two totally separate -- and totally elaborate -- McDonald's restaurants on the SAME city block. I've got to say that I've never seen anything like that before.

We only had a few hours to eat before boarding our trains to Frankfort. The boarding went more smoothly, but the common experience was that the cars were not very "sleep friendly." In my six-person cabin, we piled luggage on the floor so that our facing seats had foot rests, and awkwardly positioned ourselves all over in a mostly vane attempt to sleep. One young man came and joined us by sleeping in the now-vacant luggage rack. Ironically enough, what started as a joke turned out to be the most comfortable bed in the joint.

The trip was frustrating, but fun. There was time for games, for talking, for laughing and for looking out the window (I mean, literally sticking your head slightly out the window). It wasn't long before the temperatures dropped and the Alps started to rise before us. My post below describes the sight. The valleys lit with hundreds of lights and the moonlight rock faces of the mountains were beautiful beyond words -- and while frustrated that my attempts to photograph the images failed miserably, there was a peace in knowing that some things can't be photographed, and sometimes that's part of what makes it so beautiful.

As I noted below, we arrived in Germany safely, and that's where I end this post tonight. Tomorrow I'll share the images and stories from our first day in a new country. For now, I offer the following pictures from our last hours in Rome and departure by train.

Photos - Last minute touring:





Photos - Our train ride:


Posted by Brandon A. Evans at 10:57 p.m. on August 15, 2005 in Duesseldorf, Germany

Before the trip: Pre-Blog

Italy: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5

Germany: Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13

(Archive Page 1 | Archive Page 2 | Archive Page 3)

After the trip: Post-Blog


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