One of my fondest memories as well as my favorite pictures from my recent trip to Rome for the beatification of John Paul the Second might seem odd or surprise some people. Most might think after experiencing such an historic event for the Catholic Church and the world that the most meaningful moment would be related to the actual religious activities on May 1st. Don’t get me wrong. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be in Rome and be part of the celebration to honor the gift of the now Blessed John Paul the Second. And yes I cried along with the millions of others watching in Rome and from around the world as he moved one step closer to sainthood. But it was actually something captured at one of the most busy tourist spots in Rome, none other than the famous Trevi Fountain, where I really felt John Paul the Second and the Lord speak to me about the abundant and sweet life or as the Italians say, “la dolce vita.”
My visit for the beatification was part of an Ave Maria Radio pilgrimage and included 58 pilgrims from around the USA and Canada. In addition to the actual beatification, the pilgrims were treated to tours of Christian and ancient Rome. Having been to Italy many times now, I know that folks need a little bit of a break from the tours. They need to get off the bus and stroll through the streets of Rome. They also need to let their hair down and do something just a little hokie such as stopping at the Trevi for the coin toss. Tradition, as well as Hollywood in the classic film “Three Coins in a Fountain”, claims that tossing a coin over the right shoulder and into the fountain will assure one’s return to the eternal city. Okay, I said it was a bit hokie! We’re Christians who don’t believe in silly superstitions, but you know the old saying “when in Rome”… So a few days after the beatification when the pilgrims were pretty much “toured out”, I offered to take a group for a relaxing stroll starting at the Trevi. Being the pushy Italian American that I am, I was the first to make my way through the crowd and secure a perfect spot for the coin toss and picture taking. A few minutes later we were on our way to the Piazza Nuvona and the Pantheon before heading back to our hotel.
I didn’t think much about the coin toss until I got back home and started going through my photos. When I came across the Trevi picture I was stopped in my tracks. What was captured in that image was a perfect snapshot of the sheer joy of the Lord. It was a beautiful expression of what it means to, as Blessed John Paul the Second said so often, “open wide the doors to Christ.” The pilgrims were simply beaming. It was so evident to me that they had the Holy Spirit in their hearts and the love of God and life came bursting through in those big bright smiles. Over the seven days of our pilgrimage I got to know these wonderful people. They all had their own crosses to bear back home. One was taking care of ailing and elderly parents. Another had just gone through a bout with breast cancer. Others were suffering persecution because of their dedication to the Church, but despite everything, they were truly happy and in love with God and the gift of life.
That’s why Blessed John Paul the Second was so admired and loved by so many people. He experienced a great deal of suffering and yet he never lost the joy of the Lord. Blessed John Paul the Second taught us that despite the pain and the problems we can still have real peace and happiness if we open wide the doors and fall head over heels in love with Jesus. If we want to emulate Blessed John Paul the Second and be true witnesses for the Gospel, isn’t expressing the joy of the Lord, whether it’s in our local parish or at the Trevi fountain, a great place to start? It’s all about (John 10:10), the “abundant life.” Or as I like to call it, “la dolce vita” Blessed John Paul the Second style.