One of my fondest memories, as well as my favorite pictures, from my recent trip to Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II might seem odd or surprise some people.
Most might think after experiencing such a historic event for the Catholic Church and the world that the most meaningful moment would be related to the actual religious activities. Don’t get me wrong. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have been in Rome and been part of the celebration to honor the gift of the now-Blessed Pope John Paul II. 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 busiest tourist spots in Rome, none other than the famous Trevi Fountain, where I really felt Blessed John Paul 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 United States 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 the streets of Rome. They also need to let their hair down and do something just a little hokey, such as stopping at the Trevi for the coin toss. Tradition claims that tossing a coin over the right shoulder and into the fountain will assure one’s return to the Eternal City. 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 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 Navona 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 II 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 Pope John Paul was admired and loved by so many people. He experienced a great deal of suffering, yet he never lost the joy of the Lord. He 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 be true witnesses of the Gospel, isn’t expressing the joy of the Lord 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 Pope John Paul style.
Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.