Rome, Italy: Day Three – January 5, 2001

Today’s update has been written by Judy Osborne, Seattle, and Diana Westbrook, Richmond, Va., because the events of the day occurred in so many different locales that it was impossible for one person to be everywhere.

Rome Day ThreeThe sun shone on all Soulforcers the entire day, no matter where they happened to be. It was a sunny, glorious day, about 65 degrees, perfect Soulforce sweatshirt weather.

Morning

Ed, Peter, Bob, Dotti and I stuffed ourselves into the morning crush of the subway to catch the early sunshine on the Coliseum. The overwhelming presence of that relic, sculptured by early sunlight, assaulted our senses as we emerged from the station. After a few artsy photographs of arches and each other, we detoured to the nearby Basilica di San Clemente, where excavation is continuing on three levels.

Entering into the 12th century upper basilica, we were dazzled by the color and intricate detail of the apse mosaic and other Byzantine-style art. Descending into the next level, we found a labyrinth of naves and apses, intricate columns exposed in gaps between brick foundation walls, fascinating scraps of antiquity being fitted into archaeologic puzzle pieces, and intricate altars. Even further down we entered a fourth century B.C. temple to the early god, Mithras, including a beautifully carved altar displaying various animals being sacrificed. We even found a river down there. We were struck by the way later religions obliterated the remains of earlier ones without the least bit of respect for faiths that went before.

Needing to leave too soon for our noon action at the Vatican, we pulled ourselves reluctantly out of the deep remains to wander for a while through the Roman Forum. The area is huge, anchored at the end by Mussolini’s enormously obscene tomb of Victor Emmanuel. Each emperor built his own greater forum, while mostly preserving the earlier versions. All are still there in the remnants of history, and one can walk the paths of Caesar and the sacred spots of the vestal virgins. Too soon we needed to dash back to the subway, arriving at the hotel without anybody’s pocket getting picked, just in time to participate in the day’s planning.

Afternoon

Every vigil has its own personality, dictated by the weather, media coverage and what we collectively think would be the most fitting approach for that day. The vigils have been building in drama each day on the theme of gift-giving, leading to the giving of the most symbolic and important gift planned for Saturday: Ourselves.

We walked the 15 minutes to the Basilica along the narrow sidewalks with many others heading to St. Peter’s Square. We were carrying a rainbow-colored box we had crafted of gift-wrapping paper, in which we planned to deposit the gifts we were bringing for the residents of a shelter for battered women. After waiting to make sure the bus was safely in place to take us to the shelter afterward, we walked silently in single file (mostly) with wrapped gifts, gathered in a semi-circle and began to sing some of our favorite choruses.

We sang for 10 minutes, with people gathering round. Kara then walked to the center of the semi-circle and placed her gift there. The rest of us followed. After all the gifts were in the center, we sang one more chorus, and then picked up our gifts and began the short walk to the bus, singing all the while.

We boarded the bus and began our trek to the shelter through narrow, winding streets leading up the side of a hill. It was a beautiful part of Rome we hadn’t seen. The women’s shelter was a solid, salmon-colored building on a quiet street.

We were greeted by a diminuitive woman, who led us to a large room with a sofa and huge wooden dining table. She introduced us to the eight women who live there, seeking shelter from abusive home situations. The women stay no more than 100 days, receiving counseling and other support. One woman had two beautiful children.

photograph from shelterThe scene that followed defies description … singing all around, with J.D. accompanying us on his guitar. The Italian women sang folk songs and even opera, with great enthusiasm and expressiveness. They brought out strong espresso-like coffee, home-made raisin bread and cookies, and then we toured the shelter.

A spontaneous scene in the hallway transcended any barriers of culture and language. One woman suggested that we sing "Twist and Shout," and our interpreter, Guilia, took the lead and began doing the twist, which led into the rest of us forming a human tunnel and stooping-dancing through it. We finally left, out of breath … and reluctantly.

One particularly important moment came when the women offered that the struggle of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders was not unlike their own struggle to build a whole life despite the Church’s attempts to marginalize them. An amazing moment of recognition, an epiphany.

Evening

Time zone differences don’t permit a write-up of the evening worship service with our Italian hosts. But an update will follow … stay tuned.

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