Seminarian spends spring break in Rome

From Vocatio Newsletter
By Caleb Harkleroad

Over my spring break in February I made my first journey to Europe, and I went to visit Rome, the Eternal City! This was a dream come true for me, thanks to a very generous woman, a friend of my mother’s, who recently passed away. She was from Sicily and told me I had to go to Rome; she used her SkyMiles and made this dream a reality.
Upon my arrival I went to Mass at the North American College (NAC) and afterward had a wonderful brunch with the other Georgia seminarians and priests. After a wonderful meal, my two diocesan brothers took me to Saint Peter's Square for the Angelus. This was my first interaction with a Pope, and seeing him, even from a great distance, gave me an incredible feeling. I was in Rome as a man studying for the priesthood of Jesus Christ and there was my Pope, our Pope. It was a day of memorable joy for me, and a wonderful way to begin my trip.
Drew Larkin and Pat Tunnell had classes through the morning so I was on my own until lunch. On my first day I journeyed out and saw numerous churches, piazzas and fountains. Catherine of Sienna's body is in San Maria Sopra Minerva and I was able to go right up to the case and pray. On the same day I also saw Carravagio's paintings and the foot of Mary Magdalene. I came back to the NAC about 1 PM, for Pranza, the main community meal for priests and seminarians at the seminary. That Tuesday I was privileged to attend Mass celebrated by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York. I was privileged to meet him after Mass. We spoke for a bit and I took a picture with him; he is larger than life and has an infectious joy.
I was blessed enough to get a ticket for the General Audience on Wednesday when Pope Francis came around in the car, I could have reached out and touched him; the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of Peter was right there! It, too, was another moment of memorable joy.
I visited all the major basilicas and San Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major), was by far my favorite. When I walked in, the sun was hitting the rose window and the church looked as if it was in the middle of a rainbow. As I walked I marveled at the gold ceilings and the openness of the sacred space. I journeyed down into the crypt and I prayed in front of the actual crib of our Lord Jesus Christ. This moment was and is still a very fruitful well for prayer. I was feet from something that Christ had touched, that Mary and Joseph had touched; this is where the humility of our Lord's earthly life began. It was a very holy experience there on that kneeler in front of the crib and I revisit that site in prayer often.
After that I journeyed to the Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and while there had another moment of intense prayer in doing the Scala Sancta. These Holy Stairs are the stairs Christ was led up to be sentenced to cruci!xion. You can still see drops of Precious Blood on the stairs. I walked up on my knees and it was painful, but the prayer was some of the most intense I have ever experienced, to the point of tears. [Editor’s Note: The stairs were, reputedly,  brought to Rome by St. Helena in the fourth century. ]
Being in Rome was a wonderful experience; it put me at the heart of the Church and was an experience I will never forget. Thankfully I threw my coin into the Trevi Fountain to assure my return to Rome! May we continue to have a holy Lent as we as believers journey towards the joy of the Resurrection. God love you and God bless you!

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