This is it...the last day. So bittersweet.
We awoke this morning at 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. departure on the bus to the Roman Forum. Sandro took us through the forum for an hour, showing us all of the amazing historical sites, including the place where Julius Caesar was betrayed and the Curia -- the building where the Senate of Rome would've met to make decisions for the people.
After the forum, we jumped back into the bus to travel to St. Paul's Basilica, located outside of the walls of Rome. Traditionally held to be built over the grave of St. Paul, the beautiful basilica has many small chapels located within its walls. We were lucky enough to use one of these chapels, the chapel of St. Stephen (the first martyr), to have a service of Baptismal Renewal. After a call to worship, a short meditation, and a reading from Paul's letter to the Romans, we called each student and adult in the group to come forward to receive a renewal of their baptism. We read each of them their personal verse chosen for them and then gave them a blessing to remind them of the covenant they took in their baptism. It was a powerful and reflective moment for all of us.
Following St. Paul's outside the walls and lunch, we travelled to see the Pantheon in the heart of Rome. Springing up from nowhere between the narrow streetways, the Pantheon was originally built as a temple to the old Roman gods, but has been used for hundreds of years as a Catholic church. Built as a perfect half of a sphere, with the width of the building equal to the height, it is an amazing work to behold and also houses the burial of the great Renaissance artist Raphael.
We finished our day with a visit to the Colosseum (see above picture!). We had about an hour to walk through the levels of the Colosseum and explore what is the only of the Seven World Wonders that is located in Europe.
Our night concluded with a trip to Piazza Navona for some shopping and our final group dinner. We posed with street actors, grabbed some trinkets, and enjoyed a wonderful two hour dinner at the Old Bear Taverna just north of the piazza. Walking home from dinner, we made sure to end our trip in the best fashion, with a stop at Giolitti for some of the most delcious gelato in Italy (maybe the world). Thanks to a generous donation, each student had a chance to get their own gelato on us as we wrapped up our last night together in Europe. As you can see, they really hated it!
Tomorrow morning, we'll be rising at 6 a.m. for a 7 a.m. departure to the airport. We depart at 10:00 a.m. Rome time on Alitalia flight #628 for Chicago. We should arrive around 1:40 local time in Chicago, retrieve our baggage and clear customs, and then jump on the bus to head home. Our estimated arrival time will be around 6 p.m. at the church, but we will notify via text a more detailed time as we get closer to home.
Please pray for our safe travels, and that our health would stay positive as we deal with long travel after a long trip together. We are all very exhausted and tired already, and the jet lag surely won't help. Please also be respectful of your students as they return home tomorrow evening. Trust me, they really want to tell you all about the trip, and they will. But it may not be tomorrow night. We will all need a good amount of time to decompress and really put our journey together into perspective, and that will mean that we can't share everything about the trip right away. Be concious of your student's needs as they return home, as right now more than anything they will be looking forward to the comfort of home and family and their own beds!
We have had a simply amazing journey together over the past ten days, and we are thankful in so many ways for the people who have made this trip possible. Our lives will never be the same, and the people here with us will forever have a special place in our hearts. From Athens to Samos, from Patmos to Kusadasi, and all across Rome, the spaces, places, and history we experienced will be sealed on our hearts. As we move into a new chapter of our lives, may we all be transformed by the same God that has transformed the world through those whose footsteps of faith we followed together.
May we continually and eternally follow in their footsteps of faith, and perhaps leave some foosteps of our own.