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Stories From Rome

Andrew Gochuico

For my third long weekend, I went to Bucharest, Romania. As soon as we arrived at the airport, one of my friends took us all aside and warned us to watch out for pickpockets because Romania is known for petty theft. Even though my friend had told us that, I was still shocked when one of us got pickpocketed the next day.

What had happened was we were all walking in a sort of circle formation (I was in the back of the circle) after buying pretzels when I suddenly noticed a woman in the middle of the group. She put her hand into my friend Sarah’s coat pocket and pulled out Sarah’s blue cell phone. It all happened so fast and I was so shocked that I froze and just watched the woman walk away. My friends were way ahead of me and I didn’t want the woman to get away so I decided to follow her. I went up to her and said, “That’s my friend’s phone. Give it back.” She ignored me and kept walking. I repeated myself, but stuck out my hand this time, hoping that would prompt her to give it to me. The woman said something in Romanian and slapped my hand away. I looked around at the people walking by and said, “Help! She has my friend’s phone!” but I was either too quiet or the people couldn’t understand what I was saying.

Right as the woman started to cross the street, my friends found me. “Sarah! That woman has your phone and she’s crossing the street,” I said worriedly. Sarah immediately ran after the woman, followed by my other friend Maria. They were both yelling at her to come back and give back the phone. They crossed the street, narrowly dodging cars, and caught up to the woman on the other side of the street. Sarah grabbed the phone out of the woman’s hand and then, surprisingly, the woman gave Sarah tips on how to avoid getting pickpocketed. Luckily, that was the only experience we had with pickpockets that weekend.

— Andrew Gochuico
   Rome, Spring 2016

Fr. Thomas Esposito

A little church named Santo Stefano has been the standard Mass site for UD Romers in Assisi for decades. To reach the humble hut of unadorned bricks, students descend a steep flight of stairs carrying them away from the bustling pilgrim paths. Saint Francis himself might have visited this 12th century sanctuary; he would certainly consider its material poverty more conducive to prayer than the gloriously frescoed basilica housing his mortal remains nearby.

I was a sophomore named Bryan Esposito in the spring of 2003 when I visited Santo Stefano with my classmates. Our chaplain, Monsignor (now Bishop) Conley, celebrated Mass for us on a dark and cold February evening, and I recall standing in the back right corner of the cramped church as he exhorted us to imitate the sanctity and simplicity of Francis’ life. I had no suspicion at the time that the good Lord would grant me an unrequested gift: to return to Santo Stefano and share the experience with new UD friends from the other side of the altar.

Very few Romers have the privilege of returning to such formative and unforgettable places once their semester ends, and I am surely the most spoiled of all. In the fall of 2011, I entered Santo Stefano once again, now as a Cistercian priest named Father Thomas and the unofficial UD “travel chaplain.” The church appeared as I remembered it, and images of Monsignor Conley’s Mass rushed to mind as I approached the altar. During the simple liturgy, I kept looking out at my congregation of students, fascinated by the fact that I was in their shoes less than a decade ago.

My homily centered on the concept of a “thin place,” a physical or even emotional point at which the barrier between God and man, or Heaven and earth, is tangibly thinner, or more permeable, than other spots. Santo Stefano was an immensely consoling thin place for me as a student, and I rejoiced at the opportunity to share that same place and grace with new UD Romers as a chaplain.

— Fr. Thomas Esposito, O. Cist.
   Rome, Spring 2003