Rome Sweet Home

Register Writer Rome-bound

My previous, and only trip to Rome, was nearly 17 years ago. I was a Catholic newbie, having come into the Church that March. My wife, Mary, and I were expecting a child, 10 months after miscarrying our first. Our three-week European excursion began in Rome.

I can still recall being awed by the artwork, St. Peter’s, the Sistine Chapel, and the other Churches we visited. I marveled at the history of the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. I remember being struck by the absence of children and pregnant mothers. I recall my anger with the street vendor who cheated us, the joy of a shared Italian meal with friends, and the wonder of Assisi after the madness of Rome.

I return to “The Eternal City,” with more than a decade as a Catholic journalist under my belt. Parts of Vatican City that would have been off limits to me 17 years ago are now accessible thanks to temporary Vatican credentials. Spiritual quests that didn’t exist then, such as a visit to the Tomb of Pope John Paul the Great, excite me today.

I can recall, with great vividness, the strange dream I once had, in which Pope John Paul II made an appearance. I have never forgotten it.

I was kneeling in prayer at St. Peter’s Basilica. Suddenly, the Holy Father was walking towards the door. As he passed, he touched my arm and said, “Walk with me.”

Little was said as we walked, but he walked with his hand on my arm and led me to a room which resembled a library. There, he told me, “I have work for you to do.”

He then brought me to a secretary of some type and asked the secretary to “get me ready for the work I was to do.”

What that work was, I am not certain, but having spent the past 13 years writing about Christ and His Church for a variety of Catholic online and print publications, appearing on television and radio, and having authored a number of books, I have great confidence that the work I am doing is precisely where God wants me.

I remember once being at my wife’s home parish of the Church of St. Eloi in Ghent, Minnesota one Sunday a couple of years back. I was struggling with my calling, the difficulties of providing for my family, and the turmoil that the National Catholic Register was then going through. I was fighting doubt and wondering what God was asking of me. Throughout the Mass, I intently gazed upon the Crucifix and pleaded with God to make his will clearly known.

The priest, Father Jeremy Kucera, who knew me and my work and who often singled people out during the homily, used a word he wasn’t certain he should be using. In his next sentence he said to those assembled, and to me directly, “Tim, you’re a writer. Can I use that word?”

Where everyone else had heard a question, I had heard a very clear statement. Hearing my name uttered, in that fashion, in the midst of a homily, shook me from my contemplation and my doubt. I do not remember my exact response, but I know that Father’s words - “Tim, you’re a writer” - hit me at my core both then and now. It was as if the statement was God’s response to my prayer throughout Mass. “Tim, you’re a writer.” It is an avocation I have fully embraced ever since.

So, as I return to Rome this week, my thoughts are heavy with what experiences I might have and what I’ll be writing about. Tomorrow, I’ll be taking part in a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Verbum Domini exhibit. The Green Collection (Museum of the Bible) and the Vatican Museum are collaborating during Lent to make this free exhibit available to Rome’s inhabitants and tourists. Open from March 1 - April 15, the collection brings together more than 150 biblical texts and artifacts including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, and Protestant items. Pope Benedict XVI is tentatively viewing the exhibit on Wednesday morning.

As the week goes on, I’ll be bringing you some of the sights and sounds and experiences from Rome, a home away from home for the 1 billion of us who are Catholics. Check in throughout the week for my updates.