Summer is on the way, and no doubt some readers are planning trips abroad.
Such a trip is not an automatic path to adventure, wisdom, or an otherwise enriched life. But with some effort — and caution — it can be rewarding.
As G.K. Chesterton warns:
I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart. . . .but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like.
For those determined to visit the Old World — and to avoid such a narrowing of mind — good preparation in art, history, and logistics can help. Some of my own best travel experiences have come from the tips of friends. Here are a few such tips I've collected over the years.
Rome has thousands of beautiful churches. If you happen to miss the one you're looking for, just walk a couple of hundred feet and find another. My favorites, besides the great basilicas like St. Peter's and Sta. Maria Maggiore, are Sta. Anna near the Vatican, the Gesu, St. Agostino, and the American parish at Sta. Susannah. But any Catholic visitor should compile a personal list to keep from being overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices.
And also make sure to take time for a coffee, a gelato, or a slice of pizza — and for watching the seminarians and students coming and going at the pontifical universities. The Gregorian and Santa Croce are both centrally located. Rome is great for dolce far niente moments that refresh in several ways.
St Thomas More spent the last part of his life at the Tower of London before his execution. To see his cell and crypt, you must arrange a tour by writing (the old-fashioned way, on paper) to The Governor, HM Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB, UK, with the date and number of guests. Requests spike around More's feast day on June 22.
But on the old calendar, the feast day was July 9, and on that date a few years back I happened into the beautiful Brompton Oratory for the 8:00 am weekday Tridentine Mass. The priest announced matter-of-factly that the Mass would be offered "for the conversion of England and Wales." I was glad that I did not know anyone else in the chapel. The impulse to high-fives and chest bumps might have been irresistible. I'm still waiting for a priest in Washington to announce a Mass "for the conversion of the United States of America."
Many of the English martyrs were executed at the gallows of Tyburn Tree, marked by a small plaque in a traffic island near Hyde Park. Tyburn Abbey is close by. Other terrific churches include the Jesuit Church at Farm Street, St James Spanish Place, and the recently renovated St Patrick in Soho whose pastor, Fr Alexander Sherbrooke, leads frequent Adoration and processions in a city quarter in serious need of the New Evangelization.
The Capuchin monks reject the repeated entreaties to admit his casket based on his many worldly titles. But he is finally admitted when described only as "Otto, a poor sinner." Other favorite churches include St Peter's, the Jesuit Church, the Augustinian Church (also with close Habsburg connections), and the famous cathedral: Stephansdom.
All of these places reward, above all, walking around, looking up at the architecture that sought to draw the eyes towards sky and heaven, as well as taking the time to absorb the cities, their people, and their various ways.
If you ignore Chesterton's advice to stay home, do take his advice on how to travel abroad: "[I]n international relations there is far too little laughing, and far too much sneering. But I believe that there is a better way which largely consists of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is actually founded on differences."
Enjoy these splendid cities, and be sure to laugh along the way.
Joseph Wood. "Traveling like a Catholic." The Catholic Thing (May 12, 2012).
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THE AUTHORJoseph Wood is a former White House official who worked on foreign policy, including Vatican affairs. He is a retired Air Force colonel, and his career included operational and command fighter assignments in Korea and Europe; a faculty position at the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Department of Political Science; and duty at the Pentagon as speech writer and politico-military affairs officer for the Chief of Staff and Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
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