Hi Friends and family!!!

            Having spent much time over in Scotland, I knew that I would have to make it to the continent during my stay here to see so much more of what Europe had to offer, and I’m so glad my flatmate, Ryan DeMarco* and I decided to go to Rome. Needless to say the trip was absolutely amazing, especially both of us having grown-up in the Protestant Christian tradition, it was great to have a personal view and chance to experience Catholicism for ourselves in the heart of the Roman Catholic Church. Sadly we did not see Pope Francis because he was doing awesome things in the Middle East. Rome’s atmosphere is another animal altogether, we’ve both never seen anything quite like it. From my perspective Rome was a chaotic international culturally-sophiscate poverty stricken high-fashionable centre of culture that ranged from newsstands with Catholic memorabilia next to hardcore pornography, to basilicas on every street corner that made you feel like you had entered into a time period hundreds of years ago, leaving you awe-struck at every sculpture and painting that you saw. As Ryan and myself were reflecting upon how people who live in Rome must become numb to the pervasive beauty around them due to familiarity, I thought about how Toronto might be an extraordinary place all its own that I have grown all-too-familar with. Even for us, everything in Rome slowly began to blend together into one ancient collage. We had meet a woman on the train back from Assisi on the Saturday who perfectly described Rome as ‘a 24-hour open museum’. Quite exactly, which makes one ponder how our cultural sites like New York city will be looked at as monuments to an advanced culture some 2000 years from now.**

            As someone who has studied the Graeco-Roman classics, and much of ancient history, it was a wonderful experience, to see that what one was studying was not a mythical land some-where else but was carved in stone. Of course we knew that it really was history, but to see it, was another thing entirely. Thankfully we also had my friend, Simone Barbagallo, who not only helped us out with a lot of Italian but also knew much of the Latin that I could not decipher on the various inscriptions throughout the Roman Forum and elsewhere. Of particular significance for my own research for my dissertation on Revelation 17-18, was the famous Arch of Titus, which records the triumph of Titus after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. among other things.

Arch of Titus, unoriginal photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rom,_Titusbogen,_Triumphzug_3.jpg

Arch of Titus, unoriginal photo from: http://en.wikipedia.org/

The relationship between the Jewish people and the Roman empire was a continual theme of Roman history and early Christianity that continued to pervade my thinking upon this trip to Rome, as that there can be no doubt that the Christian church inherited the Roman empire, along with much of its evil. In fact, there was a constant tension in my mind throughout walking and enjoying all the cultural beauty and amazing food in Rome, which was: What to do with the benefits of Empire? I’m sure I’ll write an essay one of these days on it, but here we were, in the seat of one of the world’s most ancient empires, yet enjoying fine Italian wine, beautiful weather, sight seeing, a recording of our Christian family history, art, good company, learning a new language (Kudos to Ryan who took to the Italian language naturally, like the good Italian-American that he is!), and eating some of the best food like Bucatini all’Amatriciana (which took me hours to learn how to pronounce properly!!!). I decided I would explore this like only I could, in a rap verse outlining this contrast throughout my thinking, please enjoy here:

What was I to do with all of this, knowing all the while the immense amount of suffering caused by ancient heritage that gave birth to all this? To be honest, while I fully enjoyed my time to the fullest in Rome, because of this tension, our one day trip to Assisi was most definitely a spiritual awakening for me in a way which the Vatican could not be.

            Our day in Assisi, visiting the home town and birthplace of St. Francis and his movement was truly an extraordinary experience on so many levels. From a travel perspective, it was amazing to see outside of the urban centre of the city of Rome, and make it out to the hilly Italian country side, where roses aligned the streets, the sun continually shone, the streets were narrow, the houses looked like those houses in films that idealized Italy, and views of the country side that could not be matched. Spiritually however, after having read the biography of St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton just last semester, I could not help but be overwhelmed and inspired by visiting his basilicas and seeing his grave site, the only thing I bowed to during our entire trip. I remember as a kid seeing in our apartment a statue of St. Francis of Assisi that my dad had, which seemed to be our only piece of Christian iconography in our household and wondering what was up with the birds. Having learned much more about him, I no longer ask about the birds, only about the words they heard and the deeds they saw. St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment***, but was also known as one who strived to imitate Christ in a life of poverty and strove for better relations with the Sultan during the Crusades. Poverty, the environment, better relations with Muslims, all on the basis of imitating Christ’s love…Pope Francis is so far living up to this legacy as well and I hope to imitate both of them as they strive to imitate Christ.

Salute to seeing you again Italy! Blessings
Caleb Upton

P.S. Wasn’t gonna leave ya without a photo gallery 😉

* His blog can be accessed here: http://shouldiwearakilttothis.blogspot.co.uk

** Lupe Fiasco has done something like this on the third verse of his song, “Unforgivable Youth” from his album Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Part 1: http://rapgenius.com/Lupe-fiasco-unforgivable-youth-lyrics

*** It’s a shame that St. Clare of Assisi, one of Francis’ first followers and who was responsible for extending his movement to women has been regulated to be the patron saint of Television.