Loras student from Manchester who visited Europe for the first time reflects on how seeing Catholic holy sites affected her spiritual life
By Allison Klostermann
Special to The Witness
DUBUQUE — As part of the J-term at Loras College, I was able to fulfill a dream. I was enrolled in the class “Little Less Than a God” and traveled with 25 students, mainly juniors and seniors led by Dr. Jacob Kohlhaas and Naomi Clark. During my travels, I had the opportunity to see Amsterdam, Florence, Perugia and Rome. The moment I started to tour Amsterdam, I was amazed by all of the unique architecture and history I was encountering. Our group met up with a tour guide in Amsterdam, so we had the opportunity to get a guided tour of the cities we visited. This was a great way to learn more about each one.
During our time in Amsterdam, we attended Mass at the Church of Saint Nicholas. From the moment we walked into the church, I was captivated by all the architecture and paintings I was standing in the presence of! From the walls to the ceiling, it was something that I had never really encountered before. Even though I could not understand everything the priest was saying during the Mass, I could make out some of the prayers and follow along. It was a new experience to attend Mass in a different language.
As we traveled to Florence, we had the opportunity to see the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower. The outside of the church catches anybody’s attention. A picture does not do justice for how big and beautiful it is. The different shades of green and pink bordered by white made me want to stare at it all day. After waiting about 30 minutes in line to get into the church, I had the opportunity to go inside. I was expecting the inside to be as ornate as on the outside but soon discovered it was a simple, beautiful church inside.
Perugia was a quick stop for us on our travels through Italy. This town was a nice change of pace. It is a lot quieter than the other cities we had visited up to this point and had very little traffic. As I walked down the middle of the street, I did not feel like I was going to get hit by a car. I enjoyed this stop because I got to enjoy some quiet time before traveling to Rome.
Growing up Catholic, Rome has been at the top of my bucket list for places to see. I was not disappointed in my trip! Once we arrived in Rome, I could not believe that I was there! The first stop we made in Rome was to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. From the outside, it does not look like an enormous church, but once I walked into the church, I could not believe how huge it actually was. What caught my eye as I walked in was all of the detail in the ceiling. It was amazing and captivating! As I walked closer up to the front, I soon realized that there were many different side chapels. Above the altar was a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ and his apostles, which was made out of small mosaic tiles. Pictures do not do justice to the beauty we were encountering!
The hotel we stayed at was only a five- minute walk to the Vatican, which made it easy for us to go and visit every day we were in Rome. The first night in Rome, we went to the Vatican, and I have to be honest, it did not set in that I was actually there that first night. I think it finally set in the next day when we arrived for our Scavi Tour. It is a tour underneath the Vatican. It is a tour that is very hard to get tickets to visit. So we were very fortunate to have this opportunity. A highlight of the tour was when we got to see the tomb of St. Peter. Next, we went to visit the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. While I made my way from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica, I was amazed at how big St. Peter’s Basilica truly is. Standing from the back of St. Peter’s and looking towards the front, it seems like the church never ends.
Our class was fortunate to be able to go to the Angelus blessing by the pope. I made sure I had all of my souvenirs brought, so I could have them blessed by the pope. The closer the clock struck toward noon, the more crowded it got to be. People from all over the world flock to Vatican Square to attend this blessing. We had a great view to see Pope Francis! When Pope Francis finally came out to give his blessing, I could not believe I could see him from a distance! Going to the Angelus blessing will be a memory I will never forget. We were fortunate that our trip was planned for that day because Pope Francis left shortly after on a trip to Chile.
After climbing almost 900 steps, we finally made it to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. Even though I was out of breath, the view was breathtaking from the very top. There were a lot of people up there, but that did not take away from seeing the view. When we got back down in front of St. Peter’s, it was hard to believe I was at the very top. The top looked to be so far away.
This trip was an opportunity I will never forget! This trip has helped me come to understand how truly universal the church I belong to is! How it is more than buildings, but the people. The visitors were from all different countries and ages. Just being there has a special effect on you that is hard to put into words. It was also exciting being able to be around a group of young people who know a lot about the Catholic faith and who want to share it!
Allison Klostermann is a junior at Loras College in Dubuque. She is from Manchester, Iowa, and a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in Manchester.
Photo: the author in front of the Vatican in Rome. (contributed photo)