Spiritual aspect after study abroad in Rome

By Darlene Jasso


Some of the many reasons people visit Rome is for the food, culture and its famous monuments.

The food is phenomenal, the culture exceptional, and the monuments are one of a kind.

Rome is home to the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, and the Vatican with St. Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums — all very famously ancient pieces of architecture that brings awe to everyone.

As a Catholic, one of the reasons I wanted to go and study abroad in Rome was for its churches. Before going, I asked my friends who had previously studied abroad in Rome to make me a list of places I should visit before leaving. They listed random things from singing karaoke in an Irish pub to going to Mass at a very specific church with their favorite American priest. I taped this long list of “Things To Do In Rome” right by my bedside so I could reference it when I needed to find something to do.

That was a magical thing about being in Rome. I had a lot of free time, and during that free time I was able to really explore the beautiful city.

On my list, my friends included the four, highest-ranking Roman Catholic churches, all of which are “Papel Basilicas,” meaning the high altar is reserved for the pope or his representative. These four Papal Basilicas include St. Peter’s Basilica, St. John in the Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Of course, the first monument I visited in Rome was the Vatican itself with St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s Basilica is the burial site of St. Peter himself, the first pope of Rome. It is considered the central point of the Catholic faith and many pilgrims travel from all over the world to visit the basilica to catch the words of the Holy Father.

I would go every Sunday to listen to Pope Francis give his Angelus Prayer to the many followers. It was always such a heartwarming time seeing people from different cultures come together to share and express the same faith. It brings the universe together — hence why Catholicism is called the Universal church.

The second basilica I visited was with my friends: Claire Robinson, a study abroad student from fall 2013, and Thalia Hernandez, another study abroad student who studied with me in fall 2014. Claire had visited me in Rome from San Antonio for a week and she insisted we go! It was a church I needed to check off my list. Therefore, I couldn’t wait to see the beauties of St. John in the Lateran.

After my drawing class, we walked all the way from my school to the Colosseum and then to St. John in the Lateran. This church is the oldest church in the world, and after remodeling and reconstructing the basilica, it currently resembles St. Peter’s Basilica. The ancient church was the residence of the pope until it was moved to the Vatican in the early 1300s. I remember walking into this church and feeling at peace. We went during the late afternoon and got to enjoy the structure, artwork and architecture very peacefully and still. My experience in St. John in the Lateran Basilica was very calming — a great spiritual moment for me.

The third church I experienced was with my fiancé, Edwin Mendoza Hipp, a former exchange student from Guatemala to the University of the Incarnate Word, when he came to visit me in early December. The day he arrived in Rome we went on an adventure in a part of the city I hadn’t explored much. During our journey, we came across the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Perfect. Another church on my list. As the other churches in Rome, this one expressed much detail in every piece that had been placed in the church. Along the sides of the nave were mini-chapels, each representing a different saint. We walked, sat, stood and prayed as we admired the elegance of the basilica.

During my time in Rome I didn’t really have a community where I could share my faith. I love ministry and it expresses who I am, but while I was in Rome I was missing that aspect in my life. The presence of the many churches though helped me grow spiritually, and I feel extremely blessed to say I have been to some of the most prominent churches in the world!

You may be wondering why I have left out the fourth Papel Basilica. I didn’t mention St. Paul Outside the Walls simply because I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to make it out to the basilica. This basilica was founded by Emperor Constantine and was built in remembrance of St. Paul the Apostle. Every time I rode a taxi to the airport I would pass by this wondrous basilica and mention I needed to visit it.

As time crept up on me without being noticed, I didn’t get the opportunity to visit St. Paul Outside the Walls. The day I left Rome (or tried to leave Rome, because I missed my flight), Edwin and I took a taxi to the airport and I passed by the basilica, saying it one last time, “I need to go to that church!” Meaning, I will go back to the ancient city of Rome and explore all I didn’t get to explore, eat all I didn’t get to eat, and revisit my list to check off all the things I didn’t get to check off — The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls being on top of the list.

My time of studying abroad is over, but my time of traveling the world and going back to “Home sweet Rome” isn’t, and (as I say this every single day of life post-study abroad) I cannot wait to go back!


E-mail Jasso at dajasso@student.uiwtx.edu


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