Fr. Cuenin guides students, staff to Rome and vicinity

Brandeis group (and many others) recognized at audience with the Pope

When I came to Brandeis, never did it cross my mind that my college years would include a tour of the Vatican, much less Italy in general. As a young Jew from Rochester, Minnesota, I was most grateful to be invited and join many of my Catholic peers in exploring the “Eternal City.” As a history buff, I was hungry to see the sites where event upon event occurred which shaped today’s world. I was even more excited to explore the culture of a religion different from my own, and Catholic Chaplain Father Walter Cuenin's annual trip to Rome for members of the Brandeis community provided a perfect avenue to do both.

From the moment our plane touched down outside of Rome, we made sure to make the most out of every second in Italy. We barely had walked into our hotel rooms before Father Cuenin had us out walking through St. Peter’s Square (which was only a couple meters from our hotel). I remember gaping first at St. Peter’s Basilica. It is an incredible building, looming over all of Vatican City, which its magnificent dome (designed by Michelangelo) visible to all Seven Hills of Rome. It is not possible to gain complete comprehension of its size until you are walking through its spacious halls, and climbing the tiny stairs pressed against the curved side of the dome – only to exit upon a balcony on which you can see all of Rome and more.

Fr. Cuenin celebrated Mass in the crypts beneath the Vatican.

I was amazed at the elaborate and detailed decorations of all the Vatican. Every single mosaic, fresco, sculpture and painting made you stop and take a second look. There was an incredible amount of detail; so much so that it hurt my head trying to take in everything before me. And of course there was the Sistine Chapel for which my peers and I had no words to describe, except for the fact that many of us spent more than an hour craning our necks up to see each and every image sketched onto it surface.

I think the common theme for this trip was “jaw-dropping.” I at least had to massage my jaw a couple times a day due to gaping at everything I walked by. Rome like most great world sites is a city built over city after city. It was not uncommon to be walking by ancient ruins one moment, only to discover that you are in a busy intersection. It is impossible to really comprehend all of the history that happened under the dome of the Pantheon or within the caverns of the Colosseum, but we did our best to take in all the Eternal City had to offer us.

There was a special dedication by the group to sampling as much Italian food as possible, a goal which caused many of us to pack our largest belts. Many of us also did our best to take several moments of silence to just enjoy the many breathtaking views before us. Some of the most beautiful parts of the trip were when we watched the sunset from the Spanish Steps, or drove through the rainy Italian countryside outside of Assisi.

We also had the incredible fortune of participating in an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Though I am not Catholic, it was heartwarming to watch such a celebration of faith and love. We appreciated being amongst groups who came from all across the world to see this religious leader. We were sure to yell loudly when a Cardinal announced that “Students and Staff from Brandeis University” were in attendance. I admittedly brought along a cardboard cut-out of Ollie, and I am pretty sure the Pope must have seen it waving in the air.

For me, this trip was a true Brandeis experience. Father Cuenin was considerate of the non-Catholic students on the trip; he made us feel welcomed and comfortable in the Catholic culture of the Vatican. He was delighted to share the Eternal City with all of us, and I emerge from this interfaith experience feeling enlightened and grateful. This was an incredible trip, and one that I hope Brandeis students have the opportunity to experience in the future.


The author is president of the Brandeis Student Union.

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

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