WORLD YOUTH DAY BLOG: Pilgrimage day 9

Maitland-Newcastle pilgrims visit Rome on day 9.

Well today we hit the ancient history tour with a vengeance. We came, we saw, we conquered! It was a busy Friday in Rome, to say the least. Add in the heat and it was a recipe for perspiration. We didn’t let that stop us.

I have to be honest, the drive from our hotel into Roma was not inspiring. Block after block of apartment blocks strewn with graffiti – that was our introduction to this most ancient of cities. But finally we caught a glimpse of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, or as Fr Peter Street called it, ‘the mother ship’!

Our first stop was the Roman Forum. This dates back to the 9th century BC. It is mind-boggling to imagine the gladiators and the chariot races; the kings and emperors who lived on those very hills. The Forum was originally a public square - the business district with markets and temples and triumphal arches. It was built to express the power of Rome. Here we saw the temple where Julius Caesar’s body was cremated. 

Next stop was the Colosseum. As our tour guide Salvatore says, this has the ‘wow factor’! It was built in 315AD and we were pretty excited when Sal arranged to get us in through the gladiator entrance. This allowed us a short time on a viewing platform with no other tourists (believe me, in Rome, this is a rare treat). Deacon James summed it up best when I asked him what he thought and he replied, ‘fantabulous’!

After lunch in a side street of the capital we made our way to the Vatican Museum. Our guide explained the significance of the artworks in the Sistine Chapel because you aren’t allowed to speak inside this incredible place. We were then pushed along by the force of a human tsunami through the halls of the museum. Our guide told us that 25,000 people visit the Vatican each day, but today felt like double that! You literally don’t know where to look and your brain is incapable of taking in the amount of information your guide is explaining. There are statues and frescoes and paintings and tapestries; it is too much to take in, especially given the sea of people moving you along against your will.

The Sistine Chapel was also packed to the rafters. It was fantastic to have had an explanation of Michelangelo’s masterpiece before entering the most famous of chapels.  It was built in 1475 and is the place where popes are chosen, as well as being home to some of the most famous artworks in the world, so it is no wonder we all stood with necks craned in awe. I could not believe that this was the first work of Michelangelo as a painter. It took him four years to complete, working by candlelight. The story behind the art is fascinating.

Nothing can prepare you for entering St Peter’s Basilica for the first time or walking through the crypt where so many popes are buried. The basilica is simply majestic. And huge. The letters that adorn the walls are over two metres high. It is hard to fathom.

A number of pilgrims braved the climb to the top of the largest dome of the basilica. It was a unique journey to get to the top with the staircase hugging the curve of the dome. But the view; now that is the ultimate ‘wow factor’!

When we were waiting to gather to return to our hotel, a journalist from “Rome Reports” asked a group of our Maitland-Newcastle pilgrims to participate in an on-camera interview about our experiences in Italy and what we’re looking forward to about WYD. Meagan O’Brien and Johanna Soo spoke beautifully about what we’ve done so far and what we’re looking forward to and were both great ambassadors for our pilgrimage.


They need more fridges in Italy. The water is often warm and the coffee is not that hot (or so I’ve been told)!

You should probably come to Rome between October and April if you’re not too keen on crowds.


“As Ancient History students the Colosseum was a definite highlight.”
Isabella Mead & Grace Connolly

“Climbing to the top of the dome of St Peter’s Basilica was an experience I’ll never forget. It was great to be amongst my ‘brave’ fellow pilgrims and to share the amazing view over Rome with them.”
Phoebe Spencer

“What have the Romans ever done for us?”
Bishop Bill (or Monty Python)

“I’m really glad I eventually got out of that lift.”
John Leao

OBSERVATIONS: Looking forward

“I am really looking forward to going to Poland, particularly Warsaw. The history of the Jewish Ghetto and Warsaw revolts, and Auschwitz, are all things I am very interested in and read so much about. The Polish spirit and John Paul II; I think that Poland is under-appreciated.”
Leo Walsh

Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.