This will be a short blog. Presently, I am the leader of a tour group of seniors—mostly members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Netherlands, visiting Rome. We have a full program and there is much to arrange. It leaves me little time to write a blog, or even read my e-mail (let alone answer it).
Our hotel is at a three minute walk from the St. Peter square. Looking from the window of my room on the third floor I see the magnificent dome of the St. Peter basilica, which is beautifully illuminated during the night (and even now, as it is five-thirty in the morning). The crucifixes on the walls and the omnipresent photo’s of recent popes remind us that our hotel is still run by a catholic organization.
We have arrived here in Thursday. Yesterday (Friday) we paid a fascinating visit to Pompeii, the city that was totally destroyed by a spectacular eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 AD. Most of the time the top of the (now dormant) volcano is hidden behind a thick cloud cover, but yesterday the sky was totally clear. Walking amidst the ruins of ancient Pompeii makes one realize that natural disasters are not just happening today. Antiquity also had its disasters, but without any help from international aid agencies or the opening of a special bank account to help the victims.
The guide very ably took us to the major sites of Pompeii. It must have been a vibrant city, with a lot of commerce, and with everything else that through the centuries characterized city life. There was even a red light district where murals above the doors to a series of small cubicles indicated the specialties of the ladies with the oldest profession in the world.
This was the world of the first century of the christian era. It was also the world in which the apostle Paul lived and travelled. There is no document or tradition that suggests that Paul was ever in Pompeii. But is was the kind of world he knew. It was his world in which the gospel had to be preached. That must have been at least as difficult as it is in today’s highly secularized and urbanized world.
Today is Saturday—Sabbath. Some time after breakfast the bus will come to take us to one of the Adventist churches in Rome. I will preach in English, with a translator who ensures a translation into Italian. The local church will provide us with a lunch. From there we will go to the catacombs, and then, among other sites, to the Church of St. Paul outside the wall, where the apostle supposedly was buried.
In the coming days our program includes a visit to Assisi and to the Roman sites from antiquity (e.g. the Colosseum) and, of course, a visit to the famous Vatican Museum and the Sixtine chapel. Those who wish can attend the weekly papal audience on Wednesday morning in front of the St. Peter.
It is indeed a full program which hardly leaves me, as the tour leader, time for a blog. Of course, I am also enjoying the experience. But there is also a bit of stress to ensure that everything goes well, the tickets are bought, everything runs according to the time schedule, and the restaurants do not forget their instructions about the peculiar Adventist eating habits. So far, things go well. And with the blessings from above, I trust it will be a good week!