I had the opportunity recently to tour Italy. I traveled with 30 pilgrims from the archdiocese to visit Rome and areas south of Rome.
San Giovani Rotondo, the home monastery of St. Padre Pio, the shrine of St. Gerard in Avellino, Montecassino, the monastery of St. Benedict and an important military shrine from World War II were among the spiritual highlights. Our visit included the beauty of the Amalfi coast, Sorrento and the Isle of Capri. God indeed has created a world of beauty for us.
The experience in Rome began on the bus to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls of Rome — the church under the pastorship of Milwaukee’s Cardinal James W. Harvey.
Francesco, our guide, began the explanation of Rome, the seven hills, how the city began and its changes. His lecture was interrupted with laughter from his “pilgrim class,” who were distracted by the Rome traffic. It’s said that Rome has about a million cars with 750,000 parking spots. It seems that most of those cars drove near the bus that day.
We came extremely close to what I estimated, from my front seat of the bus, were near fatal disasters. We missed cars and motorcycles by inches, but everyone seemed to take this with complete ease and confidence. The bus would stop at a light behind a few cars. Within seconds, scores of motorcycles would infiltrate the lanes with the persistence of ants invading a picnic.
Where there were three lanes, now there were eight lanes with cycles on all sides — including in the lanes from the opposite direction! The light would change and the cycles were off.
Next light, the same phenomenon would repeat itself: buses and cars in lanes infiltrated by cycles, inches from what I perceived as imminent death, then all whisked off safely. I didn’t witness one accident but I did see many side view mirrors dangling or duct taped to cars.
The Roman streets are narrow and the cars are many. A driver could not snack, drink coffee or lose one second of concentration lest disaster occur.
Driving in Rome is not for the faint of heart and it’s not for a “Wisconsin driver.” If this type of piloting occurred here, there would be, in my estimation, a road rage incident every five minutes.
Due to the old city, narrow roads and lots of people, we witnessed a great “respect” for other drivers, “flexibility,” and “adaptability.” Rome drivers are laid back. They have to be in order to survive.
When our bus drove the freeway and was in a lane with slower traffic, the driver would simply flash his headlights. The car in front would move to the other lane, the bus would pass and the car would return to its previous position. No one was upset! I was impressed.
The Rome drivers taught us important lessons in respecting our neighbors. They were all in the same situation. They appeared to know that there’s no way there could be wider streets and less traffic. The situation had to be dealt with as it was.
Drivers used the “zipper merge” with no show of negative emotion or anger. Drivers even gave way to pedestrians who walked out in front of them. Yes, those crossing the street came close to being struck, but never were. The penalties for hitting a pedestrian are great.
The drivers of Rome teach important lessons to visitors. I’m sure they are the same lessons taught by Jesus. Be respectful. Don’t get angry at every little thing. We’re all in this together. There’s the big stuff that we need to sweat, not this.
Thanks, Rome. I hope to return, even though I couldn’t throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain due to repair and cleaning.