Early last Saturday, the 4th, I traveled with two other priest-students to the medieval town of Norcia located in the mountainous Abruzzo region of Italy, some 80 miles East of Rome. We traveled by train from Rome to Spoleto, where we picked up a bus that took us to Norcia itself. From door-to-door the trip took four hours and was filled with beautiful scenery of mountains, tunnels, and rivers.
We were hosted by the Benedictine Monks of the Monastery of St. Benedict. They were very welcoming and hospitable for the five days we were with them. The monks pray their daily office in the crypt of the monastery which is historically thought to be the old homestead where Sts. Benedict and Scholastica were born. The liturgy is prayed entirely in Latin and chanted.
The Palm Sunday Mass was celebrated in Latin with the readings and Passion proclaimed in Italian. The main monastic church was filled with the families who make up the town of Norcia. We were pleasantly surprised to see a good number of young families and children in the town.
My travel companions are not monks and so we found the lenten meal schedule of the monastery to be a bit lacking. They offered a simple breakfast (bread, jelly, honey, coffee, milk) and then a simple cena each evening. No pranzo. So, we each enjoyed a free morning and then gathered around Noon to find a local restaurant for lunch. Norcia is known for its pork and truffles. The famous pasta dish "Norcina" comes from the name "Norcia". We ate well and at a much lower cost than Rome usually demands.
It was a very blessed retreat. I particularly enjoyed the daily Mass the three of us prayed together each morning at 6:45. We were joined by two American students from Rome and the whole experience was quite prayerful.
And yes, we were awoken by the devestating earthquake and the tremors that have proceeded it. I woke up to my bed swaying and went and stood in the doorway of my room and bathroom - not knowing what else to do. It occurred around 3:32AM. The next morning, a tremor occurred around 1:30AM. And once I returned to Rome, I felt another tremor late on Holy Thursday night. Let us keep the Italian people in our prayers as they continue to look for the remains of their loved ones.