Hail Mary, Full of grace.

Sister Alphaloretta shuffled along the cobblestone sidewalk, her crepe soled sandals soundless against the bricks while her black garments brushed against her bare legs.  It was late summer in Rome, and the sun bore down with merciless heat on her black wimple. She murmured prayers while dabbing at her chin with a used tissue.  Next to her, Sister Joseph’s lips were also moving, and behind her she was certain Sister Elenata and Sister Joselda were doing the same.  The nuns found that prayer served as meditation as they let their minds focus elsewhere, and it often times relieved their physical bodies of burdens, such as the unforgiving hardness of kneelers or the heat of the afternoon.

The Lord is with thee.

The crowds were thick along the piazza as the nuns made their way at a leisurely pace. Shops had recently reopened after the afternoon siesta, and the tourists were reviving themselves after languishing alongside fountains at umbrellad tables in the square while enjoying bottles of vino.  A young man in his late twenties dressed in loose khaki shorts and a white t-shirt, his arm draped casually across the shoulders of a girl wearing more little more than a swath of fabric misidentified as a sundress, bumped his hip against Sister Alphaloretta’s arm.  He looked over, startled, mortified to have come in contact with this holy woman.  Sister Alphaloretta, peering up at him over her wire rim glasses smiled serenely, and the boy and his partner hurried ahead of them.

Blessed are thou among women.

It was Sister Alphaloretta’s first trip toRome, the first time in her 73 years that she had traveled outside of North America.  Twice before she had attended pilgrimages to Mexico, but this was her first trip abroad.  And to come to Rome to the center of Catholic worship!  She was in the service of the Lord for nearly sixty years and felt as if she was finally reaching a pinnacle. She had been so delighted when she heard the news that the Blessed Trinity of the Holy Spirit Church was going to sponsor her trip to the holy land and was packed three weeks before their flight departed.

And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

It was the fifth day of her trip, and Sister Alphaloretta had yet to tire of her surroundings. They had been able to sightsee much more than she had anticipated and was constantly thrilled and amazed by the sights, sounds, people and food she encountered.  She was fascinated by the frescoes and tapestry work of the halls leading to the Sistine Chapel.  She had stood for hours, speechless as she studied the ceiling of the most famous chapel in the world and attempted to retain each and every detail without the aid of a camera or a sketchpad.  She had knelt in solemn prayer inside St. Peter’s Cathedral, fascinated by the mosaics that even from a short distance appeared to be exquisite paintings. And she had been in awe of the famous Pieta, the extraordinary stone sculpture of the holiest mother holding her son across her lap, now safely tucked behind bulletproof glass.

Holy Mary, mother of God.

Sister Alphaloretta and the others made their way through the city to the Spanish steps, where in her mind she would recreate the Roman Holiday scene that she had watched so many times during the years. It was the scene between Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, and she would dream she herself was the young girl in the movie.  Sister Alphaloretta didn’t let the fact that she was in God’s service prevent her from dreaming about a different life.  It was the reason she was such a movie buff, and continued to enforce the Friday night movie nights throughout the year (except during Lent, of course) in the house.

Pray for us sinners.

Sister believed there was something magical about the movies that in a peculiar way kept her faith in God strong. She believed that as long as God was allowing mankind to make wonderful, magical, sensitive and fantastical movies, that he was still pleased with his people. And Sister Alphaloretta reasoned that if God was allowing the movies to be made, then it was her responsibility to watch as many of them as she could.

Now and at the hour of death.

The sisters entered the Piazza di Spagna Roma and Sister Alphaloretta beamed as she looked up to see the impressive staircase leading up to the Trinita dei Monti church, filled with resident and tourists talking and taking photographs while becoming the scenery.  Sister Joselda would certainly insist that they enter the church and recite a quick novena and Sister Alphaloretta would oblige, but part of her heart would be out on the steps with Gregory Peck, deeply breathing in the Italian air, tasting the Italian red vino, and embracing the life and energy of such a modernly ancient city.

Amen.

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