Chance encounter with monk brings opposites together to find the eternal truth

St. Peter's reach envelopes the Catholic world and the city of Rome.
St. Peter’s reach envelopes the Catholic world and the city of Rome.

I interrupt my blog series on Playa del Carmen to report an interesting encounter on the streets of Rome Monday night. It’s one that can only happen in a city like Rome.

I was coming back from a scambio, the Italian word for language exchange, near Piazza Navona when I crossed a street in Piazza Venezia next to a young man in a long black monk’s robe. We had to sprint to escape some mad speeding Italian. The monk said to me, “Stay behind me. I’ll get hit first.”

It was quite funny coming from a man who probably doesn’t hit too many comedy clubs. He was an American monk/priest from California finishing his fifth year of study in the Vatican. We had an interesting conversation.

“What will you do after your fifth year?” I asked.

“I will go back to California. I will go to a monastery in the desert east of Los Angeles.”

“No shi …” I said. “Oops! I’m sorry, father. I was a sportswriter for nearly 40 years.”

He laughed.

“No problem. I understand.”

I’ve met numerous priests during my 10 months in Rome but never a monk. He was about 5-foot-10, wiry, with a handsome face, black, longish hair and a wispy beard. Without the black robe he could pass for a jazz musician returning from Alexanderplatz, Rome’s top jazz club. We talked about language and how the Catholic Church still has a strong movement underfoot to infuse more Latin into Sunday services around the world.

This guy had connections. He told me he’s met the pope and was standing next to Pope Benedct XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, on Feb. 11, 2013, the day Ratzinger became the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign. I asked him if it surprised him.

“Surprised?” he said. “Yes. Everyone was. It was the biggest secret.”

He told me he loves Rome and still has fun. He goes to dinner with friends, jogs in the parks, reads fiction. I asked him if he likes soccer.

“Yes, I’m a huge A.S. Roma fan,” he said. “Lazio just SUCKS!”

(I made up that last part.)

Seriously, it made my night. We had a hearty handshake and slapped each other’s shoulder, two Americans, loving our lives overseas but from two totally opposite ends of life’s spectrums. I probably couldn’t understand his feelings for God in the most religious city in the world and he surely couldn’t understand my feelings for lust in the most romantic city in the world.

Still, a city brought two people together in a mutual act of respect and grace. Rome is eternal in more ways than one.