Message to Spring 2020 Students from JFRC Director Dr. Andrews... and his Dog Bacio!
22 March 2020
Dear JFRC Students,
As evening descends on an eerily quiet Laetare Sunday here in the Eternal City, I find my thoughts turning to you, an amazing group of young men and women who comprise the JFRC class of Spring 2020. “Laetare Sunday” is the traditional name for the fourth Sunday of Lent. It gets its name from the Latin word laetare, “to rejoice.” How strange, to “rejoice” during a time of penance and fasting! And yet, in the Church’s infinite wisdom, we are reminded to rejoice even as we find ourselves presently living amidst a very real Lenten period in our own lives. I trust this note finds you well and I say to you, Rejoice!, even as each of us continues to adjust to these strange and extraordinary times. Let me begin by sharing good news that all our JFRC Spring Semester 2020 students are safely returned home. Also, my gratitude to each of you, and to your families and friends, for the tremendous effort and support that have helped make possible your safe and speedy transition from the JFRC campus to your home. During the next few days, I ask that each of us take time to share our gratitude for the many blessings we have been given -- personally and as a community that stretches across continents and generations -- whether in quiet prayer or helpful deeds.
We miss you! That is mostly what I want to say, especially after receiving many, many notes and emails from so many students. The hallways and classrooms and residence halls here on campus are too quiet without you, even as we follow Prime Minister Conte’s emergency quarantine restrictions that allow only the most essential workers on campus. Almost everyone in Italy now works remotely. The squares and piazzas of Rome, all restaurants and cafés, stores, public parks and gardens, museums and galleries, villas, and churches (even the Vatican) -- everything has been closed, now for almost three weeks. The streets are barren; we can only leave home in order to buy groceries or medicine, and only with a government-issued certificate; all food markets allow only a small number of people to enter at a time; quarantine restrictions are enforced by police and military personnel who regularly walk and drive through neighborhoods. We are lucky to have Bacio (the JFRC therapy dog) home with us, as one of the ways you can legally be outside is to walk your dog. So, Monica and Elisa and I enjoy the monotony of walking Bacio, just so we can get some fresh air during the day! The quarantine has now been extended beyond April 3, and we’ve heard rumors that it may be extended until May. Regardless, the news continues to be grim in Italy until, God willing, the virus gets under control. Yesterday more than 800 deaths were reported in a single 24-hour period, making Italy the hardest hit country (so far) by COVID-19, surpassing China. The healthcare system is stretched beyond capacity, as I am sure you know from reading or listening to news reports.
And still, the Italian spirit of la dolce vita continues to inspire. Every night, Romans sing the Italian national anthem from balconies, then go on to serenade each other until dinnertime. And at noon each day, folks stand outside to applaud and pray for doctors and nurses and those who continue to minister to so many who have been impacted by this illness. There is tremendous gratitude and sense of community here, as well as an indomitable spirit of determination to do whatever is needed on behalf of the common good.
Please continue to be safe. Take care of yourself, and each other. Be helpful to your family and extended community. Wash your hands, often. Take quarantine and social distancing seriously -- there is no other way through the crisis. No doubt, once online classes begin, you will be very busy! I wish you well in the second half of Spring Semester, and know that you will be successful as you begin to re-focus again on your studies.
All of us at the JFRC look forward to welcoming you back to Rome once there is opportunity again to visit. In the meantime, please be assured of our continuing prayers, deep affection, and appreciation for the gift of who you are. Your decision to study at the JFRC and your ability to move forward one step at a time amidst so many challenges and international adversity is a sign of your own infinite value, internal integrity, and spiritual maturity. Do not forget what I shared with you during my Director’s Welcome when we first met: “Rome is not a place, it is an idea, an idea of how to live humanly. Rome will inspire you and break your heart, Rome will transform who you are and who you might become in ways that you cannot presently imagine…..” Little did any of us imagine how these words would play out during your semester studying abroad! But here we are, and it is time now to move forward -- sempre avanti! -- with courage and humility and a deep reliance that the same God who welcomed you to Rome continues to be with you wherever you go. These days, as all of us struggle with frustrations of quarantine, I am reminded of St. Ignatius Loyola, who, as a young adult, was also forced to change his own life plans due to circumstances beyond his control. Locked in quarantine in his bedroom at Loyola because of illness, Ignatius underwent a profound interior change of heart that allowed him to see his life in a new way. He was invited to be moved by the suffering of others, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, and discovered within himself an overwhelming desire to respond. I pray that this time of change and unknowability may also be a time of blessing and growth in your ability to trust in God and in yourself.
As a way of staying connected to us in Rome, I invite you to check out the following link that offers incredible opportunities to “virtually visit” some of Italy’s greatest museums and art galleries: https://anamericaninrome.com/wp/2020/03/italy-museums-visit-for-free-online/
Please keep me and my family and all of us -- staff and faculty at the JFRC -- in your prayers; rest assured you are in ours. Be at peace. Remain safe. Stay in touch!
Finally, in closing I want to share my special thanks to the Herculean efforts from our JFRC staff and faculty who helped get all our students repatriated, and whose work and dedication continue to support our students as we transition to online learning for the remainder of Spring 2020 semester. Along with our LUC task force colleagues in Chicago, special thanks to the JFRC leadership team, Academic Affairs, Student Life, Operations, Budget Office, Communications, and our JFRC Health and Wellness Center staff. In particular, I want to thank our super-fabulous Resident Assistants Tess Mooney, Rory Parker, Vikram Wood, Alex Almanza, and Bethany Yamamoto for helping take such good care of their classmates, even as they had to prepare to leave campus themselves.
Dr. Michael F. Andrews
Director, John Felice Rome Center
Loyola University Chicago