Breaking Bread • Jeff Bruno, second from right, spends some time with co-workers from the Aleteia Rome offices. Bruno serves as art director for Aleteia English Edition.   Antoine Mekary photo

Breaking Bread • Jeff Bruno, second from right, spends some time with co-workers from the Aleteia Rome offices. Bruno serves as art director for Aleteia English Edition.   Antoine Mekary photo

By Jeff Bruno | Special Contributor

It seems that almost everybody is envious of photojournalists who travel, with one exception –  photojournalists who travel. When I look at my colleagues and their exploits into foreign countries, war zones, even doing something as seemingly simple as covering papal events, my heart goes out to them.

To see photo gallery on this story, click here.

One might be tempted to think of covering events in the Vatican as easy, even fun. But I can personally attest to the contrary. I’ve been lost in Mexican deserts, fatigued to the point of collapse, nearly arrested, and even as I type this reflection, every fifth or so key I hit I cannot feel due to nerve damage caused by carrying 50 lbs of camera gear for 12 hours each day during the Conclave.  And then there was this trip. I was expecting the worst.

I should have sensed a difference as I breezed through security on my departure, or as the seat adjacent in the plane was empty, or perhaps as the plane touched down in Rome so gently I didn’t even realize we had landed. Red flags should have been waving and alarms sounding in anticipation of what was to come. But how could I have known?

After the first day on the ground, it was becoming apparent that this trip was to be unlike any other. For starters, I was at peace. After all the checking-in business and picking up my credentials, I was off to the streets. Rome was at peace. It’s true that it was crowded, but Rome is a strange place. Regardless of how many people are present, the city seems to be able to accommodate and remain passable, and there’s always plenty of food to go around!

 On that note, I was working with a news correspondent for an international Catholic news and information service based out of Rome, and we were tasked with building a story about St. John Paul II’s favorite dessert place. We went to Giolitti’s, a family owned gelateria that has been around since 1879 where St. John Paul II would frequently get gelato during his papacy.

Now journalists are not always given the best treatment, but on par for this trip, we got the story and images, and were treated to the very best gelato in Italy! However, the thing that struck me as we sat and enjoyed this magnificent dessert was that we were eating from the same place that a Saint, a Saint whom we ‘knew,’ ate. Very cool indeed.

The sun shone brightly on the Friday before the canonizations in St. Peters Square, and the mood reflected this. Pilgrims from every quadrant of the planet were gathering. They were singing together, dancing together, laughing together. I can only imagine that this is something like Heaven.

Then it struck me, the joy, the peace. Isn’t this what every person in the universe is seeking ? Everyone seeks it, and it’s here for the world to experience, it’s in Jesus and His Church. Communion with him and each other. At that moment it seemed so incredibly clear… this is what true fulfillment looks like.

Upon having this revelation, my perspective changed a bit and I became more attuned to what was really going on here. The ‘event’ wasn’t merely a ‘canonization.’ The event was a gathering; a gathering of passionately faithful people filled with Christ’s presence here to celebrate the Church’s acknowledgement that two men, who had touched their lives through their powerful witness and words, were with God the Father in Heaven. I was, and will remain, eternally grateful for this revelation. Everything looked different through that lens. This was a REAL celebration!

On the eve of the canonization we were assigned to cover a candlelit procession that began at the Centro San Lorenzo (just outside the Vatican) that involved hundreds of young people carrying the World Youth Day cross through the streets of Rome to a church located in the Piazza Navona.  The procession was like watching fans of a triumphant sports team after winning the big game storm the city! The passion, the joy, the excitement! THIS is what faith lived out SHOULD look like!

The day of the canonization arrived and, as the photographers and journalists were herded through security, the sun slowly peeked out its head casting a beautiful blue light on St. Peter’s Basilica. It was going to be a beautiful day. As I wandered through the crowds I was struck again by how out-of-the-ordinary this trip had been.

This was more than an earthly event.  This was as epic as it gets … Holy Mass celebrated by the Pope for more than 800,000 people, a declaration of sainthood for Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II marking lives of heroic virtue for all the world to see.

This may have been the best trip I’ve ever taken as a photojournalist. All I can say is that I’m truly grateful. But believe me, I have no illusions about the next trip!

To read the story about St. John Paul II’s love of gelato go to http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/article/saint-john-paul-iis-favorite-guilty-pleasure-5848146353586176.

Jeff Bruno, a member of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, is an international photo journalist and long-time freelance photographer for The Monitor.