TONAWANDA — Callum Antonio, a freshman at Cardinal O'Hara High School, and his family were on hand at a historic event during a weeklong visit to Italy, when Pope Francis closed St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on Nov. 20 to conclude the Catholic Church's Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began Dec. 8, 2015.
In order to witness the solemn service at the basilica, Callum, his brother Finley, 10, a student at St. Amelia School in the Town of Tonawanda, and their parents, Paul and Jayne Antonio, took a long-planned trip. It began at the Rome airport where they took a water taxi to their hotel.
"I really liked Rome," Callum said. "It was very busy, but the closing of the Year of Mercy was great. The event took place in St. Peter's Square, where we had tickets for seats near the front."
The closing ceremony, followed by a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis, lasted two hours, with the pope giving his homily in Italian, while speaking about God's willingness to forgive sins and allow people to start anew.
"It was a great experience," Callum noted, recalling how memories of the trip included walking the 297 spiral steps to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. "My dad made it on crutches because his broken leg was still healing," Callum said.
The family visited many churches, cathedrals and tourist sites, including St. Mark's square, the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum. They traveled throughout Italy by train. However, Callum said his favorite experience was going by gondola in Venice.
"There are 400 bridges, and you could reach up and touch the bottom of the bridge," he recalled.
Callum returned to his studies at O'Hara after Thanksgiving to find his global studies teacher just beginning to teach the students about Rome.
"It was great (that) I could tell my experiences, and we brought back souvenirs of the trip," Callum said. "But the best was experiencing the closing of the Year of Mercy."