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Dr. Vietrez D. Abella
Diplomate, Phil. Board of Surgery
Fellow, Phil. College of Surgeons
Fellow, Phil. Soc. of Gen. Surgeons
Tel. No. (052) 811-1196
St. Paul's Basilica

When our dear Bishop, Monsignor Manolo, found out that I would be starting, in lieu of my regular medical articles, a series on my spiritual discoveries, he cautioned me not to neglect my avowed role as health educator. So comes the task of putting everything - health advice, architectural highlights, historical points, and spiritual discoveries - in one article, and not necessarily in that order.

The first basilica (originally, a building used in ancient Rome for public administration, with a rectangular hall flanked by aisles and an apse or domed or arched area at the altar end; this design was later used for Christian churches) we visited in Rome was the Chiesa di San Paolo Fuori le Mura or Saint Paul's Outside the Walls ("walls" must mean the ancient fortifications that were built around the city center; this church is outside that center). This visit for me was more than luck, since among the Biblical authors, it is with St. Paul that I am currently most interested and curious about. This came about after reading the first few chapters of a novel about his life, Taylor Caldwell's "Great Lion of God". Written circa 1970's, I did not finish reading it, weighed down by its verbose writing style, and also because the cares of motherhood had taken my reading time; I had just given birth to my second son.

Just before I left for this trip, though, I chanced upon another novel on St. Paul's life, this time a newly-released one, therefore more contemporary writing style, I expect. I vowed to get it and read it as soon as I can.
The Basilica was built over the tomb of the "Apostle of the People". [St. Paul visited Rome for the first time in 61, entering the city by the ancient Capena gate. During Nero's persecution between 64 and 68, he was martyred at the same time as St. Peter.] Emperor Constantine, who was the first emperor to convert to Christianity, started building it. Three other emperors had a hand in its construction:

Theodosius, Onorius, and Placidias under Pope Leo I (440-461). In 1854, Pope Pius IX rebuilt it on the same foundations according to the original design, after a fire destroyed it in 1823. We entered the magnificent four-sided portico (covered walkway attached to outside the basilica), consisting of 150 columns and a majestic statue of St. Paul at the center. The statue is imposing and unnerving, as befits the Apostle who wrote most of the code of conduct for the early Christians, in several letters in the New Testament. (This brings to mind his very noble and ideal definition of love, a favorite quotation of many, including me, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4 to 7:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered; it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice with wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...")

The façade or front of the basilica is decorated with mosaic, which is made by sticking pieces of tiles or other colored stones into intricate designs. The inside of the basilica is opulent and impressive with what seems to be an unending line of columns. Between the windows and the columns is a long series of medallions portraying all the popes, from St. Peter to John Paul II, which is appropriately spotlighted.
Lalaki, binoga ng "sumpak"
Binata, inundayan ng saksak
Boy Taga, nagwala
Kapabayaan ng bus company
GMA, governors pledge unity
P4M for 20 Bicol cops
Bicol fishery achievers bag national awards
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We thought we could attend mass there, in thanksgiving for our safe arrival in Rome. But that day, October 16, 2003, was the 25th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II's election as Pope, and the only mass being celebrated that day in Rome was at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. So we only got to admire the triumphal arch at the altar end of the basilica that led to the Gothic style baldacchino (canopy) supported by four alabaster columns covering the ciborio (tabernacle). Under the Papal altar was a marble arch containing St. Paul's tomb. It seems amazing that even after 2000 years from his death, his message of the Living God continues to touch us in extremes of emotion in our daily lives, in our life-long profession of faith...

That evening we had our very first Italian meal in Italy. Studies into the anti-cancer properties of tomato were spurred when it was observed that Italian men who ate tomato-based meals (recall the pasta sauces and pizza) often had prostate cancer less than those who didn't. It was later proven in scientific studies that there really is such a protective factor, which was later found to be plant phytochemical lycopene. Lycopene is released when tomato is cooked, thus, eating fresh tomatoes in salads don't confer the same benefit. Recently, recommendations went as far as saying that risk for other forms of cancer, like breast cancer, may also be reduced when a person eats at least 5 tomato-based meals a week.

The typical Italian meal consists of the anti-pasto (literally, "before the pasta"), which is the appetizer, such as cold cuts like ham and bologna. Bread is also usually served, the tough crusty ones, and is refillable. Then comes the pasta, in different shapes and sizes, the familiar ones being spaghetti and macaroni. Now we also know lasagna, the flat, broad noodles; fetuccini, the long, flat noodles that may also be colored green (with spinach) or orange (with tomato), or yellow (with egg); conchiglie or shell-shaped ones; spirelli or spirals; and penne and rigatoni (both, like the macaroni, one-inch tubes).

The pasta is usually served with tomato sauce, which is the healthiest type, or a cream-based white sauce. It may also be in the form of a soup. After the pasta comes the main meal, which is pork, beef, veal, chicken or fish, served with vegetables on the side. Of course, not to be missed is the meal-ender, the dessert, usually fresh fruits or a pie or cake. So we took the first of what was to be our routine fare there: crusty bread, rigatoni with tomato sauce and lots of Parmesan cheese, pork with buttered carrots and green beans, a cross between our Baguio beans and sitao, over-cooked for my taste, then fruit pie. Italians usually take wine with their meals. Red wine, in particular, two glasses a day (perhaps one with lunch and one with dinner), is now recommended after being proven to confer protection to the heart by thinning the blood. Since we Filipinos are not used to wine, we only had aqua naturale or bottled water (the other form is carbonated, or with gas) which over there costs an arm and a leg (or 2.5 euros, which our calculator brain quickly converted to roughly P150). Thank God for that first night we had our Wilkins Bottled Water imported all the way from the Philippines!