Better late than never….


I know that probably sounds like the title of a children’s book but it was the first thing that came to mind as I sat down to write of yet another very special encounter in the magical city of Rome.

Last Saturday evening, after a terrific dinner with friends at La Scaletta, they accompanied me home. Geoffrey, young gentleman that he is, hopped out of the car, opened the door for me and we spoke for a few seconds before saying goodnight. As we were talking, I had observed a small group of people, animated in conversation and enjoying ice cream cones from the nearby Capitano Cono ice cream shop.

As I said goodbye to Geoffrey and was walking towards the front door of my building, a man from the group asked, “Where are you from?” He must have heard us speak English, thus the question. I was a bit surprised but replied that I live here now but was born and raised near Chicago. Well, you should have seen the look on their faces! They said they were from Illinois and part of a group on a pilgrimage. The fellow talking to me shook my hand, said his name was Alex Dittmer, and that his brother was a priest, was leading the group and had studied in Rome at NAC! I said I’ve been a fan and supporter of NAC for over 25 years (and I learned that Fr. Antonio Dittmer was at NAC when now Cardinal Dolan was the rector.)

Fr. Antonio (L) and Alex (they wanted this photo for their Mom, a huge EWTN fan!)


What a small world! But, as I always tell people, you have to leave home for the world to be small!

Well, all sorts of coincidences came up after that. I told them of my work in Rome for EWTN and then, because they were a pilgrim group, I naturally mentioned my book, They asked where they could get copies and I said the Vatican bookstore. It turns out they were staying at Il Cantico, a great hotel that is a five-minute walk from my building.

After a few more minutes of conversation, Alex asked me to join them for dinner the following night.

The Captain Cone ice cream brigade:


I did join the group and met just about everyone over the course of dinner as we played musical chairs, people switching around so we could all meet. It was a terrific evening in which I learned a great deal about their pastor and guide, Fr. Antonio Dittmer. He is the pastor at St. Hyacinth and St. Patrick parishes in LaSalle, and is the rector of Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine.

Alex told me Fr. Antonio is the youngest of 8 siblings and I learned a great deal about their beautiful family story. Their deep faith obviously came from their parents: Alex told me they observed them every night in their room, on their knees, praying before they went to bed.

Debbie sent this photo:


I went back for dinner on Monday night and spent some time signing the books they had bought at the Vatican. So many of the pilgrims are EWTN fans and it was such a rewarding evening to have that in common with them.

Here is a picture with Jennifer:


Although it was quite cool, about half the pilgrim group gathered on the rooftop terrace for a terrific view of St. Peter’s Dome and of Rome and for some great music by guitarist Alex Dittmer!

Two amazing evenings, some new memories and, more importantly, a lot of new friends – and all because a pilgrim (who describes himself as ‘not bashful’) dared to ask, “Where are you from?”