On a sunny June afternoon in San Diego some two years ago, I was delighted to hear the news that my niece was getting married in — of all places — Rome! That my dear friend’s daughter (to whom I am “Aunt Sharon”) was sharing this news over a glass of Italian wine prompted me to blurt out that she had better invite me.

I was to learn later from her mother that she had hoped to have this wedding abroad to eliminate the family drama created by the infamous invitation list. Even though I was reassured that I was definitely on the A list, I realized that sheer insistence gave me a wonderful edge.

Here it was, two years later, and I was packing my bags not only for a wedding but for a bike ride in Florence and a marathon in Rome (which just so happened to fall on the same week as the wedding)! As crazy as it sounds, it was my idea of the perfect vacation.

There was just one glitch, and ironically enough for the young non-religious bride and groom, it came by way of the Catholic Church.  It just so happened that the day they chose to get married was the same day that the new pope was announced, white smoke and all.

There we were in Rome, surrounded by cardinals, eager apostates and curious tourists, for a wedding of two people who were about as Catholic as Henny Youngman or the Dalai Lama. In fact, they were married not in a church but in an ancient mausoleum, chosen for its location along the famed Appian Way and perhaps with a smile for its incongruent status as a burial place for the dead.

The bride’s mother was none other than the woman who had written a bestselling novel called “Pope Joan” about a medieval woman who disguised herself as a man to become pope. Needless to say, though it was based on a true story, she made few friends in the Catholic Church by uncovering what was considered sacrilege by a church that still refuses to admit women clerics.

It was like the bride’s mother, this accomplished writer, to compose a simple but eloquent wedding ceremony that was careful not to exclude — as religions often do. It began with these words: “As the old saying goes, ‘All roads lead to Rome.’ But of all these roads, there is none greater, none more traveled, none more important to history, than where we now stand. The stones of the Appian Way are worn by the footsteps of travelers from every part of the world — people from different nations, different cultures, different languages, different beliefs.”

The ceremony continued, “Like the generations who traveled the Appian Way before us, we come from different parts of the world, different cultures, different languages, different beliefs.”

This bride of Jewish heritage was marrying a Peruvian American whose family was Seventh Day Adventist. In the tiny congregation were Catholics, Christians, Jews, atheists, Mexicans, Spaniards, Peruvians, Caucasians, a Japanese American, and of course, Italians. As I looked around, I marveled at how special it was that these two people had managed to bring together such a wonderful mix of people and cultures.

A few days later, a similar thought occurred to me as I was gathered in front of the Coliseum for the start of the Rome Marathon. Running an international race brings together people from a myriad of countries. I overheard people speaking Dutch, Polish, French, and Spanish. Naturally Africa was well represented by the elite athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia. Japanese women were out in number in this crowd some 30,000 strong.

Perhaps because I had been feeling a bit of an outsider in this country of gregarious and outgoing Italian speakers, I was suddenly struck by the sense of inclusiveness about this sport. I was surrounded by runners of all colors, sizes, shapes, and nationalities united by a common goal. As we crossed the finish line, there was a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie that knew no boundaries.

I had traveled what seemed like every cobblestone and piazza in this ancient city side-by-side with strangers connected across place, status, color, religion and nationality. As visions of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn riding on a motor scooter on a liberating day through the streets of Rome flashed through my mind, I thought, “Every day should be a Roman holiday.”

Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo

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