VATICAN (VIA PLDT), September 30, 2003  (STAR) By Marichu Villanueva  - Far from prying eyes and away from the madding crowd, the First Family took a break from the public limelight yesterday and enjoyed a brief Roman holiday.

Taking a break from official duties, the President was accompanied by First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, Pampanga Vice Gov. Juan Miguel, his wife Angela and their daughter Gloria Mikaela, Diosdado Ignacio and his pregnant wife Victoria Celine in hearing Sunday Mass and touring the Eternal City.

At the Pontifica Colegio Filipino, the First Family heard Mass concelebrated by 30 Filipino bishops, led by Jose Cardinal Sanchez, the only Filipino cardinal in the papal curia.

After Mass, the First Family walked through the ruins of the Roman Coliseum where, almost two thousands years ago, the first Christian were practically fed to wild beasts to entertain Romans.

The First Family took Sunday off after their official audience with Pope John Paul II at his private library in the Apostolic Palace on Saturday. Even the First Gentleman appeared to have enjoyed his role of official family photographer and seemed relieved to be the one taking pictures of his three-generation family instead of being the subject of the Filipino paparazzi in Manila.

The Presidentís one-day visit to the Vatican was shortened Sunday by an Italy-wide power shortage and the President took an earlier flight to Paris, the last leg of her trip.

Before returning to Manila, the President and her family will pay a private visit to the "Mother House" of the Assumption Sisters who run the Assumption College in Makati City.

The President credits the Assumption Sisters with her Catholic upbringing.

When they flew to New York Thursday, the First Gentleman told The STAR he took the President and the rest of their family out to watch the Broadway play titled Nine, topbilled by Spanish actor Antonio Banderas. "Iím an avid fan of Antonio Banderas," he said. "He really danced the tango well... And (Banderasí) wife, Melanie Griffith, has her own play being staged in another theater across the street."

The First Gentleman, however, expressed concern over their only Evangeline Lourdes, who did not join the state visit. "I really need to spend time for bonding with my daughter. We will see each other, perhaps, in San Francisco and I will take her to Spain," the First Gentleman said.

Spain was originally part of the Presidentís itinerary for her swing through Europe, but her visit to Spain has been postponed indefinitely.

The Presidentís visit to Rome and the Pope was also marked by "history repeating itself," she said. "I was pregnant with my son, Dato (Diosdado Ignacio)," Mrs. Arroyo said of her first time to visit the Vatican as part of the entourage of her late father, President Diosdado Macapagal.

The President recalled her wonderful memories of that visit to the Holy See during while she was pregnant with her second son. This time around, it was Datoís pregnant wife who received the blessing of Pope John Paul II. "Itís really like history repeating itself," she said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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