Thursday, October 27, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: The Veil of Manopello

"Seek the Lord and his strength:  seek his face evermore." ~Psalms 105:4

"My heart says of you, 'Seek his face!'"  Your face, Lord, I will seek."  ~Psalm 27:8

The altar of the Church of Volto Santo di Manopello

An experience of resurrection, that's what Fr. Crispin, a Capuchin Monk who greeted us at the door of the Church of Volto Santo di Manopello, promised us as he shared a brief history of the shrine.  He said, "Look for the face of Jesus and impress it in your soul and your heart."  He told us that an image on the door of the church represents a soul holding a precious pearl which is the indulgence we gain from visiting here, but to us the precious pearl is Jesus Christ.  St. Therese of Lisieux, who had a great devotion to the Holy Face, said upon her visit here, "If I put in my heart the face of Jesus, God will look on me as he looks in His mirror." 

Fr. Crispin told us that it's believed that the veil of Manopello was originally kept in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and was stolen from the church in the 1500's.  Shortly after this a Dr. Leonelli was approached by an unknown pilgrim in the Manopello square who handed him a package that contained the Holy Face.  When Dr. Leonelli turned to thank the pilgrim he was nowhere to be found!
The Church of Volto Santo di Manopello
Once we were inside of the church, German Sister Petra-Maria Steiner who guides pilgrims who have come to see the Holy Face, greeted us as we walked up the stairs behind the altar to venerate the holy cloth and she pointed out its transparency to us.  You can see through it!  And, no matter which side you are on the face always looks at you, it doesn't have a front and a back but the face can be seen from either side.  On one side the mouth is open, showing the teeth, and the other side his mouth is closed in a slight smile.  It's a mystery, she said.  She also told us that the face seems to be older than the time of icons.What a blessing it was to stand face to face with an image of Christ!  Words can't describe how unbelievable it was!  Like the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, it was hard for me to tear myself away.

Then Sister followed us to a separate room where all of the scientific information about the veil is kept.  She told us that the veil was made of byssus which is an ancient fabric made from shells. The fabric was mainly used by Kings and nobility.  She said that Byssus is so old and rare that it can't be touched without breaking it.  Today pollution is killing the shells and there is only one woman in the world, living in Sardinia, who continues to make this fabric today.

The byssus shells and fabric
Many people believe that the Face of Manopello is Veronica's Veil but the face is really that of the resurrected Jesus, not of Christ as he was suffering.  The veil is actually the cloth that covered Jesus' face in the tomb, directly under the burial shroud and is the image of that moment when Jesus arose from the dead.  Sister further said that when St. John and St. Peter ran to the tomb on Easter Sunday John stayed behind because he was part of a religious class that could not enter tombs due to the impurity of a dead body.  Then he entered after St. Peter had already found the burial cloths because he knew that he wouldn't find a dead body in the tomb but that Jesus had really risen from the dead.

Sister Petra-Maria showed us an image of the Shroud of Turin and pointed out that their faces were an exact match.  Everyone in our group was fascinated and enthralled by the information that Sister shared with us.

The picture of the veil from the explanation area
When we were told that we had a short time to spend on our own in the church before leaving, I went back to take pictures of the veil from the church.  Sister came and stood beside me and once again pointed out its transparency and the fact that He was watching me.  Just wow!  It was so amazing!

Leaving Manopello we traveled to Subiaco to the Monastery of St. Benedict.  Like Loreto, I had no idea of the treasures that were in store for us in Subiaco.  The drive through the Apennine Mountains was magnificent and the monastery unbelievably gorgeous and fascinating.  I think I took more pictures at the monastery than anywhere else on the pilgrimage, so that's a head up that the next post will be very picture heavy.

The Veil from the church-can you see its transparency through the blur?

a closer angle of the veil (sorry for the blurriness)

even closer (sorry for the blurriness)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: The Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano

Of all of the locations on our itinerary, seeing the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano was the one I most looked forward to and was most excited about.   The Eucharistic Miracle happened in the year 750 when a Basilian Monk was offering Mass with doubt in his heart about the Catholic belief regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  As he was praying the prayer of consecration, the host started bleeding in his hands.  Many tests have been performed over the centuries, the most recent done in 1973,  and it has been determined that the host consists of muscular tissue of the heart and the wine is five globules of blood which represent the five wounds of Christ on the cross. The globules weigh the same separately as they do collectively.  The blood type is AB. To this day the Eucharistic species has remained exactly the same as it appeared twelve centuries ago despite the effects of time and elements.

I've often wondered about that Basilian Monk to whom the miracle occurred, the miracle which undoubtedly removed all of his questions about the reality of Christ's flesh and blood present in the Eucharist.  What happened to him after the miracle?  Did he become a celebrity?  Did he spend every day for the rest of his life performing penances in atonement for his doubt?  Did he quietly leave his community to maintain some sort of privacy and solitude in his life?  Is he now a saint in heaven to whom we should pray?  And why is it that his name has remained anonymous and he is simply known as "a Basilian Monk"?

The side door of The Church of San Francesco 
We arrived in the small city of Lanciano with just a small amount of time for our visit to the Church of Lagontial, a very unassuming building which houses the monstrance that contains the flesh and blood of Jesus. We were allowed a few minutes to reverence the Eucharistic Miracle up close before we were shown a video showing the history of the Miracle and then we were given a short time, about half an hour, to spend in adoration or to explore the church and gift shop before Mass would begin.  

I darted right back to the small room behind the altar to spend time alone with Jesus.  When I arrived there were two other people adoring the Lord, and soon after a small group of musicians came into the room to practice the music for the upcoming Mass.  I thought that was a very odd place for the musicians to practice, and then realized that this was the area where they played for the Mass that was now beginning.  I quickly left that area out of respect for the Mass and so that I could have more solitude in my prayer.  I found that there wasn't anybody in the small space on the back side of the altar where we first reverenced the Eucharist and there I stood, face to face with the Body and Blood of Jesus. I reached out my hand and touched the glass that protected the monstrance, not sure whether it was allowed or not, but unable to resist. Standing and praying there was the most amazing experience of my life!  I wanted it to last forever, I never wanted to leave!  But, all too soon it was time to go. 

I found Paul in the lobby area and just as we were leaving for the bus, some of the members of our group told us that they found the original chapel where the miracle occurred.  We followed them to a basement chapel and quickly took photos and offered another prayer of thanksgiving before we left.  We journeyed to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  It felt strange to be conversing normally with others and to be enjoying a meal when not more than an hour ago I was in the Presence of the Lord up close and personal.  I didn't want the spell of that amazing moment to be diminished by ordinary life.   Yet, aren't we called to take our faith out into the world? And so I heartily enjoyed that evening's meal but held the memory of that moment deeply within my heart.  Little did I understand that my faith was about to be further deepened the following morning when we visited Manopello to see the veil that covered our Lord's face in the tomb.

The original altar where the miracle occurred

The original chapel where the miracle occurred
While those questions of mine about the Basilian Monk may never have an answer in this lifetime, what has been answered for all of humanity is the actuality of the Real Presence in the Eucharist and truly, that's all that matters. Seeing with the eyes of faith is a beautiful thing, but to actually see the flesh and blood of God in reality, well words simply cannot capture the immensity of joy that filled my heart to be there in Lanciano, and forever after, whether I am at daily Mass or spending time in adoration, my faith in Christ's presence has been deepened and will never be altered.  I pray that everyone may one day share this same belief in the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in the Most Holy Eucharist.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: The Adriatic Sea

Could it be that our guide, Patrizia, suspected that we might be getting weary of the long bus rides and non-stop visits to churches on our pilgrimage and might be ready to enjoy a brief respite with a bit of nature?  Or did she just enjoy the seaside so much that she wanted to share it with us?  Whatever the reason behind it might have been, our brilliant guide suggested that we stop for just fifteen minutes to visit the Adriatic Sea.  She said that we couldn't leave Italy without dipping our toes in the waters of the sea.  Needless to say this sea-glass-obsessed beachcomber was thrilled with this news!  I had secretly been hoping that I might be able to bring home some Italian sea glass but hadn't dared to mention that selfish desire to anyone, so visiting the Adriatic Sea was really a dream come true.

But, before we visited the sea, we stopped for lunch at a delightful restaurant, Cafe Soriano in San Benedetto del Tronto, the largest seaport on the Adriatic Sea, which is part of the Italian Riviera. Patrizia has many family connections throughout Italy and the owner of the restaurant was a relative of hers who was able to help Massimo, our skillful bus driver, find his way around this town that was perhaps a bit unfamiliar to him.

A toast with Fr. Bill Miller from Peoria, Illinois, a most kind and holy priest.
Our entire group waiting for the bus to take us from the restaurant to the sea.

Shortly after we finished our delicious lunch we were off to the sea!  When the bus stopped by the beach I nearly ran to the shore to begin my search.  While others took their shoes off to step into the warm water, I satisfied myself with just quickly dipping my hand in and then began my search in earnest.  I found many beautiful shells, a few interesting rocks, a piece of pottery and yes, a few pieces of sea glass!  Paul was sure to rib me about this being real "sea" glass and not the "lake" glass that I find in Wisconsin on the Lake Michigan shores.  I always feel that searching for sea glass is a meditative prayer and this experience was no different.  My eyes were on the shoreline but my heart was on God.

The beautiful Adriatic Sea.

Umbrellas abandoned on this weekday.

A very satisfied sea glass searcher.
 After our visit to the sea we left for Lanciano and at the end of narrow road, trying to make a turn, our bus got stuck!  Traffic was backing up and no matter how many times Massimo tried to back up and start again it just was not going to work.  I was praying to the Blessed Mother to see us out of this jam and she did not let us down.  Massimo finally decided that the only way out of this was to back out and so the bus rode backwards all the way down the street we had just come from.  Patrizia said, "Don't worry.  We'll go backwards to Lanciano.  Everything is possible in life!  And now we're going to Abbruzi, and you know what they have in Abbruzi?  The best food!"  Patrizia was always upbeat, hardworking and confident, a truly wonderful guide!

Just when I thought this day couldn't get any better it was about to become absolutely magnificent. We were now on our way (driving forward not backward) to Lanciano to see the Eucharistic Miracle, my most anticipated visit of the pilgrimage!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: The Holy House of Loreto

Our first view of the Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto

Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto

In preparing for this Italian Pilgrimage, I spent some time researching our destinations and the lives of the saints we would learn about but I hadn’t done much research on the Holy House of Loreto and knew very little about it, so I wasn't greatly looking forward to visiting there and didn't have any expectations.  And as it happens sometimes in life, we receive our greatest graces when we least expect them.  The Holy House of Loreto was certainly a source of great grace and as it turned out, was one of my favorite stops on our pilgrimage.

Bishop Don says that the Italians have a saying, “If it isn’t true, it ought to be!”  That saying is often applied to the Holy House of Loreto.  The belief is that the very house where the Blessed Mother Mary was born and raised, and also the house where the angel Gabriel visited her and the Word was made Flesh, was this very house in Loreto.  The story is that angels carried the Holy House from Nazareth to Croatia in 1291 and then across the Adriatic Sea to Loreto in 1295 where it has remained ever since.  Later documents show that the stones of the house were transported by a family with the name of Angelo or de Angelis in the 13th century. But because of the angel legend Pope Benedict the XV has declared Our Lady of Loreto to be the patroness of aviation and you can bet I was relying heavily upon her intercession during our airline travels as they filled me with anxiety and fear.  

We weren't allowed pictures inside but I found this online source
We were given time to enter the Holy House and pray before the image of Our Lady of Loreto or Black Madonna, so called because over time soot from candles colored the wood from which she was carved into a soft black.  The original statue was damaged in a 1921 fire and when a new statue was made the carver used a dark olive wood from the very beginning to maintain her black image. 

Our Lady of Loreto, the Black Madonna (source)

I was deeply moved to stand in the very place where Mary gave her yes.  I touched and kissed the walls, wanting to feel the graces that they carry.  Then we were given a real treat!  Patrizia, our fabulous guide, stood near the exit, where, in a very small and dark niche, rested a dish from which our Lord Jesus himself was fed.  She lit the niche with her cell phone light so that we could better see the dish as we paused to reverence this amazing relic.  After this astounding event I had to stop and write out the prayer that was spilling from my heart. 

Dear Jesus, from this vessel you took nourishment for your earthly body which has now become spiritual food for the world.  How blessed we are to consider this and pray about it here.  Blessed Mother, thank you for your yes, for allowing the Word to become Flesh within you.  Teach me to follow your example and to always say yes to the will and desires of God.  Amen.
The Holy House
The Holy House is encased in marble walls which depict the life of the Blessed Mother and the entire house is inside of the Basilica della Santa Casa that was built around it in 1469.  Something that moved me deeply is that over the many centuries people would pray the rosary on their knees on the marble floor outside of the Holy House and after time they wore two grooves into the marble from their knees.  That’s powerful prayer!  Although we didn’t have time to pray a full rosary there, Paul and I knelt in the grooves and prayed a Hail Mary together for our family.  How I would have loved to pray the whole rosary there, though!  Can you imagine how mighty that rosary would have been?

The grooves in the marble floor.

After we all had a chance to visit the Holy House, we went downstairs to a lower chapel for Mass.  Prior to Mass, a guide shared a little information with us.  She told us that the little house is like a treasure.  People come to this place and go out different, changed.  Many miracles have occurred here and many saints, including St. Francis de Sales, St. Therese of Lisieux, Pope St.  John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II all spent time praying here. In fact, Pope St. John Paul II considers this holy house like a house of family.  This is the place to pray for families, for all of the fighting we have to do for our sanctity.  There is a little candle inside the house that is lit every morning at 7:30 am for Italy and for families.  Before we left the holy house we were given the opportunity to leave a donation and receive blessed oil from the lamps that had been kept in the holy house all night.  Many families have reported miracles from this oil.  I requested ten bottles but wish I had asked for many more.  I wish every family could have a bottle of this precious oil in their homes!

Olio S. Casa Loreto and Relic of the Veil which covers the statue
of Our Lady of Loreto on Good Friday and Holy Saturday

The guide also told us that the gift shop offers blue ribbons for families that cannot conceive children.  Miracles have happened with these light blue ribbons that have been prayed over by nuns.  The recipient wears the ribbon all the time and then brings it back to the Holy House when they have conceived a child.  Many blue ribbons have been returned!

Following the guide’s talk, Mass commenced and Fr. Dennis Dirkx, one of the Milwaukee priests who traveled with us, gave a beautiful homily on the day’s Gospel passage from Luke:   “While Jesus was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”   Fr. Dennis said that the Word of God speaks of home.  We can interpret the command of Jesus, “Blessed are those who observe the Word of God and keep it” to mean that the Word of God has to be “at home” within us.  Jesus invites us to take the Word and allow it to be at home within us and then we have the ability to live that Word in our daily lives.  That’s the invitation that Jesus gives us in this passage, we allow ourselves to become that Living Word of God.

After the homily, Bishop Don invited all of the married couples to stand up and renew their wedding vows and offered a special prayer for those who were widowed or traveling without their spouses.  This truly was a beautiful, holy and life-changing place!  Our Lady of Loreto, pray for us!

Our next visit is a short stop at the Adriatic Sea with a special gift!

sidewalk drawing outside the Basilica

sidewalk drawing outside the Basilica

sidewalk drawing outside the Basilica

from side chapel dedicated to American flight (see the angels carrying the holy house?)

Chapel of the Cruxifix

Chapel of the Crucifix

vows renewed and ready for 25 more years of marriage!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: Siena

Siena city wall that now surrounds a soccer field

Outside Sienna's City Wall

When we arrived in Siena our first stop was at The Basilica of San Domenico where St. Catherine of Siena's relics of her head and finger can be found.  I have to say that this was the only church in all of Italy that I was disappointed in.  Compared to all of the beautiful churches we had just seen in Assisi, it was very plain with modern windows that were from the 1980's.  Our guide explained that the church had been modernized to suit decorative tastes over the years and many of the frescoes were covered over with plain paint and the new windows replaced former windows that were damaged.  What a pity.  St. Catherine is such a powerful and amazing saint that her relics deserve to be stored in a magnificent setting. Despite the appearance of the church, it was extremely powerful to pray before the skull and finger of St. Catherine.  I asked her to pray for my daughter and I, and for all women, that we may model her strength and wisdom in seeking after the Lord.

The head of St. Catherine (source)

The finger of St. Catherine (source)
Here at the Basilica we discovered a beautiful display of small, framed hearts and other assorted objects and pictures.  We learned that these are called ex votos.  They represent a vow completed or a prayer answered.  In thanksgiving, the faithful would purchase an ex voto to leave at the church. These are similar to someone leaving crutches behind at a church if they were healed of an injury or the modern practice of donating money to the church in thanksgiving for answered prayers.  I  just couldn't get these ex votos out of my mind during the remainder of the pilgrimage!  I found them to be absolutely exquisite, and from the moment I saw them I looked for them in every gift shop we visited, but sadly, they were no where to be found.

ex votos

Following the Basilica of San Domenico we began a walking tour of the city which led us to the childhood home of St. Catherine.  If you visit this link and click on the pictures you will find some wonderful panoramic views of her home which is now a church.  When we left St. Catherine's childhood home we enjoyed a lovely walk through the charming streets of Siena to the Duomo.  I couldn't help but be impressed by the skill of the Sienese drivers as they navigated narrow, hilly, winding streets, turning blind corners and passing pedestrians with ease.  Such expertise I could never hope to have!

Just outside of St. Catherine's childhood home
The courtyard near St. Catherine's childhood home
The view of The Basilica of San Domenico from the courtyard
of St. Catherine's childhood home
Narrow streets with cars and pedestrians sharing the space
The following images show some of the charming scenes we found as we walked the streets of Siena.  It was hard to keep up with our group because I kept stopping to take pictures!  Although much larger and very different from Assisi in many ways, Siena was equal in its beauty.  And at the end of the journey through the streets we arrived at the Duomo which was such a beautiful church that I had to keep picking my chin up off the floor, I couldn't believe such beauty could be real!

The Cathedrale de Santa Maria, usually just referred to as the Duomo or Divine Beauty, was built during the 13th and 14th centuries and has been so well cared for that everything within it is absolutely perfect.  As I marveled at the amount of work that went into building this majestic work of art for the Lord, especially at a time when there wasn't the convenience of modern machinery, Bishop Hying furthered my astonishment when he told me that many of the people who worked on this church never lived to see its completion.  Can you imagine giving your whole life to working on something that you would never see in your lifetime?  What a gift! What great love!

The pictures below are just a small sampling of all of the photos I took.  Of course none of my pictures do the Duomo adequate justice.  It's one of those places you just have to see to truly appreciate.

Duomo exterior

Duomo exterior

Duomo exterior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

The floor of the Duomo is usually covered to protect its delicate and beautiful inlaid marble mosaics, but we were fortunate to be visiting at one of the short times of year when we could view the mosaics uncovered.  It's absolutely amazing to think about the creativity and talent of the artists who created these masterpieces.  The mosaic below is the story of Fortune.  The nude woman is standing on a sphere and a boat to show the instablility of life.  Wisdom sits in the top and jewels and riches are being thrown away by Crates to show that the things of this world are not lasting.

The Story of Fortune
The worship space in the Duomo wasn't the only thing that was specatucular.  The Piccolomini Library, which is inside of the Duomo and houses a collection of music books, was absolutely astounding!  I couldn'tt believe that a church could have such an amazing library!  I wasn't sure how much more my senses could handle!

The ceiling of the library

The libray with a statue of The Three Graces in the center.

A music book in the library.

It was here at the Duomo that the most heart-racing experience of our pilgrimage happened to Paul and I.  Toward the end of the tour, our guide allowed us some quiet time for silent prayer in a side chapel. After kneeling in silent prayer for a short time, Paul and I stopped to light a candle.  When we were through we turned around and found that our entire group was gone!  We went outside and couldn't see anyone from our group among the hundreds of people walking about!  We didn't know where the next destination was so we couldn't even ask for help in finding it.  We were lost!  Because our group was so large, there were 80 people all together on our pilgrimage, we were divided into two groups-red and green.  As we stood outside the church wondering what to do we noticed some of the red group members moving toward the side chapel so we followed them and found that the red group was just finishing their tour.  So we stayed with them and when their tour of the Duomo was complete we followed them to the Piazza del Campo, the city square, where we found our green group as they were splitting up for lunch and free time.  What a relief!  

The Piazza del Campo was encircled with restaurants and we enjoyed a very relaxing meal after being frazzled by our experience of being lost.  We were treated to a beautiful impromptu concert by one of the waiters during our lunch.  The waiter's voice was angelic as he sang an traditional Italian song, but we were so surprised to turn around and see that this singer with an Italian voice was actually Asian!  Italy it seems, is a melting pot much like the United States.

Many of the restaurants we visited had a large television sharing world wide news.  This restaurant also had a television, but instead of showing the news, we viewed scenes of the famous Palio de Siena, a famous horse race that is held twice each year in the Piazza, once on the Feast of the Visitation and the other on the Feast of the Assumption.  The entire Piazza is covered with sand for this popular race which is so treacherous that many of the bareback riders are thrown from their horses.  Each horse represents a contrade, or district, of Siena.

Piazza del Campo

Piazza del Campo

lunch at the Piazza del Campo
Fonte Gaia-Fountain of the World
After lunch we had some time to wander around the Piazza, relax in the sun and visit some shops.  Paul and I stopped in a quaint little grocery store.  It truly was little consisting of only three rows of food but included what looked like an amazing butcher shop and bakery.  We had been looking for a restroom but couldn't find one anywhere so I asked the baker if he could help me.  He led me to this display of pastas and grains and told me that it was the bathroom.  I was a bit confused but soon discovered that the wall opens to reveal a bathroom!  It was the most interesting and amusing experience we had in Siena!  

From Siena we travel to Loreto, one of my favorite spots on the itinerary!

A bathroom door!

Paul, exiting the bathroom

Two Chefs