Friday, November 4, 2016

Italian Pilgrimage: Rome and Home

Waiting for the Pope
So here we are, we've come to the last day of this amazing pilgrimage.  We had to be ready to go extra early for our big audience with Pope Francis.  Once again Patrizia warned us about the crowds.  She told us that we'd be surprised to see Catholics behaving so aggressively with pushing and shoving as people jostled for the best seats and she advised us to hold our ground, to stay close together and not to let anyone cut into our places.  Let me tell you, following Patrizia's advice was challenging!

As we queued up to move through security the crowd was tight.  I was pretty nervous about losing our group or losing Paul and getting lost in the shuffle so I asked my fellow pilgrim, Brandon, if I might hold onto the back of his shirt as we moved along and with my other hand I was firmly gripping the corner of Paul's jacket.  I'm so glad that I was connected to both Brandon and Paul!  As soon as we started moving forward a woman started pushing on Paul and I trying to separate us. She had an angry look on her face and although I'm certain she didn't speak English I kept telling her, "That's my husband!  That's my husband!" hoping that she'd stop pushing and allow us to stay together. Thankfully she finally let us pass and stay together.

Once we got past security and were inside of the gate we quickly moved to our seats.  We each had a ticket but I believe that was just to get in the gate, not necessarily for an assigned seat.  But our Patrizia! She was amazing!  She walked us to several rows of seats that were all right next to the fence where Pope Francis would pass in his popemobile!  Before she left us she cautioned us once again not to let anyone come and try to take our seats away.  Well, sure enough, several women did come and try to move to the fence in front of us but we were determined to hold our ground and several pilgrims in our group firmly told them to find another place to go, that we weren't going to let them get in front of us.

And then it happened!  Pope Francis began his circuit around St. Peter's Square in the popemobile.  He stopped right in front of us to kiss a baby and we were so close, right in the front row!!!!  I was intent on capturing this momentous event on video and had my camera raised high moving along with the pope calling out "Papa, Papa!" along with everyone else around me.  Tears of joy and amazement were welling up in my eyes.  After he had passed I turned off my video and wanted to immediately watch what I had just filmed.  But guess what?  I actually had not turned the video on in the first place!  I was just moving a turned-off camera along with Pope Francis.  When I thought I had turned it off I had actually just turned it on and all that I captured were my fellowthe nearby pilgrims saying "Wow!  That was amazing!  I can't believe it!"  Thankfully, my fellow pilgrim Rita, who was standing right next to me, shared her pictures of Pope Francis with me.

Swiss Guard-this is how close I was to the pope!

Swiss Guard

Our Papa!

Viva Papa Francis!

He's so close!

We love you Pope Francis!

While giving his address-now we're so far away!
Bishop Hying is somewhere in the group of bishops on the right.
When Pope Francis had completed the rounds in his popemobile he climbed the steps of St. Peter's and took his seat in his chair. Now we sat in St. Peter's Square for at least an hour while an announcer shared the Pope's messages in multiple languages and called out the different groups that were at that day's audience.  Finally he said "The Diocese of Gary, Indiana."  Yay!  That was us!  

He said, "I greet all of those pilgrims from English speaking nations.  In this Year of Mercy I invoke upon all of you joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Holy Father bestows his blessing upon you and upon your whole family.  He especially blesses your children and those who are sick.  He also intends to bless any religious articles you have brought with you."

When it was all over, feeling satisfactorily blessed and jubilant, our group scattered for some free time once again.  Paul and I headed in a different direction than we had walked the day before and we came across a magnificent church that we had heard our fellow pilgrims, Steve and Marcia, talking about the previous day with much enthusiasm.  I was ecstatic to be at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  The Shrine of the Divine Mercy!  

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

This church was magnificent!  I think I might even say that it was my favorite church in all of Rome!  Not only was it beautiful but within it we found a shrine of Saint Pope John Paul II with his relic and a shrine of St. Faustina with her relic.  Hanging along nearly every wall we found ex votos of all sizes and multiple colorful rosaries just dangling in bunches.  I'd never seen anything like it.  It was so beautiful!  

The church was filling up quickly and Mass was about to begin but I just couldn't leave without praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet here.  So I knelt in a back pew and quickly and silently prayed the Chaplet for all of my family and friends and for all priests.  I couldn't let an opportunity to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet during the Year of Mercy inside the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Rome pass me by.  This was too marvelous to be true!

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia:  Shrine of the Divine Mercy

St. Pope John Paul II Shrine-the altarpiece was donated by Stanislaw Dziwisz

St. Pope John Paul II relic

Jesus, I trust in thee!

St. Faustina Shrine

St. Faustina relic (see the Divine Mercy image on top?)
ex votos- aren't these scrumptious?
ex votos

and more ex votos

Love these rosaries!
As we headed back to meet our group for the visit to the Catacombs we passed an imposter Scala Sancta.  I was excited for a minute and then scoffed and kept walking realizing that it wasn't the real deal that we had seen two days ago.
An imposter Scala Sancta outside St. Peter's Basilica

We saw many newly married couples dressed in their wedding garments walking all around St. Peter's Square.  The newlyweds receive a special blessing from Pope Francis if they attend the audience in their wedding clothes.
Newly married couple
We met up with our group once again and walked underground to the bus station.  It was dark and a bit scary down here so I was glad to be with such a large group.  We saw many homeless people sleeping on the ground and a young gypsy boy, maybe ten years old, playing When the Saints Go Marching In on an accordion.  I thought the song rather appropriate for our group of (hopefully) saints-in-the-making.  Our next stop was to visit the Catacombs.

Catacomb Gardens

Catacomb Chapel-photo courtesy of Ria Fink
The thing that most impressed me about the Catacombs was learning that there are eleven miles of tunnels beneath Rome where early Romans had been buried.  Eleven miles!  And they run in a twisting labyrinth so it's very easy to get lost and to never be found again.  Scary!  So this is why we were told that we couldn't take pictures in the Catacombs, because if we fell behind we might not find our group again.  Contrary to what many people believe, the Catacombs were not used as a hiding place for Christians but have simply always been a burial place.  Many of the tombs had been pillaged by barbarians looking for jewels during the eighth and ninth centuries.  Since most of the people buried here were poor Christians, very few jewels were found and the barbarians gave up, so there still are some tombs that have been left untouched after all these centuries.  Our guide was wonderful, but truthfully, I felt a bit of pity for her.  I think it would be very depressing to give tours at an underground cemetery all day long and rarely get to see the sunshine!

St. Paul Outside the Walls
Our last stop on our last day was to St. Paul Outside the Walls, so named because the church is in Italian territory but not within the Vatican City State.  This is the church where Milwaukee's own Cardinal James Harvey lives along with Milwaukee priest Fr. Jacob Strand, both of whom we had a chance to meet.  I had only met Cardinal Harvey once before and that was several years ago following a Cor Jesu Holy Hour and Mass so I was amazed when he told me that he remembered me. I'm sure I'm not that memorable, but Cardinal Harvey must have an amazing gift for recalling names and faces!

St. Paul Outside the Walls was amazingly large and beautiful!  I was most impressed by the alabaster windows and the mosaics of all of the popes that are embedded along the entire ceiling of the church.  Pope Francis is already up with his smiling face.  Patrizia told us that there is room for six more popes so the world can't end just yet!

Paul and I felt very blessed to be at this church, to pray before the sarcophagus of St. Paul, his namesake.  We held hands and prayed very intently for Paul trusting that St. Paul would be an inspiration for holiness in our lives.
St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls-I love the cross on the door!

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls-The windows are alabaster!

And an even closer look at the alabaster window

Mosaics of all of the popes surround the church ceiling.

A close up of the Pope Francis and Pope Benedict mosaics.

St. Paul Outside the Walls

St. Paul Outside the Walls

I don't know the significance of this but isn't it interesting?

The foot of the pillar above.  Fascinating!

The sarcophagus of St. Paul (it's hard to see, I  know, but it's there)

The chain that held St. Paul in prison

A closer look at the chain.

Mass in the side chapel at St. Paul Outside the Walls -photo courtesy of Michael Wick

The stalls inside the side chapel.

We were blessed to have our last Mass in a side chapel of this magnificent church.

From Bishop Hying's homily at St. Paul Outside the Walls:

"St. Paul is a living example of what happens when someone moves from living the law to living the heart of Christ.  Jesus says to Paul, why are you persecuting me?  He doesn't ask why are you persecuting my Church, but why are you persecuting me?  Jesus identifies himself with the Church, with us.  Once you taste Jesus Christ and experience his infinite love for you, the law doesn't mean enough.  Once you give your life to Christ he dares you to go farther than you thought possible, to fall so much in love with Christ that you become a new creation.

It's a blessing to do a pilgrimage in the Year of Mercy and to go through so many Holy Doors and taste the mercy of Christ.  When the soldier pierced the side of Christ what came out was the blood and water of mercy.  What didn't come out was vengeance, hatred, or wrath.  What comes out is a torrent of mercy.

I know you are all feeling tired on this last day of pilgrimage.  Your tiredness means that you've had a great pilgrimage, you've given of yourself.  The challenge will come now when you go back to your regular life, when life takes on its normal hum and rhythm, when we don't see extraordinary churches or come downstairs to find breakfast already prepared.  But we will still find grace and mercy hidden in what is ordinary."

All in all we walked through seven Holy Doors in this Year of Mercy.  It's impossible to express how incredibly blessed I feel to be Catholic and to have had such an amazing opportunity to visit Italy with such a lovely group of pilgrims from Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and California during this special holy year.  This pilgrimage was made extra special because of the lovely people we traveled with who befriended and inspired us so easily. Thanks be to God for His amazing goodness and mercy!

When we returned to the hotel it was quite late and we had very little time to grab some dinner before packing and preparing to leave the hotel at three am to catch our plane so Paul and I made a quick run to, yes, I'm cringing as I write this, the McDonalds that was three blocks away from our hotel.  The Italian Big Macs and fries taste just like at home.

When we finally arrived in Chicago the following day dripping with graces and with souls soaring, we were greeted by my beautiful sister-in-law Laura and her boyfriend Paul "T".  When we had first told Laura and T that we were going to Italy and leaving from Chicago they told us that we couldn't leave O'Hare without having someone to see us off so they generously took vacation days from work to take us there (along with my sweet mother-in-law) and to meet us when we came home.  What a gift that was!  Laura sure knew how to make us feel loved with signs and all!  It's so good to be home!  
Welcome home sign from Paul's sister Laura!

I couldn't wait to get busy making my own ex votos once we got re-settled.  Along with some framed pictures of Italian windows and doors and my Italian sea glass these will all be displayed in our new Italian Room, the room that Paul and I are remodeling now that three of our sons have moved away from home.  The nest is getting emptier of people but fuller of wonderful memories!
my homemade ex votos in thanksgiving for an amazing pilgrimage
Thank you for virtually traveling with me!  It was a joy to relive this amazing experience through writing these posts and sharing these pictures! Ciao!


A final thought about Italy:  It was just about a month before we left for our pilgrimage when an earthquake struck the country causing the loss of about 300 lives.  One of the cities that was affected was Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict.  Norcia had been on our itinerary but because of the earthquake we didn't visit there.  After we returned home, Norcia was the site of two more earthquakes which, thankfully, didn't bring about the loss of life but did cause thousands of people to lose their homes and the complete devastation of every church in that city including the Basilica of St. Benedict which was built over his birthplace.  Also affected was St. Paul Outside the Walls which suffered a large crack to the outer wall.  The Benedictine Monks of Norcia will rebuild and a wonderful film has been made to highlight their order, their church and their need for financial assistance.  You can read more here and view their magnificent film here.   Please keep the beautiful people of Italy in your hearts and in your prayers as they work to rebuild and restore.

The crack in St. Paul Outside the Wall (source)

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