Hello everyone! I started to write a post four days ago to play “catch up” and now here I am days later, trying again! But my pilgrimage group has taken off for the States so now I am free to use my time as I see fit! So! Without further ado, my update!
Pilgrimage Days 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15
Day 10 – June 12, 2016
On this day we took off mid-morning from Toulouse to Venice, with our final destination being Bologna, Italy. As with the surprise visit to Lourdes, our wonderful guides surprised us with a visit to Padua to have mass at the Basilica of Saint Anthony the day before his feast day! The town was all abuzz with carnival rides, food trucks, vendors, and thousands of people pouring into the Basilica to venerate the tomb of the great Franciscan saint.
A highlight for me was getting to go to confession (in English!) while at the basilica. This is what St. Anthony had to say about confession:
“Confession is the gate of Heaven. O truly the gate of Heaven and the gate of Paradise, since through it the penitent is invited to kiss the feet, hands and face of God: the feet of His mercy, the hands of His grace and the face of His pardon. O house of God, O gate of Heaven, O confession! Blessed is he who dwells in you! Blessed is he who humbles himself in you! Humble yourselves therefore dearest brethren, and enter through this mystical gate.”
Before leaving Padua we were also able to visit the tomb of St. Luke the Evangelist in a nearby church. I need to do more research around why his remains are located in Padua, but it was very cool!!
Then on to Bologna we went! I enjoyed our first Italian meal a lot — definitely my favorite cuisine so far on the trip. Before turning it in for the night I washed my clothes and, since we were only staying for one night in Bologna, I decided it would be best to take them to a laundromat to dry them. That was quite an adventure navigating my way there. But a little surprise the Lord had for me was a beautiful Dominican church less than a block away! I walked in to find several men and women around my age gathered around a piano with guitars, singing worship songs in Italian at 10 o’clock at night. It was beautiful and encouraging.
Day 11 – June 13, 2016
The next day in Bologna we visited the Basilica of St. Dominic, where St. Dominic is buried! We had mass there on the altar attached to his tomb. We also got to visit his cell there and the chapter room.
After mass one of my dear companions got lost, but thankfully we caught up to her in time to load the bus to Florence. She was a trooper!
In Florence we had lunch, a lovely walking tour around the city, and visits to Santa Maria Novella and San Marco, two Dominican churches there.
After making a stop for gelato with Fr. Joseph, one of my fellow pilgrims, we all loaded the bus to Siena!
Day 12 – June 14, 2016
It was a wonderful day in Siena. Of all the places we’ve visited, it is truly unlike any other. There is a sweet spirit in Siena – it is peaceful, inviting, and very prayerful. I spent a great deal of time at St. Catherine’s house, praying outside her cell and getting time alone in the chapel there. I spent most of the day away from my group and it was a good time to reflect on the past year as a Catholic under the patronage of St. Catherine of Siena. So much has changed in my life since I was there last February!
Day 13 – June 15, 2016
This day began very bright an early with breakfast before leaving for the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square! It was a nice, breezy morning but the temperature quickly rose and many of us ended up resembling lobsters before it was all over. 🙂 Since we got there a couple of hours early I was able to snag a spot at the railing that hems in the pilgrims from all over the world.
[Coming Soon: Pictures of waiting to Pope]
Seeing Pope Francis drive by was an out of body experience! It’s crazy when someone you pray for and think about every single day, who you’ve only seen in pictures, passes by in the flesh!
After that experience the only logical thing I could do next was visit Old Bridge Gelateria to celebrate. I enjoyed a four-flavor waffle cone of coconut, banana, “cookies black” (aka vanilla with fudge tracks and chocolate cookies), and nutella gelato. It was delightful.
Later the group took a walking tour from St. Peter’s Square to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva where we had mass and were very privileged to go into the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena and visit the Friars’ cloister.
The evening ended with a visit to Piazza Navona where several of us enjoyed listening to the music and people watching for a while before we returned to the hotel for dinner.
Day 14 – June 16, 2016
It was a fantastic last day with the pilgrimage group. We ended our journey in the footsteps of St. Dominic at the International Headquarters of the Dominican Order: Santa Sabina in Rome. We had a beautiful mass there after which we sang the O Lumen and Salve Regina in the settings the Dominicans use at Night Prayer. It took me back to the St. Cecilia Motherhouse in Nashville and Our Lady of Grace Monastery in North Guilford and I felt right at home. Afterward we toured the basilica and visited Dominic’s cell where Karissa, Erika Leigh, and I had mass with Fr. Edmond Ditton, O.P. last year. It brought tears to my eyes to be back in that sacred place.
[Pics of Santa Sabina]
After leaving Santa Sabina our group went for a tour of Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, and then, at LAST, I walked through the Holy Doors at St. Peter’s!
[Pic: Holy Doors]
Afterward we had a little bit of free time so I found free WiFi in the Vatican and was able to FaceTime with my brother’s wife and kids right in St. Peter’s Square. It was so cool!!
The full day ended with dinner out at a classy Italian restaurant on the Appian Way – right across the street from the San Sebastiano catacombs! As I looked around the room at the faces of my fellow pilgrims smiling and laughing and enjoying friends old and new, I felt an immense amount of gratitude. It reminded me of the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven because there we were, a mixed bag of seemingly unconnected souls, individuals who had mysteriously been knit together by our shared experience.
[Pics of final dinner]
Day 15 – June 17
After a very late night I was in a fog when my Guardian Angel woke me up at 6:58am today — just in time to run downstairs (barefoot) to tell everyone good by before they left for the airport shortly after 7! It was bittersweet seeing them off — sad to watch everyone leave and feel left behind, but also very exciting to start this leg of my journey, “Rogue in Rome.”
Thankfully one of my best buds (Maura) from the pilgrimage group also stayed behind for a little extra time in Rome before heading out, so we enjoyed a long breakfast together before retreating to our rooms to pack our things for our noon checkout.
I left the hotel shortly after 12pm, and for the next 3 hours explored a little, but honestly it was pretty miserable since I had to lug all of my gear around with me. By 2:30pm I already had 10,000 steps (and I hadn’t taken many before 10am), the amount I usually take in a day. I wasn’t able to check in to my new place (I’m staying with some religious Sisters in Old Rome for the next 5 nights!) until 3pm, but I arrived at exactly that time. Much to my surprise, I am very close to the Angelicum (the Dominican house of studies here in Rome)!!! I am pretty thrilled about that.
After check-in my fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks and I slept for an hour and a half before venturing back outside. I looked up a few nearby churches that offer evening masses and set out to find one before I found food for dinner. Roman roads are curvy and weird and break off into piazzas every 500 meters or so, so it is incredibly difficult to find your way around, even (/especially) when you have directions.
After striking out with locating the first two churches, I almost gave up altogether when I saw a priest exiting a nearby building. I stopped him and asked if he spoke English. Thankfully, he was British! He told me he knew of a church right around the corner (not an uncommon point in Rome), and we literally arrived right at 6:30, when a mass was starting.
Grateful, I slipped into a pew and reveled in the mass, even though the only parts I understood were the Latin responses. There were about 8 of us gathered there, including two religious Sisters from different orders. One of them was Dominican! I waited until she stopped praying after mass to approach her. Her English wasn’t strong but I got her attention by showing her a brochure from my Dominican pilgrimage. We stepped outside the church and talked for probably half an hour until finally I said to her, “I’m hungry; want to grab dinner?”
[Pic with Sister G]
She took me to a pizza place down the street where we shared a pizza and a couple of Cokes. It was a very American meal! We laughed because she’s from Peru so we are both technically American — albeit North and South!
Sister explained that she’s working on her Ph.D. at the Angelicum, studying the references to children in the Gospel of Luke. It was so interesting!! She knows Scripture like the back of her hand. The highlight of our conversation was when she told me her favorite song was “I Need You” by Matt Maher, a Catholic musician who lives in Nashville. It was what the young folk call a “meta moment” as the two of us strangers sat singing Matt Maher in a pizzeria in Rome. Only God!
I also had the good pleasure of introducing her to the stunningly beautiful music of Audrey Assad. Here she is listening to “Even Unto Death” on my phone — the bliss!
[Pic of Sister]
Heart full, and body tired, Sister walked me back to the Angelicum and I made my way back to my room a couple of blocks away. I’m going to come up with a game plan for tomorrow and hit the hay! I’m so grateful to be here.