Day 4: Part One

[Yes. Yes. I am a slacker pilgrim. I wrote the first half of this post almost 2 months ago — on the Feast of Pentecost..18 May. And I’m going to finish it today 13 July…so — leaving the first half as is…and away we go!]

Today is the Feast of Pentecost — Happy 1980th Birthday Catholic Church! Come Holy Spirit! And what a great time we live in — if we know how to see beyond the lens of the world! I’m not great at it yet — but I’m definitely trying!

So really — if I’m following the journey of our pilgrimage last month — I’m only really on Day 4 (which is technically only day 2…hmmm…I think I need a key) so — by request of others here it is:

Day 1: Travel
Day 2: Arrive Rome (for Mom and me…this was North American College and Cupola Tour)
Day 3: Papa Francesco & Vatican Museum
Day 4: Christian Rome: Catacombs (Domitilla), Papal Basilicas (St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran), Drive-bys of Appian Way (Coliseum, Domino Quo Vadis Chapel, Baths of Caraclla, Arch of Drusus), the Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain
Day 5: Monte Cassino and San Giovanni Rotondo
Day 6: San Giovanni Rotondo (All things Padre Pio), Monte Sant’Angelo
Day 7: San Giovanni Rotondo, Lanciano, Loreto, Assisi
Day 8: Assisi
Day 9: Assisi and Siena
Day 10: Travel Home

Lots of peeps have asked if it was overwhelming or difficult to be around noise and tourists in sacred places — and although there were probably moments of that — in general I have found continued gratitude in reflecting back on those time and processing why it may have been different for me.

Traveling with a pilgrim mentality (vs. a straight secular or even faith-based tour) really made a lot of difference for me. We were well-educated before entering these sacred places — on the bus or just outside or sometimes walking through the little towns that led to sacred places — either by our Guide Gaia or by our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan. Mom and I had also done some reading in advance of the pilgrimage — thanks Dad! And though we did occasionally use on site tours — it wasn’t often. So by the time we actually walked into these places — we had been spiritually focused (particularly if Mass preceded) and told where to go, what to see, and reminded to spend some time in prayer. And pretty much we were cut loose! For me — that was very freeing! I do remember watching touristy groups, earbuds plugged in, speeding by relics of saints and timeless historical art, and feeling sorry for them. When our little family of pilgrims met back as a group — often we were refocused by Fr. Stan and Gaia — and people told stories about their experiences inside/around whatever place — and another opportunity for formation took place. It felt like being part of the earliest Christian communities. And that’s where I begin today…on the Feast of Pentecost…

So…Day 4: Christian Rome

So this day was actually the Feast of St. Stanislaus, significant for multiple reasons:
First — because he is a Polish Saint and my boss is a Polish priest!
Second — because one of our 2 Permanent Deacon’s Confirmation Saint is Stanislaus!
and Third — because our Spiritual Director Fr. Stan is well…Fr. STAN!

Incidentally, St. Stanislaus was a Bishop of Poland and got himself martyred by refusing to accept immoral behavior from and consequently reprimanding the King of Poland. He is significant to my home parish as our patron, St. Thomas More, lost his head for much the same reason. Also, St. Stanislaus was canonized the first native saint of Poland on my birthday — that’s a super-fun reason to like him too!

Anyway…some interesting tidbits from the Order of Mass that day:

-from 2 Timothy 4: 1-2
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.

-from the Collect
…grant, we pray,
that we may persevere strong in faith even until death.

-from Acts 5 (First Reading)
(Peter and the Apostles) “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” When they (court officers and the Sanhedrin) heard this, they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

-from John 3 (Gospel)
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.

-from the Prayer over the Offerings
…so that, purified by your graciousness,
we may be conformed to the mysteries of your mighty love.

-from the Prayer After Communion
…in the Resurrection of Christ,
increase in us, we pray, the fruits of this paschal Sacrament,
and pour into our hearts the strength of this saving food.

It is Easter-y?

Is it Pentecost-y?
You bet.

But the throwback here, folks, is that Mass that day was Said. In. The. Catacombs. Among the first believers. The original martyrs.

*****continued 13 July*****

And that, peeps, makes all the difference. We had Mass in lots of super-cool places which I will certainly write about — but this was the one that made my heart pound and brought tears to my eyes — because praying the words of the Mass on the feast day (red vestments) of a martyr (Stanislaus) in a place where martyrs were laid to rest didn’t just remind me — the whole history and spirit of the place called out with urgency and fire — fuego — to my own spirit — of who and what those words really cost others for me to be able to stand here and say them. Mass will never be the same for me again. Particularly the Sanctus (Holy). The Book of Revelation tells us this is the part where heaven and earth proclaim and worship God together. This is the closest we will ever come while here on earth — to heaven. This is a big part of why I can’t believe anyone wouldn’t want to be Catholic…or would stop going to Mass out of anger or sadness or guilt. This is as close as we get to our departed loved ones, the saints, our patrons, our family who has gone before us. We sing/pray the hymn of the communion of saints and the angels. And it was at this point in the liturgy in the catacombs that I was overwhelmed with the reality that some of those communion of saints might have stood — alive or not — right where I am standing. Celebrated Mass right where we are. On the stone altar on which the body of a martyr/saint/family member might have once been laid — and I get to touch.

We were not allowed to take pictures — but my journal notes here are:

2000 year-old architecture from YOUR family right in front of your nose. Just like your Catholic faith. Right in front of your nose. DON’T IGNORE IT. Travel into it. Walk inside. Don’t ever come out. This is your home.

I am going to receive the Eucharist with the earliest Christians and be united with my earliest family today. Without fear. Without persecution. Without martyrdom. Without sacrifice. Without a story of suffering. I haven’t been asked to give my whole life. But I desire to.

[I think these last 2 below might have been from Fr. Stan’s homily…they don’t sound like me…and I committed in advance to full participation in Mass and not taking pictures, video, or notes during liturgy and particularly during any of his homilies. I really wanted to allow liturgy to be liturgy…and to be a full, active, and conscious participant without distracting myself or anyone else…but occasionally I jotted down what immediately remained behind in my mind after Mass was over…so I think the following 2 might be his thoughts]

We must double our courage.

Moving forward means you understand the goal.

And for my history peeps — from wikipedia: the term catacombs first referred to the system of underground tombs between the 2nd and 3rd milestones of the Appian Way in Rome (which is where we were on Day 4), where the bodies of the apostles Peter and Paul, among others, were said to have been buried. The name of that place in late Latin was catacumbae, a word of obscure origin, possibly deriving from a proper name, or else a corruption of the Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs”. The word referred originally only to the Roman catacombs, but was extended by 1836 to refer to any subterranean receptacle of the dead, as in the 18th-century Paris catacombs.

According to my notes from our tour — there are 250 catacombs in Italy, 60 catacombs in Rome proper, and 5 catacombs that can be visited by the public. We were at the Catacombs of Domitilla, they are the oldest of Rome’s underground burial networks, and the only ones to still contain bones. They are also the best preserved and one of the largest of all the catacombs. 9 miles of underground tunnels! YIPES. Even our tour guide admitted he had gotten lost underground once! Included in their passages are a 2nd-century fresco of the Last Supper (which we saw…holy smokes FOR REAL!) and other valuable artifacts.

They are the only catacombs that have a subterranean basilica (which we also saw); entrance to the catacombs is achieved through this sunken 4th-century church, at via delle Sette Chiese 280. In the past, the basilica had become unsafe, and was abandoned in the 9th century. It was rediscovered in 1593, and much of it was reconstructed in 1870. In the beginning of 2009, at the request of the Vatican, the Divine Word Missionaries, a Roman Catholic Society of priests and Brothers, assumed responsibility as administrator of St. Domitilla Catacombs.

There is some confusion and unproven theories about who St. Flavia Domitilla was…but we are reasonably certain she came from a pagan family in the 1st century. She seems to have converted quietly and of her own accord to Christianity. She may have been the niece of the Roman Emperor Domitian, who had Flavia’s husband put to death, and sent her into exile until she was martyred for the faith by decapitation in the Coliseum. Her family converted many years later. There are only 2 martyrs for sure (certainly there could be more) buried at St. Domitilla: both soldiers and both martyred in the 3rd century during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians in the military between 295-298. Their names were Nereus and Achilleus.

Although we were asked not to take photographs inside the catacombs — my mom took these outside — and there were lots of these inside too! Simplistic and inspirational:

Symbol of Jesus as the Good Shepherd
Symbol of Jesus as the Good Shepherd
Jesus is symbolized in the fish.  Strong faith is symbolized in the anchor.  Thing to the top right is symbol for our soul.
Jesus is symbolized in the fish. Strong faith is symbolized in the anchor. Thing to the top right is symbol for our soul.
Greek letters Chi and Rho -- symbol for Christ -- as well as special to those of us who celebrate KAIROS as "God's Time."
Greek letters Chi and Rho — symbol for Christ — as well as special to those of us who celebrate KAIROS as “God’s Time.”
Christ symbolized as a fish.  Thought those letters were Greek (Iota/Chi/Theta/Upsilon...) but there's no C symbol.  Alex Estrella -- I'm lookin' for a comment from YOU!!!
Christ symbolized as a fish. Thought those letters were Greek (Iota/Chi/Theta/Upsilon…) but there’s no C symbol. Alex Estrella — I’m lookin’ for a comment from YOU!!!

So — this was only how my Thursday, 11 April 2013 (Day 4) started. There’s lots more to Day 4 coming next! But I could not be more grateful to our Tour Leader Judy, our Tour Guide Gaia, and our Spiritual Director, Fr. Stan — for whoever decided to do things in the order we did them. I just think it was perfect! Doing Christian Rome starting out with Mass in the catacombs on the Feast of St. Stanislaus just set the stage for the rest of the day — and the rest of the day set the stage for the whole pilgrimage. Just sayin’. Maybe it worked out this way by accident. But I don’t think anything is an accident.

One other note — there are no names or dates on tombs, etc. within the catacombs — we were told very matter-of-factly by our tour guide: “…because nobody cares! Christians believe in the Resurrection!”

That made me smile and think of the simplicity of our Holy Father Papa Francesco!


BUONGIORNO! back again…

Well, I know I’ve been back for awhile and haven’t updated here — and I really need to get on it because everyone who tells me to hurry up and write things down and mark the pictures, and transcribe my notes is RIGHT — I’m starting to forget specifics! So here we go…
One of the most special things about being on a Catholic pilgrimage (as opposed to a secular tour) is the Catholic Christian community that forms within the group. You’re touring just like everyone else — but with a Catholic Guide, a Spiritual Director (Fr. Stan Fortuna, C.F.R. of, Liturgy every day in the most beautiful places — its. just. really. different. I think also when looking through the Catholic Christian lens of where you are and who you’re around — God teaches us as much about our life’s journey, our pilgrimage, the way to heaven by using the people around us as instruments. And that was definitely true in multiple ways for me. My life’s vocation was confirmed in many ways big and small throughout the trip by many people — but since I work with young people and families — and because tonight is Prom Night in our town — I’m going to write about how the married couple traveling together on our trip inspired me.
I don’t know if I need to protect their privacy or not — I have permission to share their story — but I guess I will change their names anyway. Maybe they will comment here and you’ll get to meet them for real!
Vinnie and Marie were traveling together with Vinnie’s mother, Leona on our pilgrimage. They are from Long island, NY and have THE BEST ACCENTS EVER!!! Vinnie and Marie were kind enough, on that very first day, (I know…I’m back tracking a little here…this is pre-Papa Francesco…the day of the NAC/North America College and Cupola Tour with mom) to share their 25th Wedding Anniversary with our group at Mass. We were at a parish named for St. Paola of Rome. This is the icon inside the church sanctuary. She’s beautiful!
St. Paola lived between 347-404 and was an early Roman saint and an early Desert Mother. Her Feast Day is 26 January. She was widowed at age 32 — and is one of the many patrons of widows. She is perhaps most famous for her support of and service to the man who would become St. Jerome. My maternal grandfather’s name was Jerome — and my nephew is named Jeremy after him — so from a familial perspective this is significant! St. Paola was from a wealthy family and had been well educated — she met Jerome while on pilgrimage!!! She established a monastery for men and a convent for women. And she quietly used her gifts to help Jerome translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. She assisted Jerome in editing his manuscripts and letters, and she and her daughter helped copy all the work for circulation! They of course were not romantic or married — but the story reminds me of the many stories I know of married couples (including my own parents) whose relationships began by the woman helping the man (and NO…in my experience it has never been the other way around…hahahaha…) with schoolwork, writing papers, typing papers, or editing work! I have always loved to be helpful in that way as well!
So back to Mass and Vinnie and Marie…the Collect Prayer for that day called us to live out and “…proclaim the power of the risen Lord, that we, who have received the pledge of his gift, may come to possess all he gives when it is fully revealed.” Each of the pilgrims were given a gift in this pilgrimage – and that is each other. What would continue to amaze me the whole pilgrimage is that beginning today — we were hearing everyday from the Acts of the Apostles — and all of those readings and the gospels of course — as we are in the season of Easter — deal with the earliest Christians and their experience of living out the faith in the immediate light of the Resurrection! And here I am right smack dab in the middle of my Roman Catholic story! MY HISTORY. And the First reading told us that the disciples of Jesus shared everything — and had all things in common. I continued to be overwhelmed by my own experience of Wonder and Awe in God’s Presence.
OK…now really back to Vinnie and Marie…They proclaimed that first reading and psalm, and then they renewed their vows in front of all of us! It was really really special and I felt honored! I think this sharing of their special sacrament on the very first day set the stage for the rest of our time together — we truly would share all things in common — this would prove to be true over and over again…and for me…it was begun by my mother sharing this gift of pilgrimage with me — and then by Vinnie and Marie sharing their sacramental life of marriage with all of us on that first day.
Vinnie and Marie later shared their story and journey with me — how they were married young, and how Vinnie knew right away that he would someday marry Marie. It was super fun to hear about how Marie’s family guarded her innocence — they were only allowed to spend time together with other family members present…since Vinnie was a few years older…I LOVE THAT! And how they were inspired (and just plain TOLD) by both sides of their Puerto Rican families to be honorable and chaste in their relationship. It was very touching to me to hear them both share their hearts and experiences! What a blessing to my life as a blessed single! I am always amused by the fact that God sends such wonderful married couples into my life — and also that I might never be married because I have so many good examples and such a high bar! I must really need them! Because through all of my sacramentally married friends and families — God shows me what Matrimony is REALLY supposed to look like! And Catholic Marriage doesn’t look like any other Love Story ANYWHERE — because it is always rooted in Jesus’ Love Story with US. Individually AND communally!!! And I am so grateful for that! Vinnie and Marie shared that since Vinnie was in the Navy — he would drive hours and hours to see Marie (always supervised…but he was patient…and so was she…even when it was difficult) when he was on leave — and then turn right back around to get back to work! They finally married civilly — but — and this is SO GREAT — decided NOT to live together or participate as husband and wife until after they were married in the Catholic Church a few months later! And they both talked about how much they believed that was the best and right thing to do — even though I cannot imagine how difficult that had to have been for these 2 crazy-in-love peeps!!! They have 3 children — who i won’t name here — but trust me — they have THE BEST SAINT NAMES!!! And Vinnie and Marie have experienced many hardships — but particularly one that resulted in the miraculous healing of one of their children during his infancy. And they so willingly give of themselves and their story to others! I wish everyone could hear their story! I wish everyone could see how they laugh and joke and look at each other with such love as they tell that story! I want every young person to see in this married couple what they yearn for themselves in holy relationships. I want every married couple who wonders what the big deal is about being married in the Catholic Church to see through Vinnie and Marie what the REAL difference is and what they are truly capable of inside their call to the vocation of marriage! I want every married couple who wonders whether it was worth it – or who wonders if their children dating is worth the fight and argument about purity. IT IS!!! Purity until marriage or other vocation is worth it! Chastity inside marriage is worth it! Forming ourselves in John paul II’s Theology of the Body is WORTH IT!!! At any age. Any time. It’s never too early and never too late!
I watched Vinnie and Marie very carefully over our pilgrimage — it was fun to catch them checking on each other, checking on Vinnie’s mom, Leona, touch each other, holding hands when they thought no one was looking…joking around with the other pilgrims. Vinnie snoring in the back of the bus (yes, Vinnie, we have video proof!). Marie spending time talking and listening and caring for her mother-in-law. Leona clearly so proud of her son and daughter-in-law. They became everyone’s favorite married couple! They became everyone’s mom, dad, sister, brother, friend — Leona became everyone’s mom! And this continued to happen with and to everyone there! This is community. This is family. These are 2 people who clearly place God first above everything — and when 2 people do that on behalf of such great love for the other — their love cannot help but move both of them closer to God and to each other — like the triangle I attempt to teach our students. If God is the top of the triangle and the 2 people are the 2 base points…and they are constantly moving closer to God — moving up those lines of the triangle towards the top where God is — they cannot help but become closer to each other — the closer they become to God. This is why Matrimony and the family is like the Trinity! That great Love only creates more Love — in the form of children — among other things. Children inside of Matrimony is how God makes us most like Him — we get to participate in His creative process because of our great love! The triangle applies to every relationship we are called to be inside — friendship, relationship, work, home, family, whatever! WHO wouldn’t WANT to be CATHOLIC?!!! Seriously!!! So thanks — Vinnie and Marie and Leona — for being a sign and symbol of what God calls each of us to — to share what we have and to lay down our life for others — and to be that passionate fire that enkindles our faith! I will be praying with these things in mind tonight as our young people are practicing to “Protect ALL the Dignities” tonight at Prom!

Day 3 — Post-Pope

After the Papal Audience we toured St. Peter’s Basilica and some of the art on our way to the Sistine Chapel. I was overwhelmed as expected by the sheer amount of artwork — but even more so I felt called back to the past weekend of certificate study as well as the Gospel reading about the Feeding of the 5000. Fr. Stan broke it down: 5 loaves. 2 fish. 1 boy. Doesn’t humanly add up to 5000 (really probably 15-20,000 peeps). But God ain’t bound by math. He ain’t bound by doubt. We have a WILD God who dares us to believe He can’t do something! And when we are most unlovable is when He loves us the most.
So standing there amidst all this art — some of it my taste — and some of it not — I’m reminded that 100% of the gifts are right here to meet 100% of the needs. Wherever I am. Every time. All of this art comes from talent which is an unearned, undeserved, gift from God. My heart spoke, “with all of this beauty, surely there is enough.”
I’ve been discerning moving on from my current job, and I knew I would be praying a lot about that here on pilgrimage. I have been worried that perhaps I missed a call from God. I’ve been sending my resume out to a few places but not feeling really passionate about it. I have worried that either my gifts have been tapped here or that the community’s gifts have been tapped out here. But I am wrong. I need to re-examine my trust and faith.
We walked along a Fresco Hall and I was listening to the comments of others around me about how all this art was done by hand — no computer graphics, no facebook sharing, no copies, no computers, no technology, and how this generation will never be able to appreciate or produce such amazing [whatever]. Again my heart spoke, “God evens it out.” I don’t know what that means, but we are a people of hope — so my hope is through all of the elements, gifts, needs, and calls towards a New Evangelization, a call to New Media Evangelization, through peeps like Fr. Stan and many others — that God indeed will even it out.
We were briefed on the Sistine Chapel before we went inside — but nothing could prepare one for the entrance into one of the most important places in our current Church History. There are Vatican guides reminding of silenzio as you enter, and it’s packed with people. I was lucky enough to find a seat facing the direction I knew I wanted to face — thanks to prep work by our very own STM peep Dr. Jim. I knew I wanted to spend my 15 minutes facing the Last Judgment. I swear I could still smell the incense from conclave. I walked past the spot where every Cardinal swore their oath. I sat in the back and prayed about my own discernment, the intentions of my family, friends, and parish, and asked God to help everyone making touch decisions and asked for clarity in hearing God’s Will.
My notes while watching the Last Judgment read: hundreds of decisions made right here…by saints and sinners…surrounded by signs…surrounded by God’s glory…by God’s Plan for us…God’s intention for where we will spend eternity…and still we sin…still we fall…I feel emotional…this is how God gave us Pope Francis just 28 days ago. I’m standing where it happened. I know the Holy Spirit is everywhere — but He was here in this place in a very special way just recently. I feel overwhelmed with the reality of fire and love for my Catholic faith, and I feel passionate about cooperating with God’s plan “that we may all be one,” to help others who know only partially — to know fully — as God fully knows each of us. I feel humbled by all of the fear and wisdom and wonder and awe in this room — I feel the weight of the Church. The weight of the people…and at the same time a freedom and trust in our God. This is what it’s about. This is the meaning of MY life. This is the meaning of where I am called. To heaven.
Now — don’t get nervous. I did look around in other places besides the Last Judgment. My mother was very struck by the Creation of Man panel and Adam and Eve. I think perhaps that speaks to her because of the gift of marriage she has. I’ve listened to a fabulous courtship and marriage story even while on this pilgrimage — I’ll write about it later.

Buon Giorno! Si! Sto qui! The Mafia hasn’t gotten us! Day 2!

Yo to my Peeps!

WOW!  CanNOT believe we’ve been here 3 days already!  Internet a little spotty — so my apologies for taking so long!  206 Tours is a Catholic Tour Company that is organizing everything we do and we are blessed to have Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR (Conventual Franciscan Friars of the Renewal…the guys who do Youth 2000/Pan de Vida) as our spiritual director for the trip.  You might know that Fr. Stan is quite the musician — you can find some of his work at — check it out!  He is “smothered in awesome sauce!”  We are traveling this pilgrimage with a group of 19: 3 adult women, a family of mom and 5 kids, 3 mother-son/daughter pairs, a husband/wife/mother trio, and Fr. Stan plus our tour guide, Gaia — who is GREAT!  She is a strong Catholic, married with twin 2 year old girls, who was interestingly named for the Roman Goddess of the Earth!  Those of you who have read Percy Jackson will recognize her name.  Mom and I will be bound to these peeps by the nature and strength of what a pilgrimage is:  a journey that calls one to BE MORE.  Here are some highlights from the last few days:

After we got off the plane and to the first hotel it was only 10am — this was meant to be a free day for the group — to allow everyone to arrive — but many people took naps.  HA!  NAP?  What NAP?  Mom and I dropped our stuff, found an ATM, changed out some dollars to Euros, bought bus tickets and attempted to bus it to St. Peter’s Square.  Another HA!  We waited a long time for this alleged bus, and then were appraoched by a man who was also waiting who said — “forget it — where are you going?  I’ll walk with you.”  A little dicey?  Perhaps.  But when in Rome…you follow the nice man who knows where St. Peter’s is.  After ascertaining he really was just a nice man, mom and I walked through the beautiful streets of Rome with Roberto, who pointed things out along the way, stopped traffic for us to safely cross streets, told us about his family, and talked about how much the people of Rome loved our new Pope Francis.  When we asked him if he was Catholic, he didn’t miss a beat, “Catholic?  I am Roman!”  When he got as far as he was going, he pointed us in the right direction for the last few blocks, and wished us well.  COOL! 

St. Peter’s Square was busily being set up for the next day’s Papal Audience, which we would be attending.  We had tried in advance to get cancellation admission to the Scavi Tour — which is the excavation tour underneath St. Peter’s Basilica — but they only let in 250 peeps per day — so worth a try — but no dice.  SO — we were then treated to the most wonderful guided tour of the North American College (our seminary in Rome) by our very own Diocese of Sacramento Deacon Colin Wen (to be ordained in Sacramento in June…WOOHOO!). 

THEN — under the direction of Frank — we were advised to do the “cupola tour'” which is allegedly (I seem to have reasons to keep using that word…) an elevator ride up to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s.  The promise at the end: espresso and gelato.  The reality:  $7EU buys you a ticket to an elevator.  That part is true.  The part they leave out is that the elevator takes you up the first 328 steps. Which seems like an awful lot. But when you get there — you realize…it’s just not an awful lot. In fact, 328 steps gets you to exactly the bottom of the dome. Looking up at the dome from its base. Which is very cool. You feel WAY cooler than those fruit loops on the ground in St. Peter’s Basilica looking up. And you see this:
But THEN some man and his 90-year old father asked us how we get up to the next level. Next level? We didn’t know. We were still looking for gelato. And we found ourselves shuffled along up in this VERY. LONG. SKINNY. CARVED. MULTISIZED STEP. NO RAILING. SPIRAL staircase. Which leaned on an angle inward towards the cupola (the dome on top of the dome). You held on to the walls or (near the top) a rope (vertical through the staircase…like gym class) for a railing and prayed not to have a heart attack. Because there was no place to step aside. I feel reasonably certain people have been martyred on those stairs and nobody talks about it. I will do research when I get home. When you get to the top of this level you see this:

Cool, right? But that’s not all…for extra fun and excitement we then got to again NOT take an elevator to the top level — the cupola level…where we saw this:
Now THAT’S what I’m talking about!

What you don’t realize amidst the majesty of that view is that eventually you have to come down. The steps. All of them. The internet says there are 551. But I’m pretty sure they are lying. There were at least 6 billion. mom and I and some others laughed the whole way down while trying not to throw up about how we should set up a booth that costs $5EU and for that you get told by us “DON’T DO IT!” Just kidding. TOTALLY WORTH IT!

We took a WILD taxicab ride home — it’s a little like Six Flags Medusa Coaster. But less restraints/seat belts.

Beautiful mass at St. Ann’s Church in Rome with the group. Gelato beore dinner! And to JC — yes — it was pistachio…per your request…but with a lot of chocolate on the side!


GREAT dinner. Bed. Tomorrow…el Papa!

Day 1: Arrivederci!

Day 1: Arrivederci!

I just realized today is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord! Usually it’s 25 March (9 months before 25 December…), but when that date falls during Holy Week (and it did this year), it gets moved 2 weeks forward — outside of Holy Week and outside of the octave (first 8 days)of Easter. Because we are Catholic! And we don’t do double-celebrations or combine parties and gifts! We add them! We extend them! We PARTY ON!

The annunciation was the “yes,” the “fiat,” the humble affirmation and submission — of Mary, our Mother — who answered the call of God through the angel to be “under the mission of God.”

And the world changed forever.

Today is a special day for me and my mother as well — we are leaving today for Rome! I am going to see our new Holy Father Pope Francis! Today my world will also change forever — because of my mother.

I named the blog after the disciples’ experience because I want everyone’s hearts to burn within the presence of the Lord! The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus at first because they weren’t looking — I’m going to try to be looking as hard as I can for those encounters! I’m going on a pilgrimage — which is different than a tour or vacation. Our spiritual director, Fr. Stan Fortuna (look him up — and then wait to be “smothered in awesome sauce!” #thebestisyettocome)says that a pilgrimage “is a personal invitation from God, comprised of His offer and dependent upon the pilgrim’s acceptance. God’s call may vary but the purpose remains consistent — it is an individual summons to know God more fully. A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to which the pilgrim joyfully responds “yes” to God’s invitation.

Sounds a little like what we’re called to do everyday. Feast of the Annunciation indeed! So, Mary, here we go!