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 www.francescoproductions.com — 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:

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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!). 
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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:
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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:
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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:
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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!

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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!