Thursday, July 14, 2016

Day 21 - FINAL DAY

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Our last full day in Rome!  After our delicious breakfast of Italian corn etti, we set out for Radio Vaticana where we celebrated the Holy Eucharist in Latin.  Our voices were heard throughout the world, as the Mass was broadcast to many countries.

After the celebration of Mass, we had some time for quiet prayer in the chapel.  Then we were privileged to meet with Sean Patrick Lovett, who has worked at Vatican Radio for forty years.  Flanked by a beautiful mural depicting the  Popes from Pius XI to Francis, we started our conference with a question and answer session.  Sean explained how Vatican Radio began in 1931 with Pius XI who was a “prisoner in the Vatican” at the time.  He called the famous Marconi for help in getting the Church’s message broadcast to the rest of the world.  On February 12, 1931, the first message began with the words by Pius XI, “To every living creature…”  We saw the actual microphone made by Marconi which was used for this historic event.  This communication continues to spread the truth of the Gospel to this very day.  We were amazed to hear stories of his experiences with the Popes under which he served, and we were inspired by Sean and how happy he is to serve God in this mission. 

After this wonderful presentation, we dispersed to go through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s one more time and receive the plenary indulgence.  The afternoon was free to pack and get ready to return to our homeland.  Some of the Sisters went to San Francesco a Ripa Church, truly a hidden treasure.  They saw the room in which St. Francis stayed during his trips to Rome, including the rock he used as his pillow.  They also were able to see and venerate the relics of hundreds of Franciscan Saints which were hidden behind beautiful paintings, but at the trip of a button rotated around for all to see.  It was truly amazing! 

At 5:00 p.m. we had our final Holy Hour together, followed by a festive supper in honor of Sr. Kateri’s feast day today.  In the evening some of the Sisters walked to the Vatican to get a view of St. Peter’s Basilica at night. 

As the day came to a close, we felt a special bond after being together for so long.  Even though we belong to different religious communities, we have truly been united as one family during these three weeks.   We thank God for this wonderful opportunity and the many graces we have received.  

This was taken earler in the week - a confessional / ambo combined.  A nice meditation on the connection between the Sacrament of Confession and the Word of God.  

All the popes actively involved in Vatican Radio, with the creator of the Radio Guglielmo Marconi

Final Group shot! 

The first microphone - made from the same type of marble as the Pieta

The reliquary in the room that St. Francis stayed when he came to Rome

A very nice statue in San Francesco a Ripa Church

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Day 20 - July 13

Day 20 --  July 13th

Mother Regina Pacis lead us on our final walking tour of Rome to visit the local famous  Churches that we hadn’t seen yet. We began by venturing into Piazza Navona which was the site of an ancient stadium, or place for contests. She explained that the word for contest was “agone,” so St Agnes in Agone meant she was martyred at the contest rather than in agony. Although they tried to kill her by burning at the stake, then resorted to beheading when that didn’t work-so maybe she was in agony too.

We headed off to the Basilica of St Augustine, where his mother, St Monica, is buried. A number of the sisters were impressed by the statue of Our Lady who many people have appealed to for healthy children.

Next we left Italy for France to the Church of St Louis of France. In addition ot having quite a few French saints represented in statue, painting or memorial plaque, there were three paintings by the chiaroscurist (painter who specializes in dark paintings with a light focus) Caravaggio. All three of these paintings dealt with St Matthew-from his call, to writing his Gospel, to his martyrdom. In the one about his call, Caravaggio drew us into the mystery of Christ’s call for each of us and His Mercy.

Next we took our backpacks to the Pantheon. While it is now a Church dedicated to Our Lady and the Martyrs, it still holds a bit of pagan and secular flavor.  While the painter Raphael is buried there, so also is Victor Emmanuel and his son and daughter-in-law. There are religious images, and a lovely light from the hole in the round ceiling, but the Blessed Sacrament wasn’t present. So off we went to find a Church where Jesus was present.

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is the Church where St Catherine of Sienna is mostly buried. Her head is in Sienna but the rest of her body rests under the main altar. In addition we found final resting place of Fra Angelico. Two statues by Michelangelo bookend the high altar. His subjects were Christ Our Redeemer and St John the Baptist. We found in a theater the little room where St Catherine of Siena lived while in Rome, and where she died. The final destination before lunch was the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles where the Apostles Philip and James the Lesser are buried.  

We spent our time following in the footsteps of so many saints literally, now we need to do so spiritually.

Mother Regina Pacis and Sister Maria Soccoro led some of us to St Paul’s ending place and a lovely park where Our Lady appeared just across the street from Tre Fontane.  On April 12, 1947 Our Lady appeared to a rabid anti-Catholic, and like St Paul, brought about his instant conversion. Many miracles have been attributed to Our Lady at this site. On crossing the road we journeyed back over the centuries to the Trappist monastery which oversees to place where St Paul was imprisoned before execution, and the place where he was beheaded.

Near to the end of our time in Rome we walked for our supper over to Trastevere, where we enjoyed pizza and the joy of our Sisters. It was a blessed day. 

A classic pose in the Piazza Navona

Praying before the relics of St. Agnes

The statue of our Lady of Childbirth

Praying before the mortal remains of St. Catherine of Siena

The room where St. Catherine died

Praying before the tomb of Sts. Philip and James

Grotto Della Madonna delle Tre Fontane

The room where Paul was imprisioned before his beheading


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day 19 - July 12

Day 19 – Tuesday, July 12

“If you are seeking the light, Benedict, why do you choose the dark grotto? The grotto does not offer the light you are seeking. But continue in the darkness to seek the shining light. Because only on a dark night do the stars shine.”

After 7 am Mass at the Gesu, we breakfasted and loaded up for our picnic outing at Subiaco, the birthplace of Western monasticism. When the Vatican bus came to pick us up, we learned the van had no air conditioning and the windows do not open – a problem in 90° weather! So we were taken “behind the scenes” of Vatican City to pick up another van. 

We enjoyed the scenic panorama of Rome and its countryside as we drove about an hour and a half into the more mountainous country. We  ascended up the mountain on which St. Benedict retreated into a cave for three years. Providentially, an English-speaking Benedictine, Dom Maurizio, OSB, offered his services as a tour guide because the person he was supposed to meet did not come. He showed us the various churches and monastery that had been built over the site where Benedict tried to be a hermit, but the crowds of shepherds and then other people attracted by his sanctity, convinced him to write the Rule of St. Benedict and to found a monastery. (The monastery he founded was down the hill and is now called St. Scholastica.)

Our Franciscan Sisters were delighted to see a fresco of St. Francis of Assisi by an artist who actually saw the Saint when he visited the monastery. It is reputed to be the most authentic image of St. Francis.

For our picnic lunch, we headed down the mountain to the nearby St. Scholastica monastery. Our driver, Maurice, had never tasted an egg salad sandwich before!  The monastery did not open until 3:30 pm, although a kind monk opened the museum of the library for us and we were able to see beautiful illuminated manuscripts, as well as the massive first printing press outside of Germany.  We also prayed in the little chapel for guests, and enjoyed the scenic view. We expected mountain coolness, but as Sr. Kathleen later said, “I thought I would regret not bringing my sweater – what a joke!!”

The tour was fascinating: various centuries of monastic living, with an amazing 7-story bell tower, frescoes which had perspective 400 earlier than DaVince – eyes that seemed to follow the viewer wherever one went – beautiful courtyards – running water with pipes coming to the kitchen centuries before such a practice became common….

Our eyes and hearts filled with beauty, we climbed into the van for what we expected would be our ride home. After we all were in the van, the engine died. And then the van started going backwards downhill…some of us thought we were about to meet our Maker.  After many prayers and appeals to St. Benedict (whom we learned is the patron saint of exorcists!), St. Frances of Rome, and our Blessed Mother, a large car drove up and had the jumper cables to get us moving in the right direction. After many moments of darkness during the day, our supper concluded with much laughter as we recounted the adventures of the day.

Pilgrims ready to climb the hill to St. Benedict's

Dom Maurizio with the painting of St. Francis

A modern statue of St. Scholastica

The ancient bell tower at St. Scolastica's

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day 18 - July 11

Monday, July 11, 2016

Our day started with Morning Prayer and meditation.  Then we took the bus to the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, officially titled “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” since 1988.  There we met Fr. Ehli again, who celebrated the Holy Eucharist in the Chapel of the Congregation.  This is the same chapel in which Cardinal John Henry Newman was ordained.  Also in this chapel is one of the habits of St. Therese of Lisieux and a fresco of St. Francis Xavier, pointing to Jesus.  Both saints are patrons of the missions, and in his homily Father stated that the missionary’s job, and therefore our job, is to point out Jesus to others.  St. Therese accepted who she was in her weakness and littleness, thus Father invited us to accept who we are and follow Jesus. 

After Mass Father treated us to coffee and refreshments before  entering the conference room in which the twenty-one officials of the Congregation discuss important issues.  They gather together once a week for two hours.  It was an amazing experience to sit in the very chairs in which these officials handle many issues dealing with the missions.  Cardinal Filoni is the prefect of this Congregation, and he is called the “Red Pope” because he is responsible for half of the world’s land mass and population.  This Congregation is sometimes called the “Curia within the Curia” because of all of the responsibilities they handle with the mission territories. 

After the fantastic experience of being in this room, we proceeded to the Archives where they keep all the documents of the missions.  Then we went to the special chapel in which Cardinal Newman celebrated his first Mass, and we venerated the relic of Cardinal Newman.  We thanked Fr. Ehli who gave so generously of his time and knowledge by showing us this special place.

Then we proceeded across the street to the Church of Sant’ Adreaa delle Frate, in which the anti-Catholic Jewish man, Alphonse Ratisbonne had a miraculous conversion to Catholicism, through an apparition of the Blessed Mother.  At the same time, we visited the altar of Our Lady of Miracles at which St. Maximillian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass.  We spent some time in prayer, and joined in the Midday Prayer of the priests and parishioners.

In the afternoon, some of us visited St. Bartholomew’s Basilica where he is buried.  We also venerated various relics of new martyrs from various countries, including a Missal used by Oscar Romero.  We ended the day preparing eagerly for our trip to Subiaco tomorrow. 

The Altar in the chapel of the ongregation for the Evangelization of Peoples

The habit of St. Therese of Lieseux 

Group Photo by the relics of St. Cardinal Henry Newman 

The Altar at which St. Maximilian Kolbe celebrated his first Mass

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Day 17 - July 10

Day 17 - July 10, 2016

We attended Mass at Holy Spirit Church, very near the Vatican.  It is the pilgrimage church for the Year of Mercy, and Mass was in English!  A young man received his first communion during the Mass, and Father’s homily was on the inn keeper in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Lay people need to remember that the inn keeper was simply doing his job – he even got paid – and yet how important his role was to the healing of the man who had been attacked.  We, too, in doing our daily work, living our daily lives, can be instruments of God’s love and mercy.

We then attended the Angelus at noon for the last time this visit.  It is a wonderful experience of the Church – international, and everyone is so excited to see and hear the Holy Father.  It is an experience  of a fond father with his children, encouraging, praying, reflecting with his children, and then urging us out of the heat and on to lunch.

The afternoon was free, and some of the Sisters went to visit the motherhouse of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden, Sr. Daisy’s community.  We were cheerfully received by her Sisters. After a visit to the Chapel, one of the Sisters explained the life of their founder St. Antonio Gianelli as we looked on his relics at the side altar. Superior General Mother Gladys joined us for refreshments, and then gave us the grand tour-through the lovely garden where we oohed and aahed over the lemon, kiwi and fig trees, then  all the way up to the tower that overlooks the city of Rome. We saw the Coliseum, the Victor Emmanuelle Monument, and St Peter’s Basilica in the distance. Next we proceeded down to the basement, where Mother Gladys pointed out the tunnels where the Sisters hid while the Nazis were in the city, and their ancient “washing machine,” which is a huge stone pool with one area for scrubbing and another for rinsing. It was really cool. The warmth of all the Sisters was so genuine, we felt right at home.  Clearly Sister Daisy is a well-loved member, whose charity was reflected in the faces of her sisters, including 82-year old, 4 ½ foot Sister Nisa who hugged and teased her heartily. 

A pilgrim-Sister praying before the altar of Pope St. John Paul II


Above the entrance of the Motherhouse for the Daughters of Our Lady of the Garden

Sr. Daisy pointing out their mission houses

The view from the top of the building

The unique washing machine

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Day 16 - July 9

Day 16 – July 9, 2016

It was a day rich in saints: On our way to the Forum area where we would be visiting churches, Mother Regina Pacis told us that St. John Paul II visited the first floor of Domus Guadalupe to see the Polish Jesuit library, both before and after he became pope.

We first met with closed doors at the places we planned to go, so many of us trekked further up the hill to St. Peter in Chains. We were able to see the sculpture of Moses that Michelangelo thought so life-like that he urged it to speak. Then we venerated the chains from St. Peter’s imprisonments where he was miraculously rescued by angels. Beautiful acapello singing created a beautiful meditative atmosphere as a group chanted Taize music.

The doors were then open at the Basilica of St. Frances of Rome. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Basilica incorporated a wall from a temple to Venus that the Emperor Hadrian had built centuries before.

Many weddings are held in this beautiful church, and part of the reason is that St. Frances of Rome was a wife and mother. She was the first Oblate of the Benedictine order, and exercised many works of charity.  We prayed at her tomb, where she was clothed as an Oblate – although she died in the 15th century, her skeleton is still visible. Romans love her so much that St. Mary Nuovo, built in the 10th century, was rededicated to her in the 16th century.

Then we returned to the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, twin medical doctors who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods and were martyred in 303. The site used to be a medical library during the time of the Roman forum, and was built with perfect acoustics for the physicians to give lectures. This serves well those who chant the Divine Office, as well as priest celebrants. Brother Mark, a Third Order Regular of St. Francis, gave us the fascinating history of the Basilica. Highlights included the mosaic from 525 AD depicting Christ using Romanic symbolism, with Sts. Peter and Paul dressed in Senatorial garb; and the relics of many martyrs, including Cosmas and Damian and their three brothers; and wooden choir stalls carved in 1635 by hand with unique embellishments. Catholic artists created for beauty to raise our hearts and minds to God, Bother Mark emphasized. The Third Order Regulars were given the church in 1503, and have been able to maintain a presence there even during times of persecution.

Sr. Rosemary, a Nashville Dominican, provided a multimedia debut of her Oratorio of St. Cecilia, accompanying her stirring musical composition with beautiful images of St. Cecilia’s martyrdom. She led with a prayer to deepen our appreciation for the religious consecration of which St. Cecilia gave testimony with her life and death. It was a fitting way to enter into our Eucharistic Holy Hour. 

In the afternoon, Sr. Rafael and Kateri experienced the Gospel reading of being “little sparrows” under the protection of God as they visited the Vatican Museums. At dinner they recounted their adventures, and then Sr. Mary Angela read to us selections from Ratisbonne’s conversion story to whet our appetites for Monday’s visit to the church where he experienced a vision of our Blessed Mother. More adventures to come.

An image of St. Frances of Rome and her guardian angel

Sisters venerating the remains of St. Frances of Rome

The high altar in Sts Cosmas & Damian Church

Close up of the mosaic above the high altar

Sisters venerating the relics of Sts. Cosmas & Damian 

A group picture with Brother Mark 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Day 15 - July 8

Day 15 - Friday, July 8, 2016 

After the Holy Eucharist, we walked to St. Cecilia’s Basilica and had an amazing tour, given by Sister Maria Giovanna.  She took us everywhere and explained details about the life of St. Cecilia.  She took us to the crypt, and showed us where St. Cecilia and her family lived.  We prayed at the tombs of martyrs St. Cecilia, her husband and brother-in-law who converted to Christianity, and another Christian convert.  We visited the fourth-century  Baptistery where many people embraced Christianity.  It is evident that it was a baptistery because of the inscription written on the marble which says, “Those who are washed here in this font will become new.”   Then we went to the place in which she actually was martyred.  We were very fortunate to visit these interior places of the basilica because of Sr. Maria Giovanna.  She took us to the cloister garden made in the form of a cross, and divided into four sections, each with key trees in salvation history—fig, olive, pomegranate, and palm.  After we climbed many stairs, we were privileged to visit the choir loft where we saw beautiful fourth-century frescoes created by Pietro Cavallini, who was the teacher of Giotto.  St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music.

In the afternoon, we met Fr. Oxley again at St. Peter’s for a tour of the most magnificent and beautiful basilica in the world.  We began our tour outside, where he explained the main door of the Basilica, which is from the original basilica built by Constantine.  It depicts Jesus on the throne, Mary, Peter and Paul and their martyrdoms, signifying that Rome is crowned by the blood of the princes of the martyrs.  Then we entered through the Holy Door once again and went into the center of the Basilica, after viewing Michelangelo’s beautiful Pieta.  Fr. Oxley explained that there are 38 statues of Religious, and told us that this is significant because of a new document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith stating that both the hierarchy and the charismatic gifts are essential.  As we walked through the basilica, we stopped at various tombs of the Popes and prayed.  We also spent a little time with the Lord in the Adoration Chapel.  Then Father pointed out the actual chair of St. Peter in the back of the basilica, under the Holy Spirit window.  At the end of the tour we stopped at the Baptistery, where the Pope baptizes catechumens at the Easter Vigil.  Father remarked that this Basilica is “our church.”  It belongs to everybody;  especially the poor can say, “This is my church.”  The poor need something beautiful like our church.  Thus, each one of us can truly say, “This is my church.”  Here all are welcome to sit at the table of Jesus.  Jesus accepts everyone and everyone is thirsting for His love.  We concluded with a prayer and a blessing from Father Oxley.  

A group photo with a sculpted image of St. Cecilia under the altar

The front of St. Cecilia's tomb

The back of St. Cecilia's tomb

The location of St. Cecilia's actual death

Sr. Maria Giovanna

Father Oxley explaining St. Peter's 

A group photo after our tour of St. Peter's