Walking the streets of the early Church was a huge bucket list item and a blessing!
Hundreds of your prayer petitions followed me every step of the way
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…”
-St. Francis of Assisi
My first overseas journey took place 30 years ago. I was only a couple of months away from moving my young family to Owensboro from Morganfield, Kentucky and my pastor thought that a couple of weeks visiting Catholic Shrines in Portugal and then Yugoslavia would provide me with an important insight into the roots of my faith. You could call it my first venture “off the farm.”
That pilgrimage sparked an interest in church history and our faith’s unique connection to mysticism, apparitions, relics, and miracles. I’m a doubting Thomas by nature and name anyway, but these are the types of issues that require a LOT of evidence. And even then, there are just some things you can’t absolutely prove, but it never gets old gathering evidence and learning life lessons in the process.
Sometime during the spring I started thinking again about that trip, and started discussing the possibility of celebrating another age milestone with a trip to areas of Italy steeped in Catholic history and tradition. It helped that I had a good friend from the “old” country who owns a travel agency! I shared my plan to do this self-directed pilgrimage and suggested he might want to consider coming along for the ride. It was amazing to me that in 30 years of booking large groups all over the country for others, he’d never traveled anywhere on his own.
It did not disappoint.
There are a lot of reasons we chose to start south around the heel and move our way up the east coast of the Adriatic Sea before turning inland. Thirty years ago I moved up the west coast of the Adriatic from Dubrovnik (now in Croatia). Now I was going to look across that ancient Sea from the other side. And I wanted to see history in smaller communities. I didn’t take into account how little English people would speak in some of these villages, but it made for some great stories.
The trip took on another dimension when another friend suggested that I take a sack of prayer requests with me to each site and to use this as an opportunity to create something even more meaningful. So I sent out a request through the school’s religion departments and received hundreds of petitions from students throughout the system. Then I started receiving prayer requests from parents and teachers alike. I even took a couple of rosaries. I read those petitions several times throughout the trip and they were placed in special sacred locations. They helped create and intensify my reflections. The petitions were as beautiful and innocent as you would expect from second and third graders, but there were also many poignant and thoughtful high school requests as well. Some were especially gut-wrenching (most were anonymous): “All my parents seem to do is fight with each other,” and then there were many prayers for grandparents and illnesses (primarily cancer.) A few animals also made the prayer list. Some were very funny. And then some students were just thoughtful; “thank you for using these holy places to pray for us.”
I won’t go into a lot of detail about these incredible Basilicas and the gorgeous Tuscan countryside. That would take a book (and at some times, a comedy sitcom). We started in San Giovanni where Padre Pio lays in state and the petitions spent some time where he celebrated Mass every day. They moved up to Monte San Angelo to Saint Michael’s Cave and then up to Ortona where they rested for a while with some bones of St. Thomas the Apostle. We placed them at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and in the church of St. Nicholas in Radda, Chianti. There were several “cold chill” moments on the trip, one of them placing all the petitions a few feet from the altar that is home to the Shroud of Turin. All of these sites and relics have their own politics, economies and controversies, but I’ve been staring at that haunting, sacred image since high school. There’s a replica in my office. The museum dedicated to its history and science is only a few blocks away. It was well worth the long trip north to Turin.
The last two days were spent in Rome where the petitions walked with me on first century streets as we toured the archeological digs under the Vatican (The Scavi, where there are ancient grave sites and the bones of St. Peter) and the digs at San Clemente (named after the 4th Pope.) They were placed on the altar of the weeping Madonna and at the tomb of Pope John Paul II. What can you say about coming face to face with the Pieta, or the Sistine Chapel? Even the Coliseum provided a vivid reminder of what early Christians suffered to pass their faith on from generation to generation.
I will always be thankful for the opportunity and the memories. I was also thankful for that little sack of petitions which kept reminding me how important our lives are connected to each other. I’ll continue to remember and read them from time to time as they find a new resting place in my office.
While I have no desire to travel any time soon, I am plotting out my next great adventure. I plan on celebrating the next 30 year milestone with a trip to the Holy Land. I’ll only be 90!
My hope and prayer is that students and teachers are enjoying some adventures of their own this summer. It doesn’t have to be quite as dramatic or expensive. There’s great value in those trips to Holiday World or a picnic in the park or on the river. Kids need and crave the interaction even when they don’t show it. And sometimes we need a break from our daily routines to make sure we’re still guiding our own time and we haven’t let busy routines own us! Hopefully the time off is giving everyone some time to prepare mentally and spiritually for the work of a new 2019 school year!
Hope to see everyone August 7th!
Click on the link below to see more pictures from Italy!