Each day of this pilgrimage has seemed more amazing than the one before. Today is no exception and will be impossible to top. With another early morning wake up, we left the hotel in the dark and walked back to Saint Peter's Basilica. Our first glimpse of the interior was breathtaking, but we had no time to stop, and quickly walked through the center and headed down a spiral staircase. On our way through, we saw Masses being held in all the chapels in many different languages.
Today's Mass for the pilgrims was held at the Tomb Altar of Saint Peter, directly in front of his bones. The gospel was read again by Deacon Daniel Carr, and spoke of Jesus building his Church on Peter who would be the rock. Bishop Malesic gave a beautiful homily saying that staying close to Peter was staying close to the Church, and staying close to Jesus. We need to be like Peter and have faith in the resurrection.
Following Mass we separated into groups of 15 people to take guided tours of the underground excavations beneath Saint Peter's Basilica (The Scavi). These excavations discovered the bones of an elderly and powerfully-built man in 1965, and declared by Pope Paul VI to be the actual bones of Saint Peter. Our tour took us through tiny passageways that were very warm and humid. We were able to see family mausoleums with wall paintings and mosaics. We walked along a very narrow excavated street to see part of the Trophy of Gaius, a funeral monument believed to mark the tomb of Peter. Then we entered the last chamber… the actual site of his bones. Here Bishop Malesic asked for the intercession of Peter for all pilgrims and people of the diocese as he held the prayer sachet. Such a moving experience!
After the Scavi tours we met with our guides for a tour through Saint Peter's Basilica. So much to see including the Pieta by Michelangelo, the Bernini baldacchino, the tomb of Saint John Paul II, and the great dome. Every space filled with beautiful sculptures and mosaics, it is easy to see why it is one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations for Christians in the world, having 6 million vistors each year.
We took a break in the afternoon to rest, and then returned to Vatican City for a private tour of the Vatican Museum. We walked through rooms of ancient Roman scultures, tapestries and maps until we reached the Sistine Chapel. Our guides took a lot of time explaining each part of the ceiling and The Last Judgement. When all the pilgrims had gathered in the chapel, Bishop Malesic led us all in prayer. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.
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