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Oct 29
Day 11: Rome

07 Reception After Mass.jpgToday we began our final day of the pilgrimage with Mass at Saint Patrick's Catholic American Community in Rome. Bishop Malesic's homily reminded us that we live in the house we build, or in other words, we reap what we sow. Following the Mass we were invited to a reception at the church hosted by the Felician Sisters.  Sister Anita, a Felician Sister from Mount Pleasant, was so happy to greet us all.

10 throwing coins in Trevi Fountain_twitter.jpgAfter the reception, we drove to central Rome for a walking tour with our local guides. Historic sites of interest included Trevi Fountain, Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. After the 3 hour tour, we all had lunch on our own, and enjoyed free time to explore anything we wanted. Some walked to to La Botticella (the Steeler Bar in Rome), the Spanish Steps, Santa Maria del Popolo, The Coloseum, The Forum, or Saint Peter's Basilica, and some went back to the hotel to rest and pack their suitcases.

19 Farewell Dinner.jpgWe all met back at the hotel for the drive to Checco dello Scapicolo, a restaurant outside the city center for our farewell dinner. The pilgrims enjoyed a wonderful meal and were treated to live music and dancing. The perfect ending to our spiritual and cultural pilgrimage to Italy.

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Oct 28
Day 10: Frascati

01 Saint Peter's Cathedral in Frascati.jpgToday we drove to the town of Frascati where we had Mass at Saint Peter's Cathedral. After visiting very ornate basilicas, the interior of this cathedral seemed to be quite bare. We were sad to learn that this was because the Germans had occupied the town of Frascati during WWII, and the Americans had bombed this cathedral. The façade remained intact but the interior was destroyed.

After Mass we walked down the cobblestone streets to Castelli Romani, a lovely restaurant up on a hill with a panoramic view of Rome below. As we walked in the door we were handed glasses of wine and our plates were filled with delicious food for tasting. After eating, we were invited to go to the cooking stations to learn how to cook authentic Italian food.

09 Cooking Fettuccini.jpgThe first item was Fettuccini made from just flour and eggs. We mixed the ingredients together with our hands and formed a ball of dough. Then we were given rolling pins and rolled it out. After drying for 10 minutes, we rolled the dough in on itself and sliced it to make the pasta. We moved on to the cooking station where we measured handfuls of Pecorino Romano cheese into a mixing bowl. After we added the freshly ground Moroccan pepper, and a scoop of the boiling pasta water we stirred this mixture and set it aside. We added the pasta to the boiling pot of water and after cooking for only 2 minutes, we drained the pasta and mixed it in with the cheese. Yum!

We also made Focaccia Bread, and a torte for desert. It was a fun and relaxing day.

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Oct 27
Day 9: Rome

06 Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.jpgToday the pilgrims attended Mass in the Holy Sacrament Chapel of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. Following the Mass we were given a guided tour of the Basilica.

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral of Rome and the mother church of the world. It was the first Christian basilica to be built in the city and became the model for all subsequent Christian churches. Popes were crowned here until 1870 when the popes retreated to the Vatican.

The papal altar encloses part of a wooden altar at which Saint Peter and his successors are said to have celebrated Mass.

14 Steps of the Scala Sancta.jpgAfter touring the basilica, we walked to the Scala Sancta. In the 15th century the staircase was declared to be the one from Pilate's house which Christ descended after his condemnation. Saint Helen, the mother of Constantine, had them brought to Rome from Jerusalem. The 28 marble steps are protected by boards, and worshipers are only allowed to ascend them on their knees. Many of the pilgrims did the climb while praying, and wept when they reached the top.

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Oct 26
Day 8: Rome

11 Touring the Basilica_small.jpgEach 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.

02 Homily in the Tomb of Saint Peter.jpgToday'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!

08 The Peita by Michaelangleo.jpgAfter 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.

21 The Sistine Chapel.jpgWe 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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Oct 25
Day 7: Rome

05 Pope.jpgAn early morning wake up gave many of the pilgrims time to shop for religious items before the papal audience. After shopping and going through security we waited patiently in Saint Peter's Square for the Holy Father to appear. We were welcomed in many languages, and each group in attendance was mentioned including the Diocese of Greensburg.  


There was so much excitement as Pope Francis entered the square riding in the popemobile. Thousands of people from all around the world expressed their joy in seeing him as he rode by.  He stopped right in front of us to kiss a baby and the crowd loved it! He made his way to the front of the audience, and shared a beautiful message of hope with everyone. Then he blessed us all, asking the Lord to watch over us, as well as family members at home, and grant us good health. This blessing included any items that we had with us. Following the audience, we had a delicious lunch together at La Venerina Restaurant near the Vatican, and everyone shared their excitement from the morning.

10 Group in Rome.jpgWe walked back to our hotel and prepared to travel to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall. We were greeted by Deacon Dan Carr, a seminarian of the diocese studying at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. Mass was celebrated under the beautiful gold mosaic ceiling depicting Jesus with Saint Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint Paul and Saint Luke. Bishop Malesic presided, and Deacon Carr proclaimed the gospel and gave a wonderful reflection on Saint Paul. After the reflection, Bishop Malesic invited all pilgrim couples celebrating significant anniversaries to renew their wedding vows together.

After Mass we were given a guided tour of the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Wall. The tour also included the Cloister, the Pinacoteca and the archeological area of the Basilica. We continued our evening with a panoramic tour of ancient Rome. We drove by the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, and the Circus Maximus while our guide explained some of the history.

We arrived back at our hotel for dinner, and Bishop Malesic introduced six Benedictines from Saint Vincent Seminary who are working or teaching in Rome.  

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Oct 24
Day 6: Pietralcina

04 Climbing the Staircase to Saint Pio's Bedroom.jpgWe left San Giovanni Rotondo this morning and drove 3 hours to our next holy sites: Saint Pio's birthplace, the Church of the Holy Family, and the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels.

We arrived in Pietralcina and walked to the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels. There we were greeted by 2 Filipino sisters who would be our tour guides through the town. To experience the quaint little town, we walked up and down narrow cobblestone streets to the house where Saint Pio lived as a boy. We climbed a steep crooked stone staircase to reach a single room at the top with a bed and small table. Carefully going back down the staircase, we crossed the street to see the kitchen of the house.

12 Church where Saint Pio Was Baptized.jpgA short walk away from that house, we visited the tiny Church of the Holy Family. This is the church that Saint Pio was baptized in and received his First Holy Communion. The baptismal font was behind a glass wall. We gathered in the church and prayed a short prayer for the intercession of Saint Pio.

We walked back to the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels. This was the church where Saint Pio said his first Mass in 1910. He stayed at this parish for 6 years, saying Mass every morning at 5:30 AM. This is also the church where he began hearing confessions. We were able to see his first confessional behind a wall of glass. Bishop Malesic presided at Mass here, and the prayer sachet was once again placed on the altar and remembered in prayers.

19 Olive Tree Groves.jpgWe boarded the busses one more time today, traveling through the beautiful countryside. Vineyards and groves of olive trees filled the landscape with the Apennine Mountains in the background. It was an ideal backdrop to pray the rosary with Bishop Malesic as we continued on our journey to Rome. When we arrived in Rome it was already dark, but we got our first glimpse of Saint Peter's Basilica from our hotel.

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Oct 23
Day 5: San Giovanni Rotondo

08 Venerating the Saint Pio Relics.jpgOur first stop today was Chiesa Antica (Old Church) where Bishop Malesic presided at Mass with the pilgrims. This small church was where Saint Pio of Pietralcina celebrated Mass every day. The prayer sachet, filled with the prayer petitions from the faithful in our diocese, was placed on that same altar. The confessional where Saint Pio sometimes sat for 18 hours a day was on the left side of the church.

At the end of the Mass a Capuchin monk welcomed us and told us about the life of Saint Pio. He blessed us all with 2 relics from St. Pio. The first was one of his gloves that he used to cover the stigmata on his hand, and the second was a simple wooden crusifix that he wore around his neck every day and kissed every night before he went to sleep. We were each invited to venerate the relics which were held by Bishop Malesic and Father Lechnar. The relics were also placed upon our prayer sachet and the intercession of Saint Pio was invoked by Bishop Malesic.

We then took a guided tour through the Old Church, the Sanctuary of Maria delle Grazie and the Old Friary. There we saw the cell of Padre Pio, many relics including a wall filled with prayer requests of just one year and many of the vestments he wore. We were able to give reverence to the original crucifix that spoke to Padre Pio when he had the vision of someone covered with blood. That was the moment he received the stigmata (the 5 wounds of Christ) and realized that he was covered with blood.

19 Incorrupt Body of Saint Pio.jpgWe were blessed to see firsthand and venerate the incorrupt body of Saint Pio. We visited the Shrines and worship spaces, and saw the stunning mosaics depicting scenes of the life of Saint Francis, and Padre Pio's deeply profound interactions with Jesus.

After dinner many pilgrims returned to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie to pray the rosary. At the end of the rosary, the Capuchin monks led a procession while reciting the Litany of the Saints. They carried roses up to Saint Pio's cell and set them in front of the chair where he died. 

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Oct 22
Day 4: Loreto and Lanciano

Shrine of the Holy House.jpgWith a 5:30 AM wake-up call, the pilgrims started the day early with packed suitcases, and said arrivederci to Assisi. We traveled 2 hours by bus to Loreto to see the Basilica of Loreto.

Directly behind the main altar is the Shrine of The Holy House. The shrine holds 3 walls of the Holy Family's house where the Annunciation and Incarnation took place. The shrine has been in Loreto since 1294, brought from Nazareth to preserve it from invaders and thieves. The shrine is now a tiny chapel with an altar and a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Loreto. The shrine is encased in a marble masterpiece of Italian Renaissance art. It was built in the first 30 years of the 16th century, according to a design by Donato Bramante.

The monumental Basilica of Loreto contains a considerable number of bronze sculptures. There is an amazing cycle of frescoes on the ceiling of the Treasure Hall as well as in the chapels of the apses. After admiring the interior, we headed outside to Madonna's Square to view the exterior architecture.

Eucharistic Miracle.jpgAfter a quick lunch on our own, we boarded our busses and made our way to the town of Lanciano. In the 8th century, the first and greatest Eucharistic Miracle of the Catholic Church took place here. It was a divine response to a Brazilian monk who doubted Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist. During Mass, after the consecration, the host was changed into live flesh and the wine was changed into live blood. The Host-Flesh has been preserved in a decorative silver ostensorium since 1713, and the Blood is held in a crystal cup below it.

In 1970 and again in 1981, scientific investigations were conducted with absolute precision, yielding the following conclusions: the Flesh is real human flesh, the Blood is real human blood; the Flesh is composed of heart muscle tissue; both have AB blood type.

After taking photos of the Eucharistic Miracle, we were seated in the body of the church. Bishop Malesic celebrated Mass with Father Lechnar and all the pilgrims. It was a powerful experience to watch the bishop consecrate the bread and wine, directly in front of the Eucharistic Miracle.

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Oct 21
Day 3: Touring Assisi


We awoke to the glorious sound of bells ringing from the Abbey of San Pietro below our hotel. We began our tour of Assisi with a hike up the narrow cobblestone streets to the Basilica of Saint Francis. Bishop Malesic celebrated Mass with all of the pilgrims at the Tomb of Saint Francis where the saint's remains are held in a stone casket directly behind the altar. The prayer sachet, filled with prayer requests from througout the diocese, was placed on the altar and remembered during the prayers of the faithful.

Touring Basilica of Saint Francis.JPGFollowing the Mass we were joined by two Franciscan priests, Father Daniel and Father Daniel! They guided us through the basilica and taught us so much about Saint Francis and the history of the building. The lower church was filled with frescoes depicting the life of Jesus and events in the life of Saint Francis. The upper church, with a ceiling twice as tall as the church below, was also filled with beautiful frescoes. Scenes from the Old Testament as well as more scenes from the life of Saint Francis covered each wall.

After the tour, we left the basilica and hiked up more narrow cobblestone streets heading to the town of Assisi. Beautiful stone buildings lined both sides of the streets, filled with little shops and restaurants. We made our way to the original town square: the Piazza del Comune. We walked through the Temple of Minerva, a Catholic church with an ancient Roman Forum facade built in the second century A.D. 

We stopped to pray at the Basilica of Saint Clare. There hangs the original San Domino Crusifix which spoke to Saint Francis. This basilica also contained many relics of Saint Clare and Saint Francis. A short distance from the Basilica of Saint Clare stands Chiesa Nuova. It is a small church build over the home of Saint Francis' family.

Lunch today was on our own, giving everone a chance to visit some of the little restaurants and shops that we had hiked by. After the lunch break we boarded taxis and drove up the steep winding mountain road to our next stop, Eremo delle Carceri, also known as The Hermitage. A beautiful stone cloister, hidden in the dense woods of Mount Subasio, was where Francis and his first companions withdrew in prayer every so often. We ventured through this beautiful place of peace and silence, walking through low narrow hallways, tiny doors, and steep dark stairways. 

Our taxis then took us back down the mountain to out last holy site of the day: The Sanctuary of San Domiano. When Francis heard the voice of the crusifix tell him to rebuild the church, he set about rebuilding it here. Saint Clare lived here for 42 years with the Poor Clares until her death in 1253.

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Oct 20
Day 2: Arrive in Rome/Travel to Assisi

IMG_0823.JPGThe pilgrims arrived in Rome this morning at 10:30 AM. After making their way through customs and picking up their luggage, the group met their tour guides from Catholic Travel Centre. The guides, who will accompany them throughout the pilgrimage, escorted them to their busses. They traveled from Rome to Assisi with a brief lunch stop at a self-service restaurant on the way. Fresh salads and baked panini sandwiches were enjoyed by many of the pilgrims. 

Our first holy site to visit was the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels. The basilica holds two of the most treasured Franciscan sites: the little church of the Portiuncula which was the center of the entire life of Saint Francis, and the Transitus Chapel where Saint Francis died.The construction of the basilica was begun in 1569 at the request of Pope Pius V to contain and protect all of the remnants of the life of Saint Francis, the Portiuncula and the Transitus Chapel. 

IMG_0851.JPGAnother chapel of interest in the basilica is the Chapel of Roses. It is named for a little patch of roses without thorns that grow nearby. The saint threw himself into a hedge of thorns to rid himself of doubts and tempations. The hedge miraculously turned into thornless roses that continue to flower there today.

After some time to explore the basilica and confessions, the pilgrims joined Bishop Malesic, Father Lechnar and Father Sikon for Mass in the crypt below the basilica.

The group again boarded the busses and drove up the steep hill to the Hotel Giotto where we would have dinner and our first night's sleep of the pilgrimage. 

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