Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pellegrini Reunion

Members of the 2010 Villanova pellegrinaggio gathered at the home of Emily J. to share prayer and a little serious conversation, (see the survey at the bottom, left.) but mostly food and fun this past Friday evening.

After dinner, we spent time reminiscing about the experience by playing a variety of games. Liz came prepared with a "brain twister," helping us recall people, places, things, and quaotable quotes from the trip, and even a few favorite stories that we had almost forgotten. Thanks too for the neat little group picture, Liz - a treasured momento!

Fishbowl, one of the party games we routinely played during the trip, was a perfect way to finish off the evening in each other's company. It was almost as if we were back in Rome or San Gimignano. Maybe next semester, we'll do a sleep over!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Arrivederci Italia

Our day of departure, or perhaps return, has arrived.  Wake up was at 4:15 AM so that we could all be on the bus for a 5:00 ride to the Malpensa Airport in Milan.   All of the pellegrini were on time and ready to continue our journey and head back to the USA.  

As we all made our way through security in both Milan and London and as we boarded the two phased plane rides back to the USA, I had the impression of us reversing the steps that we took on our first day to begin our pilgrimage.  We were going back from where we came but we were going back as different people. 

Our experience of participating in the journey changed us and knit us together as a group of 10 pellegrini.  We shared in Augustinian hospitality and community life.  The prayers, the meals, the laughs, the new friends we met, the bus travel and the walking tours of our journey, all contributed to the formation that truly shaped us throughout the week.  There was plenty of time to reflect on the past week on the plane ride back and there will be more opportunities for reflection and reunion. 

We thank God for all of the blessings that were bestowed and shared this past pilgrimage.  A part of the  prayer of the pellegrinaggio from the beginning pages of our Pellegrinaggio Prayer Book is a fitting way to conclude our blog:

You have given each one of us hearts
that want to be happy
And you have placed within us
the desire to search for you as we live our daily lives.
Quiet the fears and distractions of our hearts each day
so that we may listen to the movement of Your Spirit
and may listen to your guidance.
Remain with us, good God,
during this Augustinian pilgrimage:
Shelter us with your protection by day,
Give us the light of your grace by night,
And as our companion on this journey,
bring us to our destination in safety.


Saturday, October 16, 2010


On our first full day in Milan, we left our hotel early in the morning and headed to the city.  After sitting in traffic the day before, we were all anxious to see Milan and walk around for the day.  Our first stop was the Basilica of Saint Ambrose. 

The Church was built by Saint Ambrose in 379.  We toured the church for a while.  Behind the altar of the church lie the remains of Saint Ambrose.   After visiting the church we made our way over to the Duomo.  Before arriving at the Duomo though we stopped for cappuccino and a mid morning snack. 

After walking a short distance, we arrived at the Duomo.  The building itself is magnificent.  Pictures cannot do it justice.  There is so much detail in every part of the exterior, even the towers that cannot be seen very well from the ground.  Visitors have the opportunity to climb to the top of some of the towers but it was raining so we did not think it would be worthwhile. 

Before going in the Duomo we took a few group pictures in front of the church. As in Rome and Siena, there were a great number of pigeons outside the church in the square. 

The inside of the Duomo is just as magnificent as the exterior.  The ceilings are so tall, it makes you realize how small you really are, it is humbling in a way.  The most interesting item in the cathedral is above the altar near the ceiling.  Three is a red light identifying the place where a nail used in Jesus’ crucifixion is. 

After exploring the church, we went down to the baptistery beneath the church.  This was the place where Augustine was baptized by Saint Ambrose. 

The church has been built upon for centuries.In the 4th century, the baptistery would have been the ground level.  We renewed our baptismal promises since this was the place where Augustine was baptized.  This was a very cool experience because this place is so rich in history; we had an experience that not many people have the opportunity to experience.   The baptistery was amazing because so much of it was still intact; there was still a lot of the basic structure that was undamaged.  There was also a great amount of historical items down there as well.  There were old coins, jewelry and other items that were from the 4th century. 

After visiting the Duomo we went to the get lunch at the auto grill next to the duomo.  We had to eat a quick lunch because we had to get back to the bus in time. 

After lunch, we headed back to the bus to go back to the hotel.  We had a little bit of free time back at the hotel before heading over to Cassago Brianza for a tour of their grounds and evening Mass in their Church. 

Cassago Brianza is reputed site of Cassiciacum, where St. Augustine and his friends, his son and his mother, went to prepare for Augustine's baptism following his conversion. The museum of the Association there, focuses on the life of St. Augustine and the artifacts they have collected deserve attention from every student of Augustine.

What was really impressive is that the Association is comprised entirely of lay people who are committed to the legacy of St. Augustine and the Augustinians. Everyone who worked in the museum and those who took care of the area had so much knowledge about their work, and they were very passionate about it! 

After Mass and the tour, we headed back to the hotel for our last dinner in Italy together. 

Like every other meal we  had during this trip, the food was amazing.  It was really nice to have one big group celebration before leaving, especially with Kathy dancing to Shakira. 

After dinner we all prepared for our early morning.  We were leaving for the airport before 6am.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pavia and Milan

After breakfast in the morning in San Gimignano, we said goodbye to our friends there and made our way to Milan with a stop in Pavia.  The bus ride was long but after a quick drive by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we finally reached the small town of Pavia.  We had lunch there where many of us ordered seafood.  Then we went over to the Basilica S. Pietro in Ciel d’Oro which is ministered by an Augustinian Community of the Italian Province. 

Here we saw St. Augustine's Tomb.  Surrounding the tomb were candles with different countries that have an Augustinian population. We joked when we noticed that the U.S.A candle was very bright but the India candle was very dim.  We are not sure why this was, but Lisa and Rita are going to work on rectifying the matter.  Father Joe then celebrated Mass with us where he spoke about Romans 5:5.  It was very moving hearing him speak about how hope does not disappoint. 

Our bus ride continued as we made our way to Cassago Brianza. We were stuck in rainy Friday night Milan traffic and the trip took much longer than expected.  After a little while we all needed to make a stop, so we stopped at a familiar site to all of us…. McDonalds (not to eat, of course, but to visit the facilities).  

Whwn we finally reached Cassago Brianza and we met Mario and Luigi and our hosts the Sangalli family.  We had pizza dinner in Cassago Brianza with our new friends.  They were very hospitable and refused to let us help them clean up.  After dinner we checked into our new hotel rooms in La Villa Ciardi.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Life of Augustine by Gozzoli

We started off our day by having breakfast in the St. Augustine Convento. After that, Father Joe began our tour of the St. Augustine Church. Later on, Father Brian Lowery, continued and explained the history of the 15th century Benozzo Gozzoli frescoes found in the church. He told us about how the whole church was restored and how one fresco, depicting the nativity scene, was found by chance. We also saw the famous frescoes depicting St. Augustine’s life that were located behind the altar.  A Villanova ACS class had analyzed some of the scenes for a project and Fr. Brian mentioned how their ideas had shed some new insight into how he saw the paintings.

After the tour, we had a small prayer service inside the chapel in the monastery. Then we had some time for group reflection where the pilgrims were invited to speak about what they had gotten out of the pilgrimage so far.

We then had our final lunch with our Scottish and British friends. They thanked everyone at the monastery for their hospitality and expressed their wishes to see us, the Villanova pilgrims again. After lunch, we went outside and took pictures with them and said our final goodbyes.

For the rest of the afternoon we had free time. Father Joe suggested we take some time for private reflection. We also spent the time visiting the Duomo of San Gimignano, shopping, exploring other parts of the town and bonding with the other pilgrims.


For dinner, we went to a nearby restaurant with Fr. Brian and Brother Delphio. The owner loves opera so we watched as we ate. Afterwards we all went out for gelato and gathered in the monastery again to watch Tea with Mussolini because it featured many scenes from San Gimignano.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

San Gimignano and Lecceto

On Wednesday of our Pilgrimage, the fifth day in Italy, and second in San Gimignano, we started bright and early with breakfast at the Augustinian house where Fr. Brian, Fr. Ian, Brother Delphio live. After breakfast we set out on a bus being driven by Leonardo, who first drove us that day, and would drive us right up through the rest of the pilgrimage. Joining us were Claire and Meghan from the Anglo-Scottish group. Claire is a Scot who was instrumental in the leadership and coordination of the Augustinian Youth Encounter in England (AYE 2010), and now works at the Augustinian parish in Birmingham, England. Meghan is a student in Edinburgh, Scotland, and part of Fr. Gianni Notorianni’s, OSA, Augustinian parish there.

The first place we went was San Leonardo, where there are old ruins of one of the earliest communities to make up the Order of Saint Augustine as we know it today. The structure itself actually predates the formation of the Augustinians as an Order in 1256. There was also a drained lake which was drained by the local duke.

Next we went to Lecceto, where there is an active community of Augustinian contemplative sisters. It too was one of the earliest established communities, but fell out of use also. In response to a request from the Archbishop of Siena to reinvigorate Augustinian spirituality in this region of Tuscany, a group of sisters took up the call, and have been living there for about 40 years. They are a cloistered group of sisters, which means that, in general, they remain separated from the outside world for a life dedicated to prayer for the world.

Shortly after we arrived we met briefly with some sisters and the mother superior, Madre Sophia. However, shortly after realizing most of us spoke English and not Italian, the mother superior called for Sister Sarah, one of the externs/porters, to be our guide. We talked for a bit in a meeting room, and then the mother superior permitted us to enter the cloister. Sister Sarah gave us a brief tour of a part of it, and then opened up the shop, where some of the products of their community are sold, such as the crosses we wore as pilgrims. After that, we joined the sisters in the church, which is partially cloistered and partially open so that the public may join the cloistered sisters in prayer. We prayed one of the midday prayers, part of the “Divine Office” or “Liturgy of the Hours,” the prayer of the Church, which is recited daily by priests, laity and religious at all hours around the world.

On a personal note, this visit to Lecceto was among my favorite parts, as we were very privileged and blessed to be allowed such an intimate glimpse into the life of these Augustinian sisters. Not only is it so different from what most are used to, but it is such a special and holy way of life, wholly intent upon God. (similar to cor unum in deum on our crosses) During our visit, Sister Sarah explained many details of the communal life there, giving a glimpse simply not possible through studying a book. The midday prayer was nearly entirely sung and very beautiful, again not only in its musical merit, but the wholeheartedness of the prayer itself.

After prayer, we departed the convent and went to a town called Monteriggione for lunch. It’s an interesting town in that it has a wall around it. We ate at a good restaurant that was recommended by Leonardo, the bus driver. We got to sample some more of the cheese particular to Tuscany, with some bread and honey. We also briefly visited a church as we were leaving.

We headed back to our base camp at San Gimignano, with our host and hostess, Fr. Brian and Mother Magdalena. We went to the tower which was part of the Augustinian house and took pictures there of the great view. Not long after, Fr. Gianni and two other Augustinians celebrated Mass in the chapel of the Augustinian house, with the Anglo-Scottish group also present.

That night we had pre-prandials, followed by a large meal with everyone from both groups in the main refectory that night. It was our second taste of Loretta’s (the cook for the Augustinians) culinary genius. It was delicious and plentiful. Dinner was followed by a mixing of song and dance from the various cultures present. Fr. Joe Farrell, OSA played us some “American Pie” on a guitar, and we learned a Scottish Calih dance. The evening was finally concluded with cleaning dishes, and a late night game of “Wings Up” with Fr. Gianni and Claire.

Thus concluded the Wednesday of our trip and began a night of very sound sleep.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Arrivederci Roma. Buon Giorno Siena! This morning we left the beautiful city of Rome to a new adventure to the Tuscan hills. We got on the bus for what was about a 3 hour ride. We stopped at an Auto Grill on the way where most of us stocked up on Fanta and Nutella to go for the rest of the bus ride.

Upon arriving in Siena we were dropped off on the top of the hill. We got off the bus and immediately saw the beauty of Tuscany. The hills were filled with grape vines and the land seemed to go on forever. We walked through the arch to enter the city and were headed to the duomo. The streets in Siena were very hilly and narrow.

When we arrived at the Duomo, Fr. Joe got our tickets and we went inside. What is unique about Siena’s Duomo is that the inside is made from black and white marble which is striped all throughout the interior.

After visiting the Duomo we headed to the Campo. The Campo was the hot spot of the city. We walked over to this little sandwich shop where we all grabbed a panani to go. We sat down in the Campo and enjoyed our sandwiches and biscotti!

After we headed toward the home of St. Catharine of Siena and we were able to walk through parts of her house and also see the little chapel that was hers.

After visiting the home of St. Catherine, we walked to the church of St. Dominic within the city, a church which has St. Catharine’s head and finger in a small side chapel. This church also contained all the flags of the counties within the region of Siena.

After a long day of traveling and walking we headed toward the buses and made our way to San Gimignano where we settled into our rooms at the 13th century convent of the Benedictine Sisters. We then headed over to Convento S. Agostino for our first taste of Loretta’s cooking!

At one time, Loretta had her own restaurant. She's been at the Augustinian convento since most people can remember. It was clear to us that she is the heart and soul of the place! She cooks. She cleans. She irons - all with a warmth that is palpable. What a woman!