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! 

Monday, October 11, 2010


As we approached St. Peter’s Square on our way to Mass in the Basilica early Monday morning, we had our umbrellas in hand and the Swiss Guards could be seen keeping watch over the Vatican steadfastly in their navy, golden-button down raincoats.

Padre Giuseppe concelebrated Mass with Fr. Mark, a former pellegrino from Merrimack College, in the ornate Clementine chapel located just below the main altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a beautiful and touching Mass celebrated at the remains of St. Peter, our first pope.

It was amazing to ponder how the Church of today has survived through all of the centuries despite its struggles; moreover, it was awe-inspiring to know that we stood right where St. Peter, “the rock,” had been buried. Fr. Mark preached about knowing and being yourself in a world of distractions and temptations. During this Mass, as well as all of the other Masses that were celebrated, pellegrini were brought not only closer to God, but also closer to each other as we exchanged heartfelt signs of peace with one another. 

After celebrating Mass, we were given a tour of the grottos underneath the Basilica and were shown the tombs of Pope John Paul II, Pope Pius XII, as well as the tombs of others.

We were also given an informative tour by Padre Giuseppe of the main Basilica, where we he called our attention to the statue of St. Peter. While the rest of the statue is dark with age, St. Peter's foot is bright and shinny, as a function of pilgrims from all over the world touch the statue as they pass by. 

Fr. Joe told us about the pope who had constructed the basilica at that time, who had incorporated on the four main pillars of the altar the stages of a pregnant woman, as a tribute of sorts to his niece who had been undergoing a tough pregnancy at the time.

Padre Giuseppe provided “insider details” about some of the sculptors and their clever ways of incorporating themselves into their work. As we were leaving the Basilica, banners could be seen being put up in preparation for the upcoming Canonization ceremony. 

We were also honored to visit the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose feast day was celebrated that very day, October 11— the day in which the great Pope had started Vatican Council II forty-eight years ago in 1962.

During this afternoon, we got to see the Colosseum, run up the many steps near the Spanish Embassy, and throw a coin with a wish attached to it into the beautiful Trevi Fountain together with our fellow pellegrini.

After having a late breakfast, the group walked around Rome, viewed some churches including the church of St. Ann and St. Augustine, and browsed through gift shops. After having a hot bowl of pasta for lunch and sharing some laughs with each other over everything ranging from the way in which the waiter had taken our orders to Fanta towers and the infamous Snape, we set out to tour Rome.

While there, we were introduced to Paolo and given headphones so that we could hear the English translation of the Italian homily. Although the prayer service was in Italian, the warmth and presence of the people united around you could be felt as the hymns were being sung.

The Italians were very welcoming to us American pilgrims. They seemed to appreicate our participation and helped us stay on the right page in our missals.

During the homily, Andrea Riccardi, the founder of St. Egidio, talked about the biblical passage in which it is said that “faith can move mountains.” I remember this, because I thought it had been ironic, for I had just been discussing this passage in my one Humanities class back at Villanova, a few days prior.

He had talked about how truly nothing is impossible with Christ and how our lives are wrought with miracles every day, whether they are great or small, and that they are still God’s gift of Himself to us. He talked about how, although we are all bound to undergo struggles in life, it is through the help of each other that we overcome them. Furthermore, Andrea said that it is through us, God’s instruments of grace, that God performs His miracles. This prayer service prompted us to be thankful always for our friends and family and for those who we are blessed to have in our lives.

After the beautiful prayer service, our friend Paolo talked to us briefly about the work he does and the mission to which he and his group aim. Paolo took delight in telling us about the differences he tries to make in the lives of those who are less fortunate than we are. He talked about how the very church that we just had a prayer service in becomes transformed into a banquet hall on Thanksgiving and Christmas for those who are in need of assistance and who are alone on these holidays.

Paolo was a great inspirational speaker who avidly was devoted to this mission of helping others. After departing with Paolo, we gathered for pizza and someone would always say grace adding his/her own personal touch. It was a great day in Rome for us pellegrini!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Rome and Ostia

Buon giorno to our first full day in Italy! And what a special day it was: October 10, 2010, or 10/10/10! We rose from our sleep thankful that Padre Giuseppe let us sleep in a bit! Some of the Pellegrini were more affected by the jet lag than others and had to get a personal wake-up call to get out of bed!
 Once everyone was awake, alert, and enthusiastic we set out in the clear, crisp morning for the short walk to the Collegio Santa Monica located directly next to St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. We entered through the gates of the college and into the beautiful Augustinian property where Padre Giuseppe gave us a brief overview, including some stories of when he used to live at the college!
Upon entering the main college building, we immediately met more Augustinians who greeted us like we were old friends. As we passed through the halls we saw the dormitories that housed scores of Augustinians and priests, including former cardinals and Popes who at one time had stayed for a visit.
We then gathered for Mass in St. Monica’s Chapel, where there was a stunning mosaic behind the altar that depicted various scenes of Monica and Augustine’s life. Padre Giuseppe even let us all stand around the altar as we celebrated the Eucharist during our beautiful, private Mass in the chapel. 
After Mass, we went across the street into St. Peter’s Square for the weekly Sunday Angelus at High Noon with Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict translated his blessing and message into many languages so all of the thousands of people from around the world that packed the square could understand his powerful words.

The Angelus at Noon with Pope Benedict XVI
This window drape, with a new version of the papal coat of arms,
was used for the first time today!

For 50 points, what major change from the previous banner, will be corrected?

Look for us here!!!

Right after the Angelus, the Pellegrini decided to hang out in St. Peter’s  to take in some of the sights and sounds of the Vatican. This included meeting two young, friendly priests from our neighboring city of Pittsburgh who were in the square playing guitars and singing songs for everyone’s enjoyment.
Before lunch we made a stop on the roof of St. Monica’s college to check out the impressive views of St. Peter’s Basilica and snap some group pictures. Padre Joe had a “small world” moment when we ran into an old student of his in the adjoining hotel whom had become a priest himself.

Lunch consisted of some take-out pizzas which we enjoyed in a small piazza outside of our hotel with the Vatican beautifully displayed in the backdrop.

Then it was off to Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. It was fascinating to walk on the ancient cobblestone road that made its way from Ostia Antica all the way into the heart of Ancient Rome.
Ostia was breathtaking, with thousands of stones and ruins! It was particularly special that Ostia was a place where Augustine and Monica likely walked and talked together.  As we made our way through the ruins, we read excerpts from the Confessions and saw such places as were Augustine probably bought his ticket for the boat that took him to Africa.

Then it was back to the hotel in Rome to rest up before Cena. However, the Pellegrini took advantage of this time for some quality bonding over some intense games of UNO and fish bowl!

When it was time for dinner, we were certainly ready for the outstanding and plentiful meal that we had at a small restaurant about a block from the hotel, with the owner an old friend of Fr. Joe’s! We were lucky enough to try various traditional Italian dishes as well as some Italian drinks including the traditional after dinner liquor, Grappa, getting mixed reviews from the inexperienced Pellegrini.

With full bellies, we made our way back to the hotel, looking forward to some much needed rest while reflecting on the fantastic day in Rome and Ostia, and looking forward to the adventures and experiences the next day would bring.