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!