We motored south of Italy to a town called Lanciano, world famous for the 8th century AD Eucharistic Miracle, i.e., a doubting monk celebrating the Holy Mass saw the host changed into living piece of flesh and the wine changed into real blood. The Eucharistic Miracle resides in the Sanctuary of the Eucharistic Miracle near the Piazza Plesbescito, the main square of the town where the cathedral is located. The Flesh and Blood of Christ is still miraculously preserved today in a monstrance that we all can see and venerate.
Our pilgrimage continued to San Giovanni Rotondo, also in southern part of the country, where we visited the Friary of Padre Pio, including his tomb, cell, confessional, and the old church where he received the stigmata (he bore and suffered the wounds of Jesus on his hands, feet and sides of his body for 30 years). He was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
On the mountain overlooking the city of Cassino stands the Abbey of Monte Cassino, the first of the Benedictine monasteries founded around 529 AD by St. Benedict, the Italian monk who established the monastic order known as the Benedictines. Decorated in stucco and mosaics, the basilica enshrines the relics of the saint. The abbey museum displays medieval art and artifacts from the monastery and explains the history of monasticism. Basically, monasticism is the idea and practice of an isolated ascetic life until St. Benedict introduced his “Rule” of practicality, order and emphasis on community shared by all members as governed by discretion and moderation.
Our last day of the pilgrimage was spent in Rome, the Eternal City and home and spiritual capital of over one billion Catholics around the world. You’ll find yourselves in two independent states, Italy and The Vatican (Holy See), the administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church.
Rome has more than 900 churches and basilicas. The enormous St. Peter Basilica that can hold 60,000 people offers the devout pilgrims like us a soulful experience of a lifetime.
The greatest of the many churches dedicated to our Lady is the Sta. Maria Maggiore Basilica built in 352 BC after an appearance of the Blessed Virgin. Located in a building in front of St. John Lateran Church, the seat of the papal throne and the oldest and first in the established order of the papal basilica before St. Peter was built, is the “Holy Stairs” (Scala Santa), which consists of 28 white marble steps reputed to be those walked by Jesus on his way to trial before Pontius Pilate. The Holy Stairs were brought from Jerusalem to Rome around 326 AD by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Most pilgrims still mount the steps on their bare knees, praying.
We toured the Vatican Museum that houses one of the finest and most extensive collections of art in the world and the Sistine Chapel, famous for Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings and “The Last Judgment”.
A must-see for tourists and pilgrims is the Roman Colosseum, the largest elliptical amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire used for gladiatorial combats and public spectacles. One of the new seven wonders of the world, the Colosseum is considered as the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. While in Rome you might as well see the Roman Forum, used to be the centre of public life and now a sprawling spread of ruins of architectural fragments, columns, stone blocks, and archaeological excavations.
However, the most memorable part of our religious trip was our attendance at general audience of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on that sunny day of April 27th.