A spiritual journey or a religious vacation to sacred sites and destinations commonly known as pilgrimage may be life-changing, faith-healing or faith-deepening.
Our pilgrimage to grand Catholic Italy is more than a religious vacation, a combination of faith and travel exploring and experiencing its rich culture and history.
From Lourdes, France, we drove to the French Riviera passing through many beautiful cities on the Mediterranean and arrived at Nice where we spent the night and dined at Best Western Nautica. Afterwards we took a walk along the Boulevard Des Anglais and enjoyed the scenery along the Mediterranean Sea.
Early morning after sunrise we journeyed along the panoramic coast viewing Monte Carlo and the Principality of Monaco until we reached Padua (Padova), Italy, home of St. Anthony, the miracle-working saint and patron of lost and stolen articles. We visited the richly decorated tomb and reliquaries of the saint inside the Basilica of St. Anthony. The saint was actually a Portugeese, not Italian, having been born to a wealthy family in Lisbon, Portugal though he died in Padua, Italy – that’s why both countries are trying to claim him.
We travelled on and entered by private tourist motorboat to Venice, the city of canals and one of the world’s most romantic cities. We stayed for hours at the crowded St. Mark’s Square and marvelled at the golden Basilica of San Marco and the lavish Doge’s Palace. We strolled along the rims of the Venetian lagoon lined with colourful gondolas for hire, viewed the legendary “Bridge of Sighs” and walked on the Rialto Bridge, the oldest stone bridge in Venice. In the afternoon we were at Murano, internationally famous for glassmaking industry and watched a demonstration of glassblowing by the skilled artisans.
The pilgrimage trip continued to Florence, the capital city of sunny Tuscany. Our guided tour of Florence included the Academy of Fine Arts where we admired in awe Michelangelo’s “David”. We climbed with a little difficulty the Giotto’s Bell Tower and spent hours at the sculpture-studded Signoria Square. A mass was held by our tour director-guide, Msgr. Jan from Yoguslavia at the magnificent Cathedral of Sta. Maria del Fiore (popularly known as the “Duomo”). Across the Duomo is the octagonal “Baptistery” of San Giovanni famous for its heavy bronze doors of relief sculptures dubbed as “Gates of Paradise” that have miraculously withstood all kinds of weather, floods and two world wars.
It didn’t take so long to reach and explore the hilltop village of Assisi, birthplace of one of the most beloved saints of all times, St. Francis, a patron of Italy and the ecologists, and the founder of the Franciscan Order of Friars. We’re able to see the crucifix that spoke to the saint, visited the St. Mary of Angels Basilica and the “Porziuncula” where St. Francis acquired his vocation and made it his home for the rest of his life. It is believed that St. Francis was the first person to bear the wounds of Christ’s Passion when he received stigmata in 1224.
We went to see the Monastery of St. Damian, a Franciscan shrine built on the spot where St. Francis heard the voice of Christ. This is also the place where he wrote the “Canticle of the Creatures”.
On to Cascia, a small town in the mountains of the Umbrian Valley, and home of Sta. Rita de Cascia, the “Patron Saint of the Impossible Causes”. Her intercession is also sought by abused women. After hearing mass at the Basilica of St. Rita we entered the chapel that houses the saint’s incorrupt body.
Our Italian pilgrimage continues to Lanciano, San Giovanni Rotondo, Monte Cassino, and finally to Rome on the next issue.