(From Fr. Mark Moriarty shares some highlights from the Vocations Pilgrimage to Rome and Siena. Thirty-six young high school ladies from Saint Agnes School spent their spring break in the Eternal City consider the Lord’s calling for their lives.)
Day 1: Thanks be to God, we arrived in Rome early on Friday morning, March 16. We unloaded our luggage at the Casa Bonus Pastor, a pilgrim hotel, and we took a walk along the Via Aurelia to Piazza di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square). After taking in the beauty of Bernini’s façade and colonnade, we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. The Roman Colosseum was our next destination. There we prayed the Stations of the Cross; the young ladies did a magnificent job singing the Stabat Mater from memory. We then toured the Roman Forum. Our last destination for the day was at the Church of St. Peter in Chains in Vinculo for Holy Mass.
Day 2: We first visited Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls which contains the remains of our archdiocesan patron, the Apostle to the Gentiles. This basilica also has the images of all who have served as Supreme Pontiff gracing the walls. We prayed at the Apostle’s tomb and also recited the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. At the Church of the Holy Cross we venerated relics of the True Cross, the finger with which doubting Thomas probed the wounds of Christ, one of the metal nails that held Jesus to the cross, and two spikes from the Crown of Thorns. We also visited the cathedral of Rome, which is the Church of Saint John Lateran. After lunch we paid homage to our church and school patroness, Saint Agnes. She is buried at the church of Saint Agnes Outside the Walls. We celebrated Mass above her relics and then prayed at her tomb in the crypt! We concluded the day with Compline after dark while the lighted façade of Saint Peter’s and the Piazza offered us a beautiful background.
Day 3: Sunday started with an early breakfast and morning Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, which holds the relics of the Manger. We gazed upon the classical beauty of the Roman Pantheon (once a pagan temple, now a church). Our last official stop was a guided tour of the Quirinale Palace, home to the popes for hundreds of years before being turned over to the state of Italy.
Day 4: Monday was a very special day because we started it with Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter in the crypt below the papal altar. What a blessing! Only two tour groups per day get this opportunity. Then the bus took us to the Bernardi Campus of the University of St. Thomas, a converted villa near the Tiber River. There we held a half-day retreat. Besides some quiet time in prayer, we reflected together on topics that included identity as a daughter of God; consecrated life; and the three goods of marriage.
Day 5: On Tuesday, we had a free morning. Many took Deacon Nathan Allen’s offer to walk around the Vatican City; others joined the Sisters for prayer inside the Basilica. (Two members of the Order coming to Saint Agnes in the Fall of 2018 joined the girls for the pilgrimage!) We celebrated a late morning Mass at the Pilgrim Hotel, which shares a few chapels with a minor seminary. After lunch, we walked to St. Peter’s Basilica again to tour this marvel of faith and beauty. We saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, touched the well-worn bronze foot of the seated statue of St. Peter, admired the Bernini Baldacchino, and prayed at many places in this grand church, including the tombs of St. John Paul the Great and St. Pius X. We finished a somewhat cold and rainy day in the Vatican Museum. The highlight was gazing on Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel!
Day 6: It was a cold and wet morning in the piazza of Saint Peter, but that didn’t dampen our spirits as we waited in great anticipation to see the Holy Father. We sat near one of the guardrails (which we were informed the Holy Father would be riding nearby in his “Popemobile.”) Many of the young ladies were mere feet away from the successor of St. Peter; they all have pictures to prove it! During his weekly Wednesday audience, the Holy Father continued his catechesis on the Holy Eucharist. He made sure to connect the spring equinox with the spiritual growth that results from receiving our Lord lovingly and worthily. We then celebrated Mass at Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. We also visited the churches that were unavailable on Sunday: San Luigi dei Francesi and Saint Agnes on the Piazza Navona. At the church dedicated to St. Louis King of France, we saw Caravaggio’s famous painting of St. Matthew’s call by Christ to be an apostle.
Day 7: Thursday was dedicated to an all-day excursion to Siena. What an amazingly beautiful city! This was the birthplace of St. Catherine of Siena, whose great courage and faith Sister Mary Dominc spoke about. Futhermore, Sister Mary Bethany and Sister Mary Dominic shared their vocation stories on the bus to Siena. (What a blessing it has been to be accompanied by sisters!) We ended the day back in Rome with a farewell dinner at a traditional Italian restaurant in Trastevere.
The students were joyful, prayerful, and attentive on the pilgrimage. Thank you all for your prayers, and a special thanks to the sponsors of our pilgrimage sites whose generosity will support future trips like this.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Rev. Mark Moriarty