Sunday, April 27, 2014

Day 11: Decernimus!

Oh you watched the canonization on TV and it was only like an hour and a half!? Lucky you! The canonization I was at took 16 and a half hours! haha

Yesterday woke up at 8, did a primary packing of the luggage, got ready for the canonization by eating one of those 3 course lunches because I knew I would be sleeping in the streets. Fast forward to 7pm. We went to mass with brother Andrew's order at San Salvatore, a church right across the bridge from Castel Sant' Angelo. Small but beautiful, this church is very traditional, old-Gothic style inside, with 2 of its side alters dedicated to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII! Relics and everything! What have I been saying this whole time!?!? GOD IS GOOD! GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS! Brother Andrew was instrumental in God's mysterious ways!

Here's where the real fun begins, although I will admit in a moment of exhaustion I almost gave in and bailed out of the insanity!

We began the night at 8:45-ish "sleeping"...talking to our blanket neighbors on the corner of Via St. Pio X and San Spiritu. Just as things were beginning to calm down and we thought we would have a chance to grab some seconds of sleep, THEY OPEN THE MAIN ROAD! MIDNIGHT! everybody stands up and the pushing, shoving, elbowing, etc begins! But get this...the whole main street is now flooded with close to 5 MILLION people and the actual gates to St. Peters are NOT OPENED! They aren't going to open until 5AM! So now we are all packed together like sardines (actually sardines have it better with all that oil to move around in) and we have to figure out how to fall asleep standing up! some people manage to force everyone to make a spot for them to sit. That is not something in my nature so I stood, I was a human wall for the sleeping and leaning people around me. Toting 2 bags and an extra jacket (because of course I was wearing my Pope John hoodie!) I also had to find ways to put my stuff down and keep track of it! I did not sit down from midnight until 12:30 (lunch). Again I found some people to talk to, a group of French pilgrims, which was great because I was just there last week! Chatting helps...make...5 hours...seem like 4 and a half...!

FINALLY 5 am rolls around, and we did make it about three quarters of the way down the main street during the midnight dash, but it still took us (caught in a sea of sleep deprived and super enthusiastic pilgrims) until 7 AM to get to the "airport-like" check points. Did I mention only one worked on each side? And they are funneling 5 million people through these things! But fear not! At 8:05 we made it through and into the Piazza San Pietro. We ended up at the end, but still centered, of the colonnade in a walk way. This was good because it did begin to sprinkle for just under an hour so we were protected, and I could still take pretty good pictures!

Before mass there were "Momentos" from each Pope's life, like a meditation; and because it is also Divine Mercy Sunday the prayers of Divine Mercy were read between the "Momentos".

So mass starts, we have the booklet just like at Easter, and who should walk out but EMERITUS POPE BENEDICT XVI! (yeah you probably already heard it on the news) But the energy that went through the crowd when he walked out! Even though sleep at this point was a distant memory...2 Popes at the Canonization of 2 Popes! This is not a normal thing! I witnessed history!

Now if you watched the canonization, it was all in Latin, so here is how the Rite of Canonization goes, in case you got lost. The Pope begins with the introductory rites. Then Kyrie. Then the litany of saints sung beautifully by a choir. The Entrance Antiphon. The first petition is read by Cardinal Angelo Amato which says:

"Most Holy Father,
Holy mother church earnestly beseeches
Your Holiness to enroll Blessed

and John Paul II

among the saints that they may be
invoked as such by all the Christian

The Pope Replies:

"Dear Brothers,
let us lift up our prayers to God the Father Almighty through Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all his Saints he may sustain with his grace the  act which we now solemnly undertake.
We ask you Lord graciously to accept the prayers of your people, that our devoted service may be pleasing to you and contribute to the growth of your church. Through Christ our Lord."

There is a Second and Third Petition, and finally the Formula of Canonization:

"For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance and having sought the council of many of our other bishops, we declare and define Blessed

and John Paul II

be saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."

Then, Finally, the Cardinal says:
"Most Holy Father,
In the name of the Holy Church I thank you Holiness for making this proclamation and humbly request that you decree that the Apostolic Letter concerning the Act of Canonization be drawn up."

The Pope answers:
("We so Decree!")

So a Canonization is like an induction into the "Hall of Saints."

The ceremony was beautiful! The Mass was beautiful! The format followed the same as Easter with the chanting of the Gospel in Latin and Greek, the booklet had 3 translations in it. It was quite the experience! People cheered when Pope Francis declared JPII and PJXXIII saints! People had banners and flags (I'm sure you saw them on TV) and you could definitely tell where the Polish pilgrims were sitting! My mom was saying the whole country of Poland was expected to be there. Well Pope John XXIII was Italian, so I told her I bet the entire country of Italy would be there. (haha)

It was such an amazing experience! I just wish I had been a tad more awake and less focused on my sore feet...but it is Divine Mercy Sunday! God most definitely had mercy on me, I never would have made it through all that of my own power. Only by the grace and Mercy of God! I thank God that I didn't faint, get hurt, lose anything, get separated from my dad in the crowd, and that I made it into the Piazza, many, many, many people did not, they never made it off Via della Conciliazione!

140 Pages of the mass book later and Pope Francis said his blessing on all religious articles brought to St. Peters today. I had my big bad of Pope John Righteous Bling with me! Be ready Tuesday!

Well, this beautiful journey is about to end, I am definitely sad, but at the same time I can't wait to get home! This was truly and amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience! I thank God for the chance to do this. Thank God that everything went as well as it did. Thank God that even the things that didn't go so smoothly worked out well eventually. Thank God for new friends, and for Brother Andrew making our adventures that much better.

I ask for prayers for a safe flight tomorrow!
See you all soon!

Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII!
Pray for us!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Day 10: Sleeping in the Streets

Sleeping in the streets near St. Peter's tonight with thousands of pilgrims! Pray for our safety!

God is Good! All the time!
All the Time! God is Good!

And for the last time:
BLESSED Popes John Paul II and John XXIII!
Pray for Us!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Day 9: Lanciano and San Giovani Rotundo

Today we drove across the entire country of Italy! …horizontally that is… from Rome to Lanciano to San Giovanni Rotundo. We had a much better start today. Tom Tom was behaving and got us to the correct freeway and it was nothing but smooth sailing from there. We drove by beautiful snow covered mountains surrounded by rich, green valleys. Behold the wonder and majesty of God.

Our first stop was Lanciano. In the 8th century, a priest was saying mass, but he was doubtful of the true presence of Jesus in the bread and wine. As he said the words of consecration an amazing thing happened. The bread became real flesh and the wine became real blood, coagulating into 5 globules (for the 5 wounds of Christ) in the chalice! Beginning in 1574, numerous tests have been done on the flesh and blood and the following conclusions were made.
  • The flesh is real flesh and the blood is real blood belonging to the human species.
  • The flesh is heart tissue from the left ventricle of the heart.
  • The flesh and blood both have the same blood type of AB (universal donor)
  • The blood contains proteins and minerals consistent with that of normal, fresh blood.
  • The 5 globules of blood, while all different shapes and sizes, all weigh the same and produce the same weight no matter how many are weighed at a time.
  • There is no evidence of preservatives.
The church was FULL of pilgrims! Luckily the monstrance containing the miracle is in its own space behind the altar where people can venerate it separated from the masses. I was literally mere feet from Jesus Christ, flesh and blood, NOT under the appearance of bread and wine! All I could think was “I am not worthy.”  Occurring in 700 AD this is the oldest Eucharistic Miracle in existence!

After departing Lanciano we made our way to San Giovanni Rotundo. Across more beautiful, lush valleys surrounded by unusual mountain terrain we arrived in the small town lucky enough to be home to the relics of St. (Padre) Pio! So what’s the first thing we do? Eat lunch…well we checked the mass times first, then ate lunch. With our short lunch breaks in America I’m still having a hard time dealing with the 3-course lunch idea they follow here! I haven’t had dinner in days because I’m still full from lunch, and that’s even with all the walking we are doing!

But enough of that. Lunch aside, the first thing we did was mass! While the church where St. Pio’s relics are housed is not an ancient, Gothic-style, century's old basilica, like the others we have been blessed to attend mass in, it is still quite beautiful. It was completed in 2004 after 10 years of construction and can accommodate 6,500 people when seated, with space for another 3,000 standing out side! Making it the second largest church in Italy! It's design is unique in that it is very modern looking, with the outer walls having been compared to a spaceship. It is conch-shell shaped and covered in green metal paneling of oxidized copper. Inside, kneeler-less pews surround a half-circle altar and giant arches made of huge, white stone bricks support the roof.

After mass we were swept into a rush of people visiting the crypt to hang out with Padre Pio. Brother Andrew and I came to the conclusion that Americans  don't realize how much they like their personal space until they're stuck in a sea of pushy Catholic pilgrims. Did I mention St. Pio is an incorruptible!? One of the best incorruptibles, looking exactly as he did the day he died. I will admit, if I wasn’t being shoved through the line I would have cried, I am crying looking back at the pictures. Beauty does that to me. God works. As we all shuffled by the body of St. Pio my dad was able to touch a rosary to his tomb for my youngest brother, Joshua. St. Pio is his patron. As a child I can remember my parents talked about this man named Padre Pio, they had books and movies about him, I didn’t realized he had already died, they talked about him so presently! I thought it was like hearing about Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul II. I Don’t think I realized he was no longer living until he was beatified, granted I was only 11 or 12 in 1999, but even then I didn’t realize how log ago he had passed away! Being able to see this amazing man, literally in the flesh, and the feeling of sheer amazement that this is the man I used to hear so much about, here, right in front of me looking as if he merely dozed off is something I will never forget as long as I live!

It just wouldn't be a Henry road trip without at least one moment of hysterical mishaps. We drove 4 hours back from San Giovani and were making great time. The minute we got into the city Tom Tom got us so lost even Brother Andrew had no idea where we were! So our 4 hours quickly became 5 hours! But again, we made it back to the hotel alive! God is good!

God is so good!!! I cannot begin to tell you how blessed this whole trip has been! I am so amazed that God put the desire to make this trip on my heart, and that he opened all the right doors for us to actually do this! We had some “get behind me Satan” days, but again I say GOD IS GOOD!

Final Canonization Count down begins tomorrow! Pray for me as I camp out in the streets of Vatican City! (pray it doesn't get cold or rainy!)

St. Pio I ask you to bless everyone in the Pope John XXIII family as we approach this exciting time in our lives!

Sweet Jesus, as we approach Sunday, help us to remember that not only are 2 great men being elevated to sainthood here on earth, but it is the feast of your Divine Mercy. Have mercy on the souls of those who need you in the hour of their suffering, and cover them with your precious blood.

I ask all this in your name, Jesus Christ.

St. Pio! Pray for Us!
Blessed Popes John Paul II and John XXIII! Pray for us!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Day 8: Amalfi Coast, St. Andrew the Apostle

You know that movie about the Hobbit, the Ring, and the Volcano? Today’s adventure made that journey look like a piece of cake! They didn’t have to drive in Italian traffic stuffed into a clown car. But you know what? It’s all about he experience right!? I am still alive to tell the story. God is good!

Today, at the suggestion of Trevor (my younger brother) we explored the Amalfi coast area. Brother Andrew met up with us at the hotel with a GPS and Google maps. After about a half hour tying to get the GPS to work properly we were off! I would have preferred encampments of orcs to Italian freeways, but I was just a back seat passenger. We ended up on a freeway that followed the coast though, so the view made the tip much more pleasant. Peaceful coastline and gorgeous mountains, since Rome to Amalfi is about 3.5-4 hours it’s a good thing we had the beauty of creation to look at! Brother Andrew is a pretty fun guy to road trip with, so that helped too (gotta lay out the compliments just in case he is reading this right? Haha) I’m kidding, he’s cool.

When we FINALLY made it to our destination we were in Amalfi, where the Cathedral of St. Andrew the Apostle can be found. Built in the 11th century, the Cathedral is reached by ascending a steep set of stairs where you are greeted by a beautiful Byzantine fa├žade. Inside, the gold celling above the main altar has paintings depicting the life and passion of St. Andrew. The brother of St. Peter, Andrew was one of the first men called to be an apostle of Christ. St. Andrew preached Christianity throughout Greece, eventually being crucified on an "X"-shaped cross. His remains were taken from Greece to Constantinople circa 355, but in 1208 Cardinal Piedro Capuano brought the relics of St. Andrew the Apostle from Constantinople to the Cathedral after the fourth Crusade. The large piece of St. Andrew's bone is displayed set into a bronze sculpture of the saint. On the eve of his feast day, as well as other special days, a dense liquid forms on his tomb, not only in Amalfi, but in Constantinople and Greece as well! This liquid is called "manna" and is collected in crystal vials to be used for anointing. 

Attached to the Cathedral is the Cloister of Paradise and the Basilica of the Crucifix. The Cloister of Paradise was a burial ground for the wealthy of Amalfi. Built in 1266 it features thin columns made of white marble surrounding a Mediterranean style garden. The Basilica of the Crucifix can be dated back as far as the 9th century. It is now used to house and display the treasury of St. Andrew's, including a bishop's staff made of pure silver, ancient monstrances, vestments, etc.

After Exploring St. Andrew’s we grabbed a pasta and seafood lunch and moved on to explore the other little towns along the coast. The little towns along the Amalfi are bunches of buildings built on narrow streets and CLIFFS! Dad quickly learned how to drive like an Italian out of sheer need for survival! We didn't get out again as it was getting late and we had a long trip back, and honestly, hanging out with another saint was absolutely the best thing we could have done. I had no idea it was St. Andrew the Apostle! I knew the church was a St. Andrew's, I just didn't know it was the St. Andrew! Brother of St. Peter! (now I've met the family!) God works am I right!? Well I have to keep this post short, we have another road trip tomorrow! Hopefully just as fun as today...and less of an adventure...gotta remember to bring along American music!

3 days and counting until Canonization day!
St. Andrew! Pray for us!
Blessed Popes John Paul II and John XXIII!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Day 7: Papal Audience and Nettuno

Picture this: wake up at 5:30am to get ready.  Breakfast at 6:30 and leave the hotel at 6:45 to be in line at St. Peters at 6:50. You have to get there early so you can be closest to the front of the line for getting in line! While you're waiting in line, it starts to rain! (Miss Henry ALWAYS has an umbrella, yes I know we live in AZ) Also, while waiting in line, you have to keep an eye out for a seminarian you have never met! (found him!) First gates open and a flood of people rush to the second stand in line again. This is the line is like the checkpoint in the airport, you scan any bags and walk through a metal detector. You get through and RUN to get a good seat. I would say 10 rows back and right on the main isle is a pretty good spot! But wait, its been raining, the chairs are soaked and I really shouldn't get this skirt wet. I'm on my feet in heels a lot during the day at work, I can totally stand in flats until The Audience is over. It's 7:30...only 3 hours till it problem! 1 hour later...I guess if  I just perch on the edge of the chair it won't ruin my skirt!

Well that was my crazy morning in a nutshell. during the 3 hour wait we finally found Brother Andrew, who will be accompanying us on our trip to Amalfi and San Giovanni Rotundo. We also got to know the people around us! I told them why I had a t-shirt wrapped in a sparkly blue ribbon. "I work at Blessed Pope John XXIII School in the States. This Saint John shirt is for the Pope." People were already saving spots along the wall, but I'm pretty thin, my plan was to either lunge to the wall at the last second, or chuck the Saint John XXIII t-shirt at the guard (just kidding). About 2 and a half hours in they turned on the big screens  in the Piazza and showed the Pope finishing up a private audience, everyone stood up and got their cameras ready and this Peruvian man I had been talking to GAVE ME HIS SPOT ON THE WALL and he just stood on a chair! God is good!

So then the Pope finally comes out (and the rain stops!) in his Popemobile and zig zags through the crowd then comes straight up the middle aisle...the aisle I am halfway hanging into! Waving my trinket for the Pope I got the attention of one of the guards "para Papa?" "SI!" (HE TOOK IT!!!) "Grazie!" It all happened so fast! Oh my gosh so exciting! My heart is STILL pounding from the experience!

During the Audience The Pope is greeted in about 12 languages, then the people are greeted with certain groups being recognized. Then the Gospel is read in those 12 languages by some priests. After that the Pope addresses the people and the 12 priests translate what the Pope just said. The gospel was the one about Mary Magdalen finding the tomb empty and Jesus telling her not to look for the living with the dead, so Pope Francis had everyone repeat that 3 times: "Don't look for the living among the dead." At the end of everything we sing the Our Father in Latin and the Pope blesses any religious objects people brought for that purpose. Anyone who gave me something to get blesses, well it is getting blessed twice because I brought them today too! The whole Audience takes about an hour! Not enough time! (Oh and the Holy Spirit totally came and hung out with the Pope for a while...check the pictures)

It was lunch time when it was all over, Brother took us to a cute Italian food place. I don't know about everyone else but I prefer Italian pizza...that's just me. We ate and ate and ate, and talked about our plans for the next few days...stay tuned, there's more excitement to come! (Is that even possible!? YES!)

But I'm not at the end of the day yet.

About an hour by train, on the coast of the Mediterranean, is the Basilica of Our Lady of Grace. It is here that the Incorruptible St. Maria Goretti is entombed! (The incorruptibles fascinate me and I had no idea she was one until I was preparing for this trip!) Only 11 years old, she died trying to prevent a neighbor boy from committing a horrible sin. Her resistance angered him and he stabbed her 14 times. She underwent surgeries without anesthesia. 20 hours later she died, an image of Our Lady before her eyes, a Crucifix in her hands, and forgiveness of the boy who murdered her on her lips. Her tiny body is now in a stone and glass altar in the crypt of Our Lady of Grace. Gazing upon her you almost forget she was so young. Yes you know the story, but this person is a saint! This person's body is right in front of me! What brings you back is that her altar is adorned with bright pink, cartoonish flowers, just like an 11 year old girl's bed room, or locker would have on it. Reality comes back to you and you realize she was just a baby really, yet she died trying to save this boy from harming his own soul, not trying to save herself from him! She died with forgiveness in her heart, and after 30 years in prison, this boy (who had a conversion) was with her mother in St. Peter's on the day of her canonization.

St. Maria, I ask you to watch over all the students of Pope John XXIII. Help them to realize, as you did, the things in life that are most important. Give them a sense of selflessness and forgiveness, keep them pure of heart and pure of mind. Help them to grow in their faith, but never lose the ability to have the faith of a child. Amen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Day 6: Rome

Today, we slept in...till 8. We've been getting up super early to catch trains so we decided that we needed a break. Before this trip I had planned out every move my dad and I would make every day of the trip, except this one. The reason being we have been to Rome before, we missed some things back then, and we want to see some things again. Also, we had to pick up our tickets to the Papal Audience between 5 and 6:15, so Santa Susanna (the American church in Rome) needed to be on the list.

Being the metro experts we are now we decided to go to our furthest point and work our way back. Our first stop was St. John Lateran 12 years ago Trevor and I were confirmed in the Lateran Basilica so going back to this site was a MUST. St. John Lateran was built within the first decade of the 4th century; it is the most ancient church in the world. It was also the first Papal residence before St. Peter's was completed. There are 1,000 years of Popes laid to rest here! (Minus the 7 Popes who reigned from Avignon, France from 1309-1378). The Lateran Basilica is now the seat of the bishop of Rome, making it Rome's Cathedral, because remember, Vatican City is its own state. Which means, as the Arch Bishop of Rome, the Lateran Basilica is also Pope Francis' resident seat. This basilica has undergone pillaging, vandalism, earthquakes, fires, each time being repaired, and rebuilt. One of the repairs included the niches with the massive 12 Apostle statues, and the facade made to look like St. Peter's. It has been rebuilt 4 times due to fires, the last rebuild being in 1306 by Urban V. The last change to the basilica was made in the 17th century under Innocent X. His architect, however, covered up or removed anything, such as enclosing the Roman style pillars in pilasters, that gave the basilica it's ancient look and completely altering it's character. That does not make it any less wondrous to behold, nor does it make this history of the first Christian church in the world any less unbelievable! The Main Altar of the Lateran Basilica was not built over the grave of a saint, as were most Great Roman Churches, it was made of wood instead of stone, and it does not house any relics...because it is one. Tradition holds that this is the very same altar St. Peter used to celebrate mass when he lived in Rome! The wooden altar is still there, just now in a stone casing for protection. Information overlap from our trip yesterday, Innocent III denied St. Francis approval of the Franciscan Order. Later he had a dream of Francis holding up a church as it fell apart and saving it. It was the Lateran Basilica Francis had saved! Also, above the altar in the canopy are 2 golden statues. These are reliquaries, which hold the skulls of Sts. Peter and Paul. The reliquaries are atop a table, this table is believed to be the table on which Christ ate the Last Supper, and consequently celebrated the first mass ever!

Next on our list of "see agains" was the Scala Santi, right across the street from the Lateran Basilica. This is where the 28 marble steps of the Palace of Ponitus Pilot, the very steps Christ walked up and down, the steps where he bled, and the steps where he was sentenced to death are now venerated. Covered with wood Pilgrims are only allowed to climb the stairs on their knees! Oh yes we did! A plenary indulgence is awarded to those who perform this act of penance. There are a few steps where there is a window in the wooden panel; it is here that traces of Jesus' dried blood has been found. Pilgrims can touch the glass as they pray. St. Helen, Circa 326, brought the steps to Rome.

St. Helen also brought with her relics of the Passion, now housed in the Basilica of St. Helen, just at the end of the street from the Lateran and Scala Santi. St. Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine, converted to Christianity in her 60s. Tradition tells us that she then went to the holy lands and built churches over places like the place of the Nativity, the location of the Ascension, and Christ's tomb. During her time in the Holy Land, St. Helen found, and brought with her to Rome, the relics of the passion. They are now encased and on display in the chapel of the true cross attached to the Church of St. Helen. In this glass case on the wall you will find a reliquary with one of the nails, measuring 9" long. It is just a fragment of the nail. Another contains pieces of stone from Bethlehem. There is a reliquary containing 2 thorns from Christ's crown, the Relic in Notre Dame is thornless as the thorns have been dispersed to churches throughout the world. There you will also find the plaque Pilot had nailed above Jesus' head, which read, "Jesus, King of the Jews" in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Also on display is...the finger of The Apostle St. Thomas. Remember he is the one who doubted the resurrection until Jesus let him touch the wounds on his hands, feet and side. This finger touched the wounds of Christ! And finally, in a large reliquary shaped like a cross are 3 fragments of the true cross of Christ! I know Lent happened and Easter was Sunday, but God is outside of time and His timing is perfect, close enough to Holy Week for me!

We also went to St. Mary Major, something we missed last time. Also, know as St. Mary of the Snows, Pope Liberio constructed this church after the Blessed Virgin came (August 5, 365) to him in a dream and told him she would reveal the spot. It began to snow in one place on Esquilino Hill, in August. Although Liberio began the project, it was his successor Pope Sisto III who saw it completed and dedicated it to Mary's Motherhood in 431. The basilica is very peaceful, yet grandly decorated with huge side alters, each dedicated to a different image of Mary.

On our way back to Vatican City area we stopped at Santa Susanna and picked up our Audience tickets. 

Because of Easter last week, and the canonization approaching, St. Peter's has been PACKED and overwhelming. But we did a tour of it any way. 12 years ago we were in Rome for Christmas. We went to midnight mass. The year was 2002. The Pope was John Paul II. Now he rests in an altar just to the right as you walk in the doors to the Grand Basilica. For the upcoming events there are pews inside a blocked off area where pilgrims can pray and venerate Beloved John Paul II. Two alters away on the same side of the basilica is another altar. Under this altar is a glass reliquary. Inside this reliquary is the incorrupt body of a man about to become a saint as well. If the people and students I work with can't guess who this is I am ashamed of you! It's Pope John XXIII! Our beloved namesake! He was once a very large man; so large in fact that he overheard a woman call him fat! He replied by saying, "Madam, I trust you know that the conclave is not a beauty contest." Bravo Papa Giovanni! His incorrupt body is very thin now...but you can tell it is him by his nose. (haha) In front of Bl. Pope John XXIII are also roped off pews where people can venerate this soon-to-be saint. Unfortunately, it was quite crowded inside St. Peter’s, I couldn't get NEAR the statue of St. Peter with the rubbed off foot (from so many people touching it for grace).  I think I got a Picture of the relics of St. Peter, but this being short thing is not helpful, I'll find out when I upload the pictures I guess. Also, now days, going to the dome is separate from touring the sanctuary, so we didn't make it to the gift shop on the roof (sorry mom!) This just means God's got better places for us to go!

Let's see where he takes us tomorrow!

For tonight I will ask the intersession of Bl. Popes John Paul II and John XXIII upon all those in the Pope John Family, and anyone else reading this. Only Blessed a few more days!

God is Good! All the Time!
All the Time! God is Good!

Bl. Popes John Paul II and John XXIII!

(PS- I’m looking for something important here in Rome, pray God shows me exactly what that is before Sunday!)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Day 5: Assisi

12 years ago my family came to Italy, we spent most of our time in Rome, but we did take a day trip to Assisi because St. Francis is my mom's favorite. As a kid Assisi was probably the most beautiful little town ever. As an adult: Still. True.

Because Trevor and I were so young back then we only saw the Basilicas to St. Francis ad St. Clare but there is so much more to see in Assisi! First, when we got off the train we went around the corner to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels. What's so important about this basilica? There's no St. Mary of the Angels in the St. Francis story? Good point. It's what's inside the basilica that we wanted to see. Any good Franciscan University student will know that this basilica houses the real and true, honest to goodness, official Porziuncola (or "Port" as the "Frannies" call it). It was here that St. Francis realized his vocation, here is where he lived most of his life as a friar, and here is where he died. When you enter the Basilica, it looks like any massive and magnificent place of Catholic worship. With plain, uncovered pews and kneelers, beautifully decorated side altars and confessionals, giant stone pillars, a random, yet stunning, organ made of wood, and a copula (cracked during an earthquake). Unlike the other basilicas, this one has a giant TV screen mounted on one of the stone pillars. Why? because smack dab right in the middle, where transept meets sanctuary, between the alter and the pews, right under that cracked dome is the Porziuncola! When we arrived at the "Little Portion" inside the Grand Basilica Mass was just starting! God is so good am I right!? I feel so unworthy to be participating in the miracle of the Mass in such beautiful and holy heirlooms of Catholicism and yet here I am! Again, God is good! All the time!

After mass we caught a taxi to the basilica of St. Francis. It's about a 15 minute drive up a hill because back in the day of Knights in shining armor (remember, Francis was a knight before he was a friar) towns were built on hills as a method of defense. I must also mention that, as it was a medieval town, the streets are super narrow, wide enough for 3 horses, or one Fiat (the pocket sized ones). The view of this little city on a hill is awe-inspiring from below and the view down from the top, breathtaking. We entered the basilica on the bottom level which had a line of tourists filing through the sanctuary and down through the crypt. The crypt is circular with the tomb of St. Francis in the middle above a tiny alter, this is surrounded by the tombs of his 4 first friars (try saying that 5 times fast!) There are pews so people can sit and pray, otherwise the quick-moving line of tourists/pilgrims shuffles you out real fast!

Our next stop was St. Clare. But we weren't in too much of a hurry. We had all day and only a few things we wanted to see. On our way to St. Clare's, as we meandered through an area of the cramped little town that opened up we glanced down an alley and saw this kind of church looking building but didn't really know what it was. The buildings around the area were tagged as "forum" buildings so we figured it was some kind of old roman era building. We moved on to St. Clare's where the cross from San Damiano (a church which is impossible to find by the way. We tried. and failed.) in a side chapel. This is the cross that spoke to St. Francis and told him to "rebuild my church." St. Clare's is a very simple basilica, just one big, white space. There are very few frescoes and no statues, the altar is where most of the adornment can be found, which is actually a beautiful thing because it makes the altar and tabernacle the main focus of the sanctuary. The crypt is accessed by stairs on either side of the simple sanctuary, and it is here that pilgrims can look upon the body of St. Clare. That's right, she is an Incorruptible! Now there are many levels of incorruptibility, and many saints have been damaged or stolen since they were exhumed. St. Clare is almost perfectly preserved, however, excessive exposure to elements such as air or even candles burning near her body have darkened her skin a bit and made her look less life like. As opposed to, for example, St. Catherine, who appears to be merely sleeping, her skin is still soft and pink looking. But! No less of a miracle and a true wonder to behold! Also in the crypt are the robes St. Clare and St. Francis wore as the first member of their orders. They are displayed in a glass case. Also in this case is a silver and glass chest. This chest is full, to the top, with a beautiful pile of curly, blonde hair. Yes. The Hair of St. Clare! (check out the photos if you don't believe me.)

Now this next part is probably my favorite part of the day. We were on our way back to St. Francis to tour the top level and we passed that little street off the open area with the building that we thought was just a Roman relic. We're eating gelato and my dad gets curious. So we walk down to it and actually read the plaque "The Chiesa Nuova"...continue reading"...over the spot where the Bernardone home is located." What!? Did dad just accidentally find St. Francis' home!? Again I say, God is so good! So we go inside. Notice the plaque said "is" located. Yes. The church is part Bernardone home, part "new"(1650) construction. So then you walk around the small, beautifully decorated space and there, in a little corner is a small hole in the wall. Barely big enough for a toddler to fit into but there is a light inside, a grate covering the opening, and a plaque. So we read the plaque: "The closet where Francis was imprisoned by his father." What!? Remember, Pietro Bernardone did NOT want his son to stop being a knight, did NOT want him giving away his possessions, did NOT want his son to be POOR. So he locked him away until he came to his senses, but while away on business, Francis' mother freed him! Hooray! As you leave the chapel through a small side door, there in the wall, where it has always been, is the front door to the Bernardone home! and you exit onto the street where he lived! God is good!

We ended our day walking around the second floor of St. Francis. We sat and prayed for almost an hour and marveled at just what we were looking at! Beautiful architecture and artistry all around us! Almost 1,000 years old! How!? I understand these places took a few hundred years to complete, but they are well worth the time, effort, and energy. Why don't we see things like this anymore where we have the machinery and technology to quickly (compared to several hundred years that is) erect and adorn beautiful churches like these! Unfortunately, an earthquake damaged many of the frescoes as well as St. Francis' tomb. The tomb has since be restored, but now they have to start all over raising money for the frescoes. Cracked plaster and peeling paint aside this place is a wonder to behold!

You've all been in my prayers and will continue to be in my prayers! As the half way point of our trip approaches I can't believe it's almost over! I can't believe it's only been less than half and I'm wishing I had brought a designated souvenir suitcase! But God can do anything, even help me zip my bursting bag.

Until tomorrow!
St. Francis and St. Clare!
Pray for Us!