A Pilgrimage from Rome to Zaitzkofen
On June 15, 2015 Father Herkel and I left Toronto bound for Rome. Our journey however began in Paris with a 5 hours layover and finally after meeting Father Couture and the other pilgrims from Quebec, Vancouver, Saskatchewan and Asia, we arrived in Rome in the evening of June 16. After a short rest we walked to the SSPX Chapel, Santa Caterina of Siena at Via Urbana, 85 for our first Mass in Rome. It was a Requiem Mass, also known as Mass for the dead or Missa pro defunctis because it was dedicated to the memory of someone who just has passed away and therefore, could not make the pilgrimage.
After some troubles with lost luggage I found myself washing my one shirt everynight in the sink and for almost three days, Father Herkel and I had to walk by the churches and basilicas of Rome literally "with only the clothes on our backs . Lost luggage is a bad experience all around and my suitcase only reappeared on the last day in Rome when we were ready to leave for the region of Tuscany. In other circumstances certainly I would be extremely angry, threatening to sue the airline and the world, but for some reason the whole situation only served to show me that God wants us to empty ourselves, become patient and detached because we are so used to place our trust in what we have and possess. And very little, or nothing, we trust in the power and that grace of God which is called Providence. For some reason the internet connection in all the hotels we stayed in was terrible and so we could sleep earlier, interact more with other pilgrims, pray more and implement the interior exercise of detachment, abandonment, confidence and self-control. The truth is that we often need to be reminded of those recommendations that Jesus made to His disciples when they went on mission. Recommendations that are essential for the mission to be performed wisely and have good success. God lifts us out of ourselves and carries us along with ease:
"And he commanded them that they should take nothing for the journey, save a staff only; nor bag, nor bread, nor money at the waist; but be shod with sandals, and did not take two coats. (...) And where they do not receive you, nor hear you, depart ye from there, shake off the dust from your feet for a testimony against them "(Mk 6: 8-9.11).
St. Luke says the same as St. Matthew. The meaning is that they were not to make any special provision for their journey, but to go forth just as they were, depending upon God.
What we expected in this pilgrimage? Visit some Roman basilicas, visit the Holy Shroud in Turin and to watch the ordination ceremony of two Canadian seminarians in Zaitzkofen-Germany. We started with this plan and a well-defined travel itinerary, but as always, we forgot that this should be the watchword of every pilgrim:
"take nothing except what is absolutely essential to getting to your destination."
And "take nothing" means waiting ... Waiting on God, Who is the reason for our hope! Because when He call us and trust us one mission, He also enable us to realize it, according to His designs. It is the goodness of God that will give us everything that we need, and much more!
The pilgrim should not trust what he has, but to have with joy everything that God in His mercy, gives to him. And indeed He gave us graces and gifts that nor even in our wildest dreams we would be able to imagine!
For all us Roman Catholics, there's no place like Rome.
Despite all its noise and anything it can be blamed for, how is it possible to say an unkind or irreverential word of Rome? The city of Emperors, Popes, Saints, Martyrs, Basilicas and old age history gave us a feeling of surreal ecstasy as we walked her streets.
As we walked past Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a Basilica consecrated to house the relics of the Passion of Jesus Christ brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena, heading to St. John Lateran Basilica and La Scala Santa, my heart stopped a little.
There are many powerful moments in Rome. However, praying our way up the wood covered steps of La Scala Santa is one of my best memories. You can only go up the stairs on your knees while praying, so climbing the stairs on your knees; stairs that Jesus walked on before his crucifixion was a moving and humbling experience.
Back to the hotel, another few hundred yards and we arrived to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the first churches built in honour of the Virgin Mary. That church was erected in the immediate aftermath of the Council of Ephesus of 431, which proclaimed Mary Mother of God. Pope Sixtus III built it to commemorate this decision. I was in awe at the artwork, the marble and he history but what lie below in a crypt blew my mind. It was the actual relic of the manger where Mary laid Jesus when He was born.
One Church after another revealed more and more spiritual and timeless treasures. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva is Rome's oldest surviving Gothic church and home to impressive Italian art like the reworked Michelangelo sculpture of the risen Christ. This church is also the shrine to Saint Catherine of Sienna ( whose body is interred here) and there´s a beautiful square in front of the church with a funny obelisk with an elephant made by Bernini.
We also visited the church of the Four Holy Crowned Ones (martyrs), an ancient building, part fortress, part monastery, with a main church, the smaller jewel of the Saint Silvester chapel, and a beautiful cloister.
So the pilgrimage moved on through the day one, one Church after another as a journey of discovery and wonder while God used the holy places and sites of Rome to rekindle our faith and love for our Church.
One of the first thing that caught my attention while visiting to the Roman Basilicas was a visible security presence with heavily armed guards watching the main churches. A clear sign of the threat of Islamic terrorism to the Church. This is explained by the fact that St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Pietro and San Paolo Fuori le Mura are called "four papal basilicas of Rome" and thousands of tourists and pilgrims visit them daily and thus become the favorite target of any terrorist attack.
It is still a tremendous contradiction that military presence to protect a Church that has it all! Yes we have Jesus in the Eucharist; we have His Holy Word; we have His Holy Mother and also our Mother, the Holy Rosary; we have the protection and the intersection of all the Holy Angels of God, and all the Saints in Heaven! ... Yes! We have the Church and His Sacraments! But faith is failing ... Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”
Celebrating Mass at Rome's major basilicas
There is a crisis of faith in the Church’s teaching authority and its capability as a doctrinal guide for the People of God. A crisis of faith, principles and roles to be played by each of the Mystical Body of Christ called the Church. The sacraments, teaching and liturgy have been damaged, but It didn't start yesterday the process by which we landed in this situation... it began a long time ago..Perhaps we can say that in recent decades or even more than that. The reason is quite simple. These changes do not occur abruptly. They are slow and quite subtle. So they were taking place slowly without fanfare or much noise. And many ended up being involved in the old speech that times have changed and we can no longer treat things like before.
Therefore following the advice of Our Lord: be wise as serpents but harmless as doves, our priests entered in the Rome Basilicas with no fanfare. Just arrived in the holy places, they talked to those that had the responsibility of the house of the LORD and asked permission to celebrate.
"When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
By the gracious permission of the higher direction of the Papal Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican, ou parish priest Father Herkel and our District Superior Father Couture celebrated Mass in the most unique and beautiful of places—at the Altar of Saint Pius X, where the saintly Pope's body reposes, at the Church of San Clemente and also at the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana.
Each church had such a profound beauty and detail in its architecture, mosaics and sculptures. The artwork was simply awe-inspiring. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world, was so huge that I felt like it was moving as I stood still trying to absorb every single detail of that place.
Back to the Catacombs
Like many people, I used to think about the early Christians hiding out from Roman persecutions in the catacombs, but the truth is that the catacombs were publicly known sites, not secret as our tour guide pointed out.
As a matter of fact, excavating tons of earth and rock along the Appian Way could hardly be considered as an imperceptible enterprise. So, the catacombs were not, as is sometimes thought, hiding-places, or meeting-places for liturgical celebrations, but burial-places where the mortal remains of our brethren in Crist were kept.
Cardinal Pie of Poitiers, writing about the courage of one's convictions said:
Our fathers, in all things, looked for guidance in the teaching of the Gospel and the Church; our fathers walked in full daylight. They knew what they wanted, what they repulsed, what they loved, what they hated, and because of that, they were strong in action. As for us, we walk in the dark. We have nothing definite anymore, nothing firm in mind and we are no longer aware of the goal to reach. As a consequence, we are weak and hesitant. Draw from the pure and flowing sources of Christian faith. Do not be satisfied with these middle-of-the-road doctrines. Will this impoverished, debilitated Christianity ever produce again the vigorous characters and strongly ordered temperaments of former times? No." [Nov. 7, 1859]
So it couldn't be more fitting that our pilgrimage to Rome also included such a reverent place, where so many martyred Christians were initally buried, and where so many more faithful, including us, can implore God’s help through the intercession of those who had proclaimed the Gospel with their blood!
The Catacombs of St Callixtus are located just outside Rome on the Appian Way. This area began to be used for burials in the second century AD, and some of the local proprietors, who must have been Christians, allowed the bodies of their brethren in the faith to be buried there too. Around this time, there took place the burial of the body of the young martyr Cecilia, who had been greatly venerated from the moment of her death. Belonging to a patrician family, Cecilia was converted to Christianity in her youth. Her father married her to Valerianus, whom she brought to the Faith, and the couple decided to live together virginally. Soon Valerian, who dedicated himself to gathering the remains of the martyrs and giving them burial, was discovered and beheaded. Cecilia was then denounced to the authorities and she was condemned to be beheaded. Roman law permitted the executioner to give up to three strokes with the sword. Cecilia was struck three times, but did not die immediately. As she lay on the ground, before breathing her last, she found the strength to extend three fingers of her right hand and one of her left, testifying her faith in God One and Three to the very last. When, centuries later, in 1599, the relics were inspected, St Cecilia’s incorrupt body was found still in the same position. Maderno (1576-1636) immortalized this in a sculpture which is now in the Church of St Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, which stands on the site of the saint’s own house, and where her body has lain since the ninth century. A copy of this sculpture is to be found in the Catacombs of St Callixtus, at the spot where she was originally buried.
In the third century this cemetery was donated to Pope Zephyrinus (199-217), who appointed the deacon Callixtus as its administrator. This was the first cemetery to be owned by the Church at Rome, and by the following century it housed the remains of sixteen popes, almost all of whom had been martyred. Callixtus worked as administrator of the catacombs for the best part of twenty years, before himself being elected pope to succeed Zephyrinus. During that time he enlarged and improved the main areas of the cemetery, particularly the Crypt of the Popes and the Crypt of St Cecilia.
Another martyr whose testimony deeply moved the Christian community was St Tarcisius. In the fourth century, Pope St Damasus engraved on St Tarcisius’s tomb the exact date of his martyrdom: August 15, 257, during the persecution under the Emperor Valerian.
The boy Tarcisius, an acolyte, used to take Holy Communion to imprisoned Christians. On August 15, 257 he was discovered and arrested, and his captors tried to force him to give up the Sacred Hosts he was carrying. He refused, choosing to be stoned to death rather than permit the Body of Christ to be profaned.
The catacombs of Saint Callixtus go four levels deep, more than 65 feet below the surface, with twelve miles of galleries winding around a 90-acre plot of land. Nine popes and a number of other Roman prelates were buried here, along with innumerable other faithful. Many of the more notable remains have since been removed to other locations, but the soil remains hallowed.
And it was in that sacred ground that Father Herkel celebrated the Holy Mass for our group. That was an unique experience. What then that means for me? Life in the catacombs simply means that we acknowledge that to be a traditional Catholic involves embracing a life that is now in open conflict with the reigning values of our culture.
And yet, precisely because of this, we must at all costs to keep and profess the same faith of those martyrs and refuse to adopt a mindset of pagans. We must recover a sense of being different, of being, as St. Paul says, “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).
In these times so full of pleasure seeking and so lacking in Faith, may St Cecilia, St Tarcisius and all the martyrs of the Catacombs teach us to profess our faith courageously and to be willing to sacrifice ourselves in practicing it, so that our good example may lead others close to Christ and the Church He has founded.
Domine Quo Vadis
Visiting the Basilica of St Sebastian and the relics of the two footprints on a marble stone which would be a miraculous sign left by Jesus when he appeared before Peter was inspirational and moving.
According to the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Peter asked Jesus; “Domine, quo vadis ?" meaning “Lord, where are you going?”. Jesus answered; “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”. This made Peter turn around, go back to Rome and face his martyrdom.
The first Pope finally understood that the time was approaching for the fulfillment of the prophecy that Jesus had made by the shores of Lake Tiberias. The scene described by St John was ever fresh in his memory. “Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God. And after this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
Evidence also suggests a strong presence of the Apostle Peter in this area, not only because it was here he met Jesus. This was also the area where he is supposed to have lived. An epigraph found in the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian supports this as it says, "Domus Petri" – meaning “the House of Peter”.
An epigram by Pope Damasus I from the 4th century honors St. Peter and St. Paul and further strengthens the belief that this was the area where the apostles lived. It reads: "You that are looking for the names of Peter and Paul, you must know that the saints have lived here".
Certainly the Christians in Rome must have regarded Peter with special veneration. He had been the first to proclaim our Lord’s divinity; he had traveled with him for the three years of his public life and had received from the Master the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. He was the visible head of the Church, and his presence in the capital of the Roman Empire made Rome the center and heart of the growing Christian Church.
ITE, MISSA EST!
Have you ever dream of a peaceful, unhurried visit to Rome and the Vatican, as a spiritual pilgrimage? Your dream now may come true. Due to the current Pope's decision to live in the Domus Santa Marta, (he only appear at the window of the Apostolic Palace for the Sunday Angelus and the wednesday audiences) St Peter Square seems almost empty most of the times. It feels like when the priest “dismisses” the people at the end of the mass, by saying: “Ite, missa est,”
Neverthless, our second day in Rome was equally amazing. We left our hotel by bus and arrived at the St. Peters Basilica early morning just to find out that the line was surprisingly short as we began to walk towards the Basilica. Once you arrive at the square, things start to click. This is the square you've seen on the news, and yes there is the balcony the Pope is seen at.
Contrary to what one might reasonably assume, St. Peter's is not a cathedral - that honour in Rome goes to St. John Lateran.
What stood out to me the most was Michael Angelo’s, Pieta and St. Peter's Baldachin, that large baroque sculpted bronze canopy, over the high altar of the Basilica and of course, visiting the tomb of St Pius X, whose mortal remains rest in a casket under the altar in the Chapel of the Presentation, in the left-hand nave. In the apse of St Peter's Basilica, as you know, is the monument to the Chair of the Apostle, a mature work of Bernini. It is in the form of a great bronze throne supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church: two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East: St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius.
After the visit to the vast underground graveyard or crypt beneath St Peter's Basilica , we went up into the roof, which cost 6 Euro if you’re up for climbing 500 steps, or a little bit more to take the elevator to the roof and then climb the remaining 320 steps inside the dome. It’s tiring, for sure, but the view is so worth it.
For many centuries, pilgrims who came to Rome from all over the world were led by their faith and their reliance on this tradition to venerate the memory of the Prince of the Apostles in his Basilica, as the site of his tomb. Now, thanks to the archeological excavations carried out in the mid-twentieth century by the wish of Pope Pius XII, it is possible to go and pray before the tomb of St Peter itself, but unfortunately, this time we didn't get to visit the Scavi.
Neverthless, it was a journey with a purpose, and that purpose was to remind us that the Catholic Church is Roman. We must savor that word, Roman, and feel completely Roman, since Roman also means universal, catholic.
Closing our tour with a golden key- The Sistine Chapel
It wasn’t my first time in Italy, but this time, there was something particular I wanted to see… I had read about the unpleasant experiences of some tourists and pilgrims inside the Sistine Chapel and decided to go there in person to check it out. After the mass and visit to St Peter Basilica, Father Herkel, me and part of our group headed out to the Vatican Museum.
The interesting thing is that you can only have access to the Sistine chapel through the museum, and since we weren't part of "the homeless private VIP tour of Sistine Chapel" set up by the Pope himself, we had to pay for admittance. I wanted to go and to see the Vatican Museums, a site that held not only the Papal apartments, but also a rather famous chapel that, like many before me, I’d always longed to see.
The Vatican Museums are massive, and have a huge collection of everything from classical sculptures to Renaissance masterpieces. There’s too much to see, too much to photograph, and you’re never sure if you’re missing the really important bits.
Walking through the sumptuous halls and galleries of the Museum on the way to the Sistine Chapel it's just overwhelming. It was simply agonizing to rush past the maps, tapestries, sculptures and paintings, but one thing in particular that caught my attention was the fact that the rooms devoted to contemporary art were half empty.
The visitors, pilgrims or not, wanted to see ART and the garbage that many modern artists consider as art, its a real shame when compared to the Da Vincis, Michelangelos, Fra Angelics and Giottos that we find over there.
I was amazed by some pieces from the Vatican’s extensive sculpture collection, including the famous Laocoon and His Sons, depicting the death of this Trojan priest and, of course, the famous “Raphael Rooms.”
The place was packed, security guards at every corner, every entrance, but keep in mind that these spaces were never designed to be a museum, and yet the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel is one of the most-highly trafficked museums in the world!
It's unnecessary to say that the “No Photos Allowed” policy does not work for me and after all, it's something very difficult to enforce. While guards are spending so much time focusing on someone holding a camera they might not see the person next to them touching the art or something worse. On the other hand, even in the most locked-down spaces, people will still take pictures and you’ll still find a million of these images online.
But there was no time to even celebrate victory. There was something I had to do. Shuffling through the Chapel while guards periodically scream-whispered “Silenzio”, I walked over to the very middle of the room, and there it was! Michelangelo’s ceiling. Oh, that ceiling! I span ran slowly, as that famous blue, those painted archways, those scenes of the Gospels blurred into one great mixing pot of everything I’d ever imagined.
Everything I’d dreamed of and more. So I set up my camera to continuous shooting mode and lo and behold, my speculative attempt was on target! I got all my pictures without being noticed! I made it.
Since we could not imagine being in Rome and not seeing the Colosseum, after visiting the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, part of our group went in the afternoon to visit one of the most famous attraction in Rome. It's the Colosseum, one of the wonders of the world (and rightfully so)
We didn't get the audio tour, but still there was enough information on the walls in English for anyone to read all about the history of the colosseum. As I was walking through the place, I've noticed that while all the 'big' sites and museums (Colosseum, Forum, Vatican Museums) are crowded full of people, an awful lot of people don't really know or care why they're there. They're just seeing them because everyone else does.
But for a devout Catholic that place is not a simple monument. According to St. Irenaeus, St Ignatius did in fact meet his end by being torn apart by wild animals for the amusement of the Roman masses, probably in the infamous Colosseum.
The crowd there that day would have viewed the spectacle as a crushing defeat of this meek man's Christian religion. But Ignatius understood his death to be a shout of victory. Today a Christian cross stands in the Colosseum of Rome with a plaque that reads, "The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions."
Eucharistic Miracles- From Orvieto do Siena
A pilgrimage is never a glamorous or easy journey. It is meant to be a reflection of our lives and our trust in God in difficult times. This reflection requires us to look within ourselves and atone for our sins. All the difficulties becomes a joyous penance that brings us closer to God. The temporal dynamics of the journey were different for our ancestors than they are for us today. However the spiritual dynamics, the reason and faith required of us, are timeless.
One famous example of this dynamic is given by St. Therese of Avila. When she was travelling by carriage in one of her many pilgrimages to found a new convent, the poor vehicle had an accident and she was thrown into a puddle of mud. Feeling embarrassed that she would greet the nuns in a muddy habit, she looked up to the heavens and said: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”
Well, we also had our "Theresian momentum" during this pilgrimage. After three intense days in Rome, it was time to hit the road. The tour operator sent us a coach/bus company from Slovakia and the even worst was the fact that the driver couldn't speak english or any other known language. This was bad news and caused several events simultaneously.
The bus broke down at least 3 times. Sometimes the vehicle would stall, the air conditioning would not be working and the bus engine heated incredibly quickly.This could have been an amazing tour. But there are so many 'if onlys': if only the bus worked properly - it's hard to relax and enjoy the scenery when you are wondering if the clapped-out bus will restart the next time it dies. If only the AC worked, if only you could communicate with the bus driver and to be sure he would take us safely to our destiny!
Through all these trials and discomforts our priests remained calm and positive. They were upheld "by the mighty hand of God." It was by His wish and under His guidance they undertook these toils, and as they were for His glory they looked to Him in all confidence. What a lesson to be learned!
As a matter of fact, our Lord gives us many things to help us to increase our trust in Him. Throughout Christian history, our Lord has shown us that He is really present in the Blessed Sacrament.
Interestingly, many Eucharistic miracles have occurred during times of weakened Faith. For instance, many Eucharist miracles have taken place as a result of someone doubting the Real Presence. And that was the case of Orvieto. We simply enjoyed this stopover on way to north Italy and the lessons we learned!
In 1263 a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host. While celebrating Holy Mass above the tomb of St. Christina (located in the church named for this martyr), he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal. The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighboring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Ur ban IV was then residing and the city we had the grace to visit it. The Pope listened to the priest's account and absolved him. He then sent emissaries for an immediate investigation.
When all the facts were ascertained, he ordered the Bishop of the diocese to bring to Orvieto the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood. With archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great pomp, had the relics placed in the cathedral.
The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined in the Cathedral of Orvieto. We were still able to be in the same room as the miracle and offer our prayers. This called to mind the bible passage when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.” Even though it was a little disappointing not to be able to see the miracle, we could still feel it’s presence and have faith.
Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the Proper for a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the saint's composition, and by means of a papal bull instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.
Siena- The best is yet to come
After all the emotions of Orvieto, we had a particularly interesting bus ride to Siena and another lesson to be learned: nothing is taken from you without compensation. This means that your losses will always be atoned in one form or another. Appreciation follows loss. After all, we don't know what we have until it's gone, right? All you have to do is search for the window that is open once a door has closed.
So, as soon as we left to Siena, a sudden thought crossed my mind: there was another Eucharisric Miracle in Siena and Father Herkel seemed very interested to know about it.
We visited several churches in Siena including the Siena Cathedral and San Domenico, where the relics of St. Catherine are kept. In San Domenico, we got to pray in front of the incorruptible head of St. Catherine. The Duomo of Siena is huge and magnificent, but I wasn’t drawn to it as much, except for the relics of Saint John the Baptist.
My favorite place that we visited was the Basilica of St. Francis in Siena where the miraculous Hosts have been cherished and venerated in for over 250 years.
The Eucharistic Miracle of Siena
The Eucharistic miracle of Siena happened in the 13th century when special celebrations and festivities were introduced in honor of the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These observances became traditional and were still conducted at the time of the miracle. It was that on August 14, 1730, during devotions for the vigil of the feast, while most of the people of Siena and the clergy of the city were attending these services, thieves broke into the deserted Church of St. Francis taking advantage of the friars' absence.
They made for the chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was kept, picked the key to the tabernacle and stole the golden ciborium containing consecrated Hosts. The theft went undiscovered until the next morning, when the priest opened the tabernacle at the Communion during the Mass. Then later, when a parishioner found the lid of the ciborium lying in the street, the suspicion of sacrilege was confirmed.
The anguish of the parishioners forced the cancellation of the traditional festivities for the feast of Our Lady's Assumption. The Archbishop ordered public prayers of reparation, while the civil authorities began a search for the consecrated Hosts and for the author of the sacrilege.
Two days later, on August 17, while praying in the Church of St. Mary of Provenzano, a priest's attention was directed to something white protruding from the offering box attached to the wall. Realizing that it was a Host, he informed the other priests of the church, who in turn notified the Archbishop and the friars of the Church of St. Francis.
When the offering box was opened, in the presence of local priests and the representative of the Archbishop, a large number of Hosts were found, some of them suspended by cobwebs. The Hosts were compared with some unconsecrated ones used in the Church of St. Francis, and proved to be exactly the same size and to have the same mark of the irons upon which they were baked. The number of Hosts corresponded exactly to the number the Franciscan friars had estimated were in the ciborium -- 348 whole Hosts and six halves. Since the offering box was opened but once a year, the Hosts were covered with the dust and debris that had collected there.
After being carefully cleaned by the priests, they were enclosed in a ciborium and placed inside the tabernacle of the main altar of the Church of St. Mary. The following day, in the company of a great gathering of townspeople, Archbishop Alessandro Zondadari carried the Sacred Hosts in solemn procession back to the Church of St. Francis.
During the two centuries that followed it has sometimes been wondered why the Hosts were not consumed by a priest during Mass, which would have been the ordinary procedure in such a case. While there is no definite answer, there are two theories. One explanation is that crowds of people from both Siena and neighboring cities gathered in the church to offer prayers of reparation before the sacred particles, forcing the priests to conserve them for a time. The other reason the priests did not consume them might well have been because of their soiled condition. While the Hosts were superficially cleaned after their discovery, they still retained a great deal of dirt. In such cases it is not necessary to consume consecrated Hosts, but it is permitted to allow them to deteriorate naturally, at which time Christ would no longer be present. To the amazement of the clergy, the Hosts did not deteriorate, but remained fresh and even retained a pleasant scent.
With the passage of time the Conventual Franciscans became convinced that they were witnessing a continuing miracle of preservation. Fifty years after the recovery of the stolen Hosts, an official investigation was conducted into the authenticity of the miracle. The Minister General of the Franciscan Order, Father Carlo Vipera, examined the Hosts on April 14, 1780, and upon tasting one of them he found it fresh and incorrupt. Since a number of the Hosts had been distributed during the preceding years, the Minister General ordered that the remaining 230 particles be placed in a new ciborium and forbade further distribution.
A more detailed investigation took place in 1789 by Archbishop Tiberio Borghese of Siena with a number of theologians and other dignitaries. After examining the Hosts under a microscope, the commission declared that they were perfectly intact and showed no sign of deterioration. The three Franciscans who had been present at the previous investigation, that of 1780, were questioned under oath by the Archbishop. It was then reaffirmed that the Hosts under examination were the same ones stolen in 1730. As a test to further confirm the authenticity of the miracle, the Archbishop, during this 1789 examination, ordered several unconsecrated hosts to be placed in a sealed box and kept under lock in the chancery office. Ten years later these were examined and found to be not only disfigured, but also withered. In 1850, 61 years after they were placed in a sealed box, these unconsecrated hosts were found reduced to particles of a dark yellow color, while the consecrated Hosts retained their original freshness.
Other examinations were made at intervals over the years, the most significant being that of 1914, undertaken on the authority of Pope St. Pius X. For this inquiry the Archbishop selected a distinguished panel of investigators, which included scientists and professors from Siena and Pisa, as well as theologians and Church officials. The commission concluded that the preservation was extraordinary.
Professor Siro Grimaldi, professor of chemistry at the University of Siena and director of the Municipal Chemical Laboratory, was the chief chemical examiner of the holy particles in 1914. Afterward, he gave elaborate statements concerning the miraculous nature of the Hosts, and wrote a book about the miracle entitled Uno Scienziato Adora (A Scientific Adorer). In 1914 he declared: The holy Particles of unleavened bread represent an example of perfect preservation … a singular phenomenon that inverts the natural law of the conservation of organic material. It is a fact unique in the annals of science. In 1922 another investigation was conducted -- this one in the presence of Cardinal Giovanni Tacci, who was accompanied by the Archbishop of Siena and the Bishops of Montepulciano, Foligno and Grosseto.
The miraculously preserved Hosts are displayed publicly on various occasions, but especially on the 17th of each month, which commemorates the day they were found after the first theft in 1730. On the feast of Corpus Christi the Sacred Hosts are placed in their processional monstrance and triumphantly carried in procession from the church through the streets of the town.
Among many distinguished visitors who have adored the Hosts was St. John Bosco. Popes Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius Xl and Pius Xll issued statements of profound interest and admiration. With a unanimous voice, the faithful, priests, bishops, cardinals and popes have marveled at and worshiped the holy Hosts, recognizing in them a permanent miracle, both complete and perfect, that has endured for over 250 years.
Since they are in such a perfect state of conservation, maintaining the appearances of bread, the Catholic Church assures us that although they were consecrated in the year 1730, these Eucharistic Hosts are still really and truly the Body of Christ.
The miraculous Hosts have been cherished and venerated in the Basilica of St. Francis in Siena for over 250 years and now we had not only the opportunity to see and to venerate the miracle, but the best was yet to come! Father Couture was allowed to bless us with the miracle! Amazingly, he got permission to do this from the Franciscan friar in charge of the Basilica! I simply could not hold my tears watching this because for me, it was a second miracle!
The Year of the Eucharist of the Archdiocese of Siena begun with the Feast of All Saints and therefore, the current Pope also granted a plenary indulgence at the request of Major Penitentiary, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, which can be gained from 1 November 2014 to October 4, 2015 by all the faithful who pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the Hosts of the church of Saint Francis in Siena.
( More informations you can find on from Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz- Tan Books)
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should in all times, and in all places, give thanks to Thee, holy Lord!
After we left Siena, our bus stopped in Barberino Val d'Elsa, an old Tuscany village that still conserves its walls and gate, situated along a main road that connects Florence and and Siena.
We got to Barberino really late at night because our bus broke down in Siena leaving us stranded in a parking lot for almost 5 hours, not my idea of fun! But again, God arranges all sorts of happenings to teach us what He wants us to learn.
When we sing the Reproaches on Good Friday, what really baffle us Catholics is the fact that the Israelites had so little faith. God performed one miracle after another, and yet, within days or weeks, the Israelites were again murmuring and complaining that God had brought them into the wilderness to die.
Yet the majority of Christians today are guilty of the same problem. We saw the living bread which came down from heaven in Siena, we saw miracles, we had Mass in the Vatican but when facing the possibility of being left on the side of the road, we started feeling annoyed and restless.
So we slept in this small, simple, family-owned hotel in Barberino, praying for a better solution with the bus.We did not have a good feeling about the next day. The vehicle was not suitable for a long trip.
They said that they would send a new bus and kept stretching that, so it endep up being the whole sunday morning waiting in Barberino. The big concern was the Sunday Mass. We did not know how long it would take to get the bus fixed.
Father Herkel left for a walk and found the village's church open. How nice and trusting it is for the Italian church to leave their doors open to pilgrims like us who only need a few minutes’ refuge and peaceful reflection.
I guess Father Herkel was drawn to the remains of an holy priest who was laid to rest in a glass-enclosed crypt by the altar. This is so common in Italy, to see saints, priests and other holy people on display for us to see. A little reminder of our mortality, and a little bit of authentic Italy right there in front of us.
When he came back to the hotel, he asked help to contact the parish priest and get permission to say the Mass in that church. And all this while the kind providence of God was watching over us. Permission granted, we ran to get there as soon as possible. But part of the group went to a restaurant for lunch and could not follow us to the church for Sunday Mass.
When we came back from the church, through some sort of miracle the bus started and happened to end up in Florence to pick another pilgrim up.
We were all just happy to be on the road to Montalenghe. We got about 2 hours into the ride to Montalenghe when the BUS BROKE DOWN AGAIN ! The only thing to do was praying and singing. All of us agreed there was no way we could make it to Montalenghe before the end of the day. So our only option was to have Sunday Mass in a parking lot on the roadside. And we did it!
I was impressed with the wisdom of Father Couture. He knew more about pilgrimages than anyone I've met; not just the regular touristic informations, but intricate details and how to manage difficult situations.
The Shroud of Turin
This was an especially important day after a good night's sleep at the Priory of Montalenghe. We can not thank them enough for their courtesy, hospitality and the breakfast was really nice!!
God is present in the little accidents and dealings of daily life, as well as in the great results that we read in the pages of history. When we left Montalenghe for Turim, God provided us with a new bus and when we reached Einsiedeln, a good Slovak interpreter who came to join our pilgrimage. No doubt he was a God sent!
As we approached Turim I began to get very excited! That was a pilgrimage to see something that I will likely never have the opportunity to see ever again.
Obviously, we were more calm and prayerful when we got closer to the Cathedral where the Shroud was exposed. Our group said a rosary walking under those tents so that we could fully appreciate what we were about to see. We had to pass through airport type security - belts, watches coins etc., etc. had to be put in a tray for scanning. After that we had 10/12 minute walk to the viewing gallery. When our group's time came, we got less than ten minutes to view the Shroud
Just before getting into the Cathedral there was a big-screen slide show with zoomed-in enlargements of the Shroud, which lasted about 3 minutes.
When we entered the Cathedral of Turin I was impressed by how silent the place was. Then, we got to stand in front of the Shroud for about 5 minutes. It went by very fast.
I wasn’t sure what I would feel when I stood in front of the Shroud. Only after we left that I realized that this is the closest that I will ever get to seeing Jesus’ face on Earth.
Seeing it was very moving. I only wish we could have sat in front of it longer to pray and to give thanks for such great love.
Don Bosco Oratory
"In many ways, in many places, God in the past spoke to the Fathers by the prophets."
Our God is a God who speaks, that is, a God who reveals himself and communicates his will. He has spoken in the past to the Jewish nation and its ancestors by miracles and signs and through the prophets. And finally He has spoken in a immeasurably greater and clearer message through His own Son.
But now, in this new age, when Satan worked so successfully to associate the image of the Catholic priest to the abomination of child abuse, our Lord wants us to look at Don Bosco as a priest model for all ages.
If you ever find youself in Turin, be sure to walk over to his old headquarters to check the oratory of Don Bosco and the Church of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice like we did. Don Bosco was one of those prophets of modern times and through the miracle of his incorrupt body, God wanted to communicate an important message to all priests:
"For you will not leave my soul in hell; neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption".
The priest should, therefore, study to reproduce in his own soul the things that are effected upon the Altar. As Jesus Christ immolates Himself, so His minister should be immolated with Him; as Jesus expiates the sins of men, so he, by following the hard road of Christian asceticism, should labor at the purification of himself and of others. Hence the admonition of St. Peter Chrysologus: "Be you the priest and the sacrifice of God; do not lose that which has been given to you by the authority of God. Clothe yourself with the garment of sanctity, gird yourself with the cincture of chastity; let Christ be the covering for your head; let the cross of Christ be the protection before your face; instill in your breast the sacrament of divine wisdom; constantly burn the incense of prayer; grasp the sword of the Spirit; let your heart be, as it were, an altar on which you may safely offer your body as a victim to God . . . Offer Him your faith, for the chastisement of perfidy; offer Him your fasting, that gluttony may cease; offer your chastity as a sacrifice that passion may die; place on the Altar your piety, that impiety be put away; call upon mercy, that avarice may be overcome; and that folly may disappear, the immolation of sanctity is called for. In this way shall your body be also your victim, if it has not been wounded by any dart of sin" ( The Admonition of St. Peter Chrysologus in MENTI NOSTRAE Pope Pius XII)
From darkened days, to joyful bliss – peaks and valleys.
Crossing Borders: Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany
We left Italy to head over to Germany in a new bus so we planned to leave early, go by way of Switzerland and enjoy the many photo opportunities the Alps had to offer.
We made it into Switzerland with no problem, and enjoyed every bit of the trip overlooking the beautiful Swiss scenery. Since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union but is included in the "Schengen agreement" we did not have to show a passport when we crossed from Italy to Switzerland.
The days of trouble with a broken bus and other shenanigans were left behind and now we could really enjoy the trip. Big mountains and snowy peaks, waterfall of the melted snow, green valleys with cowbells melody. That’s life in Switzerland.
The Great St. Bernard Pass
It was a great experience driving through the mountain pass with all the great views of the surrounding mountains. We certainly did not regret taking the longer road, as we could enjoy stunning views of the mountains The road seemed narrow and it was a little scary, but again, it was well worth the breathtaking experience with great views of the surrounding mountains.
A hospice for travellers was founded in 1049 by Saint Bernard of Menthon and came to be named after him in the 16th century, along with the pass. The chapel on the Swiss side is just gorgeous with it's black marble altars and wood accents.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Father Couture climbing those cliff so fast!
We spent the night in the Swiss town of Martigny and the next morning very early we were on the way to Econe for morning mass. The visit to the seminar was marked by a short visit to Archbishop Lefebvre's office and also his tomb.
It is impossible in any written account to describe the atmosphere of Ecône. So if you ask me to describe Ecône in one phrase there could be no other answer but "a place founded by a great man, but supported always "by the mighty hand of God."
Saint Maurice and the Theban Legion
Another great grace of this pilgrimage was to visit the site of the martyrdom and the Shrine dedicated to St. Maurice. This town was known in the Roman times as "Aguanum", an important communication center. It was there that a Christian officer named Maurice and 6600 of his fellow soldiers died for the sake of Christ at the hands of the impious Emperor Maximian (285-305 AD).
A major lesson learned through history and martyrdom of St. Maurice is that we have a duty to resist and disobey unjust orders when these violate the Christian precepts. Here again is repeated a quote from Saint Dominic Savio: rather die than sin.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Einsiedeln
Einsiedeln is the most important place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Switzerland. After so many graces received throughout this pilgrimage, Our Lord led us to the house of His mother so we could thank her, who is the Mediatrix of All Graces for so many benefits received.
The abbey church at Einsiedeln is a majestic baroque building with decorated pastel ceilings, many marble side altars, and a large high altar in the east end. The interior is a typically baroque feast for the eyes, in gleaming white with elaborate gold and pastel decoration.
The most important part of the basilica is the Lady Chapel, near the entrance. The miraculous image of the Black Madonna was created by an unknown artist in the 15th century. Soon after, Mary and the baby Jesus were given magnificent broidered clothes. Depending on the celebration the color of clothes are changed.
Here also, in a House dedicated to the Virgin Mary, there were no objections to our priests to say Mass. All they asked for was some bread and wine and an altar in the House of Mother to offer the Holy Sacrifice.
After all, “which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! "(Matthew 7: 9-11)
In our road to Zaitzkofen we also crossed Austria, a country inseparably linked with the Viennese waltz "The Blue Danube" and Sachertorte.
I read that the Vienna archdiocese, which is one of the largest in Europe and extends from the Czech frontier down to the southern Alps, will undergo radical parish reforms, reducing its 660 parishes to 150 in the next 10 years.
Seventy-five percent of the Catholic parishes in Austria will close within a decade. That’s staggering, but this also remind me what then-Cardinal Ratzinger fifteen or so years ago predicted would happen to the Catholic Church at large.
His words: “We might have to part with the notion of a popular Church. It is possible that we are on the verge of a new era in the history of the Church, under circumstances very different from those we have faced in the past, when Christianity will resemble the mustard seed [Matthew 13:31-32], that is, will continue only in the form of small and seemingly insignificant groups, which yet will oppose evil with all their strength and bring Good into this world.”
One of these groups that resemble the mustard seed and grows significantly is the SSPX in Austria. We had the Holy Mass at the Priory in Innsbruck and also at the Wang's School. Some of us took time to visit a beautiful cemetery and some churches. Many of them are historical monuments or at least are cultural touchstones in their villages and form the backbone of the picturesque that attracts tourism.
The Catholic Bavaria
The beautiful churches and other sacred buildings are still today important places of pilgrimage and witnesses to the deeply held faith of the people of Bavaria.
Many of the monasteries in Bavaria were closed down during the years of persecution but from 1817 permission was once again given for new monasteries to be founded. Today Bavaria‘s monasteries have become important and attractive tourist landmarks.
Most of them are well preserved, still inhabited by their religious order and living witness to the state’s rich past. We also had the opportunity to visit some of those landmark: Ettal, Oberammergau e Wies.
Germany, along with much of Europe, has grown increasingly secular over the last few decades, but in mostly Catholic Bavaria, on the other hand, people are more likely to be more religious-minded, even if they rarely set foot inside a church.
So we were invited to a festival to honour St John the Baptist in one of these Bavarian villages. During the Johannisnacht, one has the feeling that half of the village is standing in front of the stage, young and old alike, singing drinking beer and dancing in that awkward way that only Germans can.
In our road to Zaitzkofen we also visited Munich, Regensburg and the beautiful castle of Neuschwanstein.
The Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most visited castles in Germany and one of the most popular tourist destination in Europe. The castle is located in Bavaria, near the town of Fussen. It was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, also known as the “Fairytale King” and this fairytale look of the Neuschwanstein castle inspired Walt Disney to create the Magic Kingdom.
King Ludwig was a great admirer and supporter of Richard Wagner, the world – renowned composer. Neuschwanstein Castle was built in his honor and many rooms in the castle’s interior were inspired by Wagner’s characters.
Final Destination- Zaitzkofen
My work is now finished. Here at last, on the borders of Zaitzkofen... comes the end of our "Fellowship”, but what we should hold most closely and feel most strongly is the blessing of that particular moment in our personal and spiritual journey.
The LORD has done great things for us, and we were filled with joy during all this pilgrimage through Europe. That joy will be forever associated in our memory, to the deep emotion we experienced in Zaitzkofen on the occasion of the Ordination of those young men who are now priests and deacons of the SSPX.
"Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. for he has strengthened the bars of your gates. He has blessed your children within you. He secures peace in your borders and fills you with the finest of wheat".
I believe everyone genuinely enjoyed the time spent with our priests, Father Herkel and Father Couture at the different locations of our pilgrimage and I hope the pictures and the memories that all of you helped to create will last forever.
God Bless You All!