Fr. Britto's Blog

Pilgrimage to Rome

From the earliest days of Christianity going on pilgrimages has been a laudable and sacred undertaking. Even in other religions the faithful brave the hardships of travel so that they may obtain forgiveness for their sins. Observant Muslims go to Mecca for that purpose and so do Hindus to the River Ganges. The purpose of a pilgrimage is not merely to see some sacred places but to recommit oneself to one’s faith.

 

Over the years I have been wanting to organize a pilgrimage to Italy since I believe that such a sacred journey brings people together and strengthens their faith. Having organized three trips to Italy before, I was eager to enable our parishioners experience Italy, particularly Rome. In my first eight years as pastor many projects – such as the Centennial and our capital campaign – prevented me from doing it. Finally we were off to Italy on October 1, 2017.

Forty pilgrims, the majority of whom were our parishioners, undertook the journey with me. It was a fully-packed week. Our first stop was Rome. We stayed at Hotel Michelangelo which was only a seven-minute walk to St Peter’s. In order to avoid packing and unpacking our luggage, we arranged to remain at the same hotel in Rome for five nights. We took trips to Assisi and Florence and returned to our rooms for the night. All our arrangements were made by 206 Tours, a travel company out of New York.

Our trip to Assisi was moving. Celebrating Mass in the Basilica of St Francis drew us closer to the great saint. We could feel his spirit not only in the Portiuncula or at his tomb but also before the San Damiano Cross and on the streets of Assisi. On our way back to Rome we were treated to a four-course dinner at a quaint restaurant in a little town called Trevi. Everyone agreed that that meal was the best of the entire trip.

The most memorable highlight of our pilgrimage was the general papal audience on Wednesday. At the suggestion of our Italian tour leader, Monica, all of us managed to find aisle seats so that we could be very close to Pope Francis. As he drove by in his pope-mobile, we could have reached and touched him. One of our parishioners screamed like a teenage fan, “Papa Francesco, amore, amore!” Little did she realize that the word “amore” signifies romantic love! Her screams seemed to have amused the Pope because he appeared to smile at her.

Two days later we were back at St Peter’s to celebrate an early Mass at the altar of the tomb of St Peter. We couldn’t believe we were right there where it all started. The first Vicar of Christ is buried beneath that altar. All the years I spent in Rome, I never had the privilege of celebrating Mass at that altar. It was very moving for me. As an interesting highlight of that day I connected with an old priest friend who works at the Secretariat of State of the Vatican. I was able to see Casa Marta where Pope Francis lives. It is a modest abode but by no means a dump.

On our way to the Amalfi Coast we stopped to visit the Benedictine Monastery in Monte Cassino. It was leveled to the ground during World War II by the Allies because they mistakenly believed that the Germans were hiding there. The US helped to rebuild it exactly as it used to be. We celebrated Mass at the crypt chapel which is ornately decorated in Baroque style. It is important to note that at every Mass we prayed for all the people of our parish.

As I look back on the pilgrimage, a couple of things stand out for me. First of all, I was touched by the way the group gelled. Prior to our departure most people did not know each other. Over the course of the trip new friendships were created and old ones were deepened. We went there as strangers and returned as friends. To my last minute dismay I discovered that one of our pilgrims could hardly walk. Several men in the group took turns helping him to get around in a wheelchair. If you have been there you know that Italy, particularly Rome, is not accommodating to the disabled. The angels in our group really had to work hard. I was edified by their generosity.

We had two young people in our group – a young woman, a sophomore, and an eighth grader from our school. At every turn they were ready to help anyone and everyone. The whole group remarked how they were touched by the uncomplaining, happy disposition of this young woman and young man. They gave us much hope for the future.

Finally we all agreed that travel is such a powerful educative experience. To be exposed to the roots of our faith, to be amazed by fabulous works of art, and to be delighted in our palates by exquisite wines and great food, were all experiences that we will not easily forget. If someone has the means they should make every effort to travel. And there is no better place to visit than Rome! As the early Christians used to say, “See Rome and die!” It does not mean that one would die after seeing Rome. It means that before one dies, they should visit Rome. Believe me, I have been to the Eternal City dozens of times and I never get tired of going there.

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068


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Sunday

7:30 a.m. - Upper Church
9 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
10:30 a.m. - Upper Church & Holy Family Chapel
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8:30 a.m. - Upper Church

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