Just returned from a nine day pilgrimage with 50 persons. Father Brighenti and I led a tour of San Giovanni Rotondo, Pietrelcina, Orvieto, Lanciano, Cascia and Rome under the excellent guidance of Mr. Luigi Falconeri, our tour guide from New Jersey. His fluent Italian and good humor in addition to his magnificent travel skills made our trip a complete success. While there, we met up with Joan Lewis, Rome Bureau Chief for EWTN. She has a spectacular view of the Vatican from her apartment.
Here is a shot from Joan's living room. BREATHTAKING, isn't it?
We left JFK on November 5th and arrived in Naples the following day via EuroFly Airlines (nice staff but lousy food). Then we travelled by bus to Pietrelcina to see the hometown and birthplace of Padre Pio. Our group was a wonderful cross section of NJ and PA residents as well as some nice folks from Idaho, Texas, California, Oregon, Montana.
After visiting the birthplace of the famous stigmatist, we went to San Giovanni Rotondo where Saint Pio is buried. It is also the location of the House to Relieve Suffering, the free hospital Padre Pio established to help treat anyone in need of medical assistance.
The only down side of our entire trip, however, was our stay at the Hotel Gran Paradiso in San Giovanni Rotondo. When we arrived, there was no porter to unload our luggage, so while the 50 pilgrims ate supper, Lou, our tour guide, personally took care of the baggage and delivered them to each room. Two hours later, he got his meal 15 minutes before the kitchen closed. The worst part of all was on our departure day from the hotel when one of our pilgrims had his laptop stolen from a locked hotel room. His luggage was placed outside the locked room while he and his wife went to breakfast. 45 minutes later, they re-entered their room to discover the laptop (in its case) had been stolen. When the hotel security chief was notified, his initial response was to question whether there ever was a laptop to begin with, although the victims in this case are both certified and licensed physicians. Two hours were then spent at the local police station where Barney Fife (the hotel security chief) was accompanied by the hotel owner. Now, their theory evolved into accusing a member of our pilgrimage of being the thief. How an American could get into a locked Italian hotel room was never explained. Meanwhile, several Italian housekeeping and maintenance personnel who had master keys to enter any and all rooms were never questioned. Father Brighenti and I do NOT recommend this hotel and warn all pilgrims and travellers to AVOID Hotel Gran Paradiso at all costs. Shameful that we had to have a theft on our religious pilgrimage (two priests, one nun, one deacon and 48 lay faithful) and in the town of Padre Pio, no less.
Monte Sant’Angelo, the cave where the Archangel Michael victoriously battled Satan, was the place Father Ken celebrated Mass before we left for Lanciano, the place of the Eucharistic Miracle. A lukewarm priest in the 8th century doubted the dogma of the Real Presence. When he celebrated Mass oneday, the Host turned into human flesh and the consecrated Wine turned into human blood (type AB, same as on the Shroud of Turn). Today, both are miraculously preserved.
Our next visit was to Orvieto, another Eucharistic miracle location, where a Host bled onto a corporal. It is also a center for fantastic white wine. We then moved on to Montefiascone where Saint Lucy Filippini is buried, founder of her order of teaching nuns. Later, we visited all four of the major Roman basilicas and made a side trip to the shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, where we ran into a parish pilgrimage from the diocese of Joliet, IL. Another pleasant surprise was the visit of a nice young man Jeff from California who was spending some time in Venice. He joined us for a few days in San Giovanni. Jeff is a script writer who did some impressive work for Hollywood, notably several of the new Perry Mason made-for-TV movies. He told us of his friendship with the late Raymond Burr, and work he also did with Dick Van Dyke for "Diagnosis: Murder" series. You never know who you'll run into while visiting Italy.
Father Brighenti and I also concelebrated Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica with our group and then attended the Pope's noon Angelus message. It was the crowning gem of a wonderful pilgrimage. Despite a few bumps in the road and a couple of small inconveniences we still had a marvelous and memorable trip. The 50 pilgrims were fantastic, patient, kind, courteous and fun to be with, as well as being very devout and pious. We prayed the Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet in the bus and we shared many delicious meals accompanied by entertaining conversation.
Fratelliandcompany was our tour company and we both highly recommend their services. We are both hoping to go on the Fall 2008 pilgrimage to Fatima and Lourdes. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady to Saint Bernadette in 1858, France. Next year is also the 20th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood for both me and Father Ken. We want to thank Our Lady for getting us to the altar of God by visiting these two great shrines.