5. An amazing last day
Any one of these things could have made the top five, but that they all happened within just a few hours… wow! Starting with Mass at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. Fr. Connor was the joined by 5 other priest and our group was joined by about 200 other pilgrims. Legion seminarians led small group tours of the basilica, which I hear were excellent. Then we went into the Vatican Museums. Christopher spoke on the Sistine Chapel just before we went in. After a quick lunch (and the discovery of a new pizzeria) we started the grand finale part one. A visit to the cathedral to see the altar from the last supper, a little trespassing and breaking and entering (not completely) to get Christopher into the closed baptistry to see the womb of the Mother Church. Up the Scala Santa which always brings (un)expected tears. A quick visit to be in the presence of the holy relics of the Passion at Santa Croce. Finally a visit to Santa Maria della Vittoria to see Saint Theresa in Ecstasy. A fitting grande finale to a Theology of the Body pilgrimage. But, then there was an encore. An amazing night of toasts at our final meal. I was moved as each person shared their experiences. Christopher said goodbye and we went back to the hotel. But, just as U2 gives their fans a second encore, so did this pilgrimage! By an unexpected wi-fi issue, I ended up in the hotel lobby long after I should have been in bed. The band and Christopher West arrived from some errands and I was able to chat with them one last time and say goodbye to a few that I had missed.
4. Alone time at Regina Apostolorum
Seems silly, but it was nice to spend the day in a school doing work. I found an empty classroom, pulled out the laptop and worked for about 5 hours straight. Why wasn’t I in the Symposium? Way over my head. Especially when there were Italian presenters and the attendees had to listen to a dry translation through UN style headsets. No thanks!
3. The group
You just never know what kind of group you are going to get. Sure everyone has a common interest, but that doesn’t really say anything about their personalities. This group bonded instantly! We had two teen boys who were best friends less than an hour after meeting. We had almost 30 women who hit it off right away. It was just perfect. I was a little worried about the ratio of men to women 20/5 for the first three days. I was a little concerned about having several nationalities. American, Mexican, Irish, but it was great. Again, perfect.
2. Christopher West and the Fill These Hearts presentation
Though I’m somewhat familiar with Christopher’s work, this was my first time seeing him speak. He said things that seriously ‘filled this heart.’ Add in the music from Mike Mangione, Patrick and Tina and mix in the amazing sand painting by Dave Leiberg and this heart was pierced.
1. Father Martin Connor
He lives down the street from me, but we didn’t meet until he landed at Fiumicino. I had an idea of what to expect when he requested a half day retreat and sent along a spiritual packing list for the group, but he went above and beyond a pilgimage chaplain. He prepared and printed out a prayer booklet for each pilgrim. His half day silent retreat set the tone of the trip. He didn’t just say he’d be available for confessions throughout the trip, he set out blocks of time on several days and was visisbly available. He stayed on everyone throughout the trip to make sure they were truly on pilgrimage. His homilies were spot on and God made sure that the daily readings applied to something we were doing each day – so much so that there were tears during some of the readings. He was the perfect priest for this pilgrimage.