Through Rome, Lourdes, and Fatima, I ventured upon a 10 day pilgrimage with a group of about 20 other young adults before attending World Youth Day. I wanted to indulge myself with graces before being present with the rest of the world at WYD. The experience transformed me both inside and out and I will remember it forever. The following are some of my journals from the full three weeks I spent in Europe. It wasnt until this trip that I fully and completely felt Catholic. Praise God.
Day 1: Traveling to Rome
After a long flight and a great conversation with a millionaire family from the O.C., we arrived…exhausted. But we are home. We are staying at a campground in the city. Crazy, I know. Then we walked a ways to St. Peters Square. Its so overwhelming with people from all over the world; nuns, Asians, all different languages and photos being taken. We are all united here together admiring the home of our Church: catholic = universal. We are the universal church. Even though we are all different and some language barriers, but God brings us together. We also got to visit the Mary Major Cathedral where they have the manger that Christ was believed to be born in. Even if it is a stinky city, we live in the world, not of it. I am so tired, Lord; give me strength to enjoy your beauty. Maybe we are called to rest, let us rest. Amen.
Day 2: Rome
Today we woke up to thunder and lightening attacking our 3-person bungalow at the campground. Ah! We felt like we were going to tip over! It was great though it did set us back an hour. So after it cleared up, we ventured to the Vatican to try to attend an audience with the Pope. We rushed to see if we could make it in, but they had shut the door. We got to see him be driven in. Then after about 10 minutes of suspense, the Swiss guards let us through and we rushed in, by the grace of God! There were thousands of people in that room. We got to stand in the back and see him from afar. It was breathtaking. He is so beautiful! He translated the audience in several different languages and each country cheered. They made us Americans look bad. When he welcomed us, there was barely any clapping. Who are we?! It was an amazing experience. It was pouring when we got outside, but cleared up in time for us to find a spot to pray in a nice park. Its great to be able to pray as a group in public right near the Vatican. We then traveled to the Coliseum, just massive. We prayed the Stations of the Cross just outside where so much Christian blood had been shed. Martyrdom, right there in front of our faces. History blows my mind. We had some free time to walk around and explore the grounds and Spanish steps and of course eat gelati! (my new obsession) It was a jammed packed day, but amazing. Thank you Lord for this city and please bless them. The Vatican is the heart of it, but whats on the outside? Do the citizens realize whats behind the walls?
Day 3: Rome
Waking up this morning at 5:30 am was worth the early wake up call. We rushed to the Vatican to make Mass. This was the first time I had been inside the Basilica. There was Mass being celebrated at every altar in the place! Like twenty different masses going on at the same time in different languages. It was beautiful. After Mass, we got to see John Paul IIs tomb and we got a chance to pray in front of it. Then we did some souvenir shopping and we then had an amazing tour of the catacombs right underneath the Vatican. They only allow 100 people in there a day. We saw old pagan tombs from before Christs time. And then we got to see St. Peters tomb and bones! I had no idea they were buried directly underneath the altar at the Basilica. This was literally the rock referred to in Scripture and that our Church was built on! It was an amazing spiritual experience. The Gospel today was actually Jesus telling Peter he was the rock. Wow, Lord, wow. Then a group of us got to tour the Vatican museum and see the Sistine Chapel. I spent an hour in there illegally taking pictures. But it was worth it. Then I had some real Italian pasta and we went back to the campground and packed up and took the night train to France.
Day 4: Lourdes, France
After spending a very restless night on the train, we are still traveling to Lourdes. We will have to switch trains a few times before we get there because we missed the first train…the countryside is beautiful.
We arrived in Lourdes at about 10:30 pm and found our hotel and went to McDonalds for dinner and then headed to the Grotto to visit the spring and prayed a rosary. The minute I stepped off this train, I felt the overwhelming grace of this place. It was about midnight, there was so much peace revealed to me, personally, and healing, only the beginning, just being there.
Day 5: Lourdes, France
After going to a Mass in French this morning, we did the Stations of the Cross (life-size) up the side of the mountain in Lourdes. I cant even begin to describe the size of this Cathedral here, above the Grotto. To actually see the masses of people that pilgrim here and that St. Bernadette knew what she was talking about, Mary as the Immaculate Conception and that people actually listened to what she had to say about the vision she had. There were healing baths that people could go into while we were there. We attempted to go today, but didnt make it. I realized that the Lord wanted to better prepare me before I went in. We had a Lords Day celebration that night with our whole group to ring in the Sabbath. The people that worked at our hotel cooked for us! It was great and really united our group. Then we headed down to the Basilica and participated in the Vigil/Procession that they have every night, as Mary requested, with the rest of the town. We said the rosary in several different languages. Everyone had candles, it was beautiful. Then we all had night prayer and a time of group honoring too, again, this helped us to bond. It was a great day to just soak up the graces the Lord had for us in Lourdes.
Day 6: Lourdes, France
We celebrated Mass early this morning in the Grotto where St. Bernadette saw Mary. It was all in French, but worth it. Then we grabbed some crepes for breakfast and headed in line for the healing baths. We only waited about 2 hours in line with all these crazy women. I have never seen that many women in line for something and so eager to get it. I thought I was in line for like a Beatles concert or something. But we girls were a little nervous because we didn’t know what to expect. We knew that we were supposed to get naked and have our intentions ready to be healed. When it was my turn, I got asked a few things, even if I spoke Italian, because they directed you to women who spoke your language. They pushed be into the English line and had me undress and wrapped a blue sheet around me and pushed me through some curtains and put on a wet, cold towel, had me say my intentions and walked me into the huge tub of cold Lourdes water and kiss the head of this small statue of Mary. Then they sat me down and dipped be backwards. It all happened so fast that I didnt even get a chance to soak it all in, I guess some people got prayed over. Everyones experience is different. Then some of us made our way through Bernadettes house and got ready to leave France. Being at apparition sites is so surreal. The apparition happened so long ago, and there seems to always to be that little question in the back of my head did Mary really appear? She did.
Day 7: Fatima, Portugal
We arrived here in Fatima after a horrible nights train ride, no sleep whatsoever in a car that holds five girls and one old man who didnt speak any English. I was cranky for the first time in a while…
Wow, the Lord really blessed us pilgrims by providing a 4-star hotel here right across the street from the Basilica and Chapel of the Last Apparition. We will get some good rest and prayer time tonight. We just got out of Mass in Portuguese again. Being here, with all the things that I am struggling with personally, I feel so much grace, especially within our group of pilgrims. Each one of us is here for a reason and it is amazing being able to be here all together and to experience this all together. We got to spend some time in adoration at this Dominican order here in town. Jesus, I am missed seeing you.
Day 8: Fatima, Portugal
Today we began the day with a quick, yet cheap breakfast with some yummy croissants with chocolate and great coffee, things are really quite cheaper here because it is a much smaller town and even though I only know how to say one word Portuguese obregado means thank you, the people still seem to accept our big group of American pilgrims. After breakfast, we were graciously able to spend a great hour of prayer time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Then we proceeded to do the Stations of the Cross near the apparition site. It was beautiful and as we started, it began to sprinkle and after we were done, we got to spend some time near the Crucifix. We really started to get wet and its part of the purification process here in Fatima. So we went back to the room to get our ponchos and hung out while the guys got us food. The head boards to the beds in our room had radios built in to them. Its crazy. We hard our typical pilgrimage lunch of salami, cheese, bread and fruit. It was delicious. We headed to an actual English Mass…in the center of the square, where the last apparition of Mary to the three children was. And then it began to rain again as we headed back to the apparition site and prayed in the rain. We got to see where Mary appeared to the kids after prison, and where the angel appeared as well. Then we saw Lucias home. And did some souvenir shopping and came back to the chapel to pray. This is what I live for, Lord, to pray to You and bask in Your glory.
Day 9: Santerem, Portugal
Today was an interesting day as we left Fatima by train and made our way to Santerem. We accidentally got on the wrong train it was a high speed train when we switched trains…this led to an interesting hour at the Santerem station. Our leaders had a debate with the police and ended up paying for our ride, even though it was an honest mistake. Americans only get cut so much slack, I guess. It was a lot of waiting around. Then we finally made it to the church of the Eucharistic Miracle. The miracle took place back in the 1200s. A woman was struggling with her marriage and sought out a witch doctor for help and the witch doctor requested a consecrated host as a payment. The women stole the Eucharist and while she was bringing it to the witch doctor, it began to bleed. So she rushed home and put it in a chest and during the night, beaming light came from the chest. They kept the host and placed it in a wax casing and over the years it had crystallized itself. We got to see the Miracle up close. It was crazy. It was really dried up blood. Its interesting to visit there because it didnt seem like it was a big deal to the townsfolk. It happened 760 years ago. We got to visit the home where the woman lived and where the miracle happened too. After that, we made our way to the airport in Lisbon. We slept there overnight to catch our flight in the morning. Its really strange sleeping in an airport, on display for all to see.