Our plane from Rome arrived after 6pm. We were picked up by our driver at 6.30pm. It was a 2.5 hour drive from Split to Medjugorje. As we got closer, we saw a huge Cross all lit up on the mountain lighting up the darkness.
One of our group noticed on the way that the clouds were in the formation of God the Father- (just for a minute or two) and then they dissipated.
A surprise was waiting for us.
When we got there, we found a friend waiting for us. He was an elderly, Austrian pilgrim that had come to World Youth Day in Australia in 2008.
At the time, one of our local churches had asked that we pick up 3 or 4 pilgrims each day from the Church Hall in which they slept, take them home for breakfast and a shower and return them by 9am so that they could catch the buses which would take them to the day’s activities.
I had noticed one all alone and asked the church staff about him. They said that, unlike the young ones, he could not speak English. I thought that I could use my very basic child-like German to say “hello”. I then rang my brother who could speak better than I – and that’s where the friendship started! We nicknamed him ‘Moses’ because of his long white hair and beard. There he was, in Medjugorie, waiting for us! He had been waiting for us for 2 or 3 hours.
Another surprise was dinner waiting to be served at 9.15pm! There were also 25 other priests (out of 500) staying at our hotel for a priests’ retreat. One of them had just been ordained a few days before, so we received his special blessing.
The hotel also had a chapel with an altar. The circular window above the altar looked to the skies and to Apparition Hill.
Today was a hectic day. Yesterday we travelled from San Giovanni Rotundo via car and then 3 hours by train. Needless to say it was a hot day (about 38°C). The train was an hour late arriving so we waited in the heat. More for us to offer up. This time, however, there was food that we could buy on the station platform.
Our poor driver was waiting at Rome for us for an hour, all dressed up in a suit. He must have been so hot. However we had a great time talking with him on the way to the hotel. It was so pleasant to be able to converse and he gave us a wonderful introduction to Rome- like a mini tour – explaining all the landmarks as we went. So you see, Jesus is good to us – with every downside there is an upside.
The next morning we were picked up for our tour by our official driver and our guide. His name was Vincenzo.
First stop was the Colosseum. This really put us in touch with our Christian roots, with the guide explaining the pagan society and the entertainment with gladiators, lions and Christians. He told us how St. Ignatius of Loyola died this way.
He told us how each Good Friday, the popes throughout history would always say 4 Stations of the Cross there. Also, how there is a little altar in one of the arches in which a priest says Mass every day, for all those martyred. He also mentioned Pope Innocent VIII in the 15th Century who commemorated the passion of Christians in the Colosseum and Pope Clement X who dedicated the Colosseum to God. We said a little prayer for all those who had died.
St. John Lateran:
This church is actually the church (seat) of the Bishop of Rome. There is a depiction of the Last Supper and behind this picture are relics from the Last Supper table.The main altar is built within an apse which holds (at the top) the heads of Saints Peter and Paul. We prayed through these saints for the Church and its bishops, priests and cardinals and also the Church remnant. We presented our petitions so that they would pray for us. Reverently, we got our handkerchiefs out and touched the base of the apse which housed these precious relics.
St Mary Major:
This church has relics of the manger in which Jesus was laid. It is in a silver frame and surrounded by glass. You can see the wooden slats through the glass.
There was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows. The chapel has a painting which shows the pope (Liberius) drawing the line in the snow to outline where the chapel should be built. Our guide told us how the pope had dreamed of snow falling and that he was to build a basilica there. Our Lady gave him the sign. Snow fell on August 5th, 352 AD – in the middle of Summer!
Around the walls were 3 rows of paintings which depicted the prophets, and people of Old Testament such as Moses, Jacob and Joshua and God’s promise of a Saviour.
St. Paul (outside the Walls)
Here we saw the actual chains that bound St Paul in prison, as well as his bones which are in the sarcophagus. Inside we saw a huge Paschal Candle stand from the 12th century.
The guide tells us that when Paul was beheaded, his head bounced 3 times and that where it bounced, 3 springs of water sprung up. (I hadn’t heard this before).
This was where our English speaking guide left us. We were very grateful. He taught us and showed us so much about our Faith. We promised to pray for him.
The Catacombs: 8th July
This afternoon we did a tour of St. Sebastien catacombs. There was a church where we could pray and light candles before Our Lady for our Prayer Group intentions.
We had to wait for an English tour guide. It was very touching to see these places where the early Christians lived and gathered and prayed and were buried. It was moving to touch the walls that these early persecuted Christians had touched and to say a prayer for them.
There were many young children and babies who died. We could see the names and Christian symbols on their graves. St Sebastian was buried there and his place was marked but his body was later moved to the Church (at the catacombs site). His relics are part of the altar.
9th July: Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
This morning 4 of us went on a pre-booked tour of the Vatican Museum/ Sistine chapel. We were split up among a number of guides – each with a smaller group of about 20.
At first he seemed ok. He was very animated and enthusiastic in his descriptions of objects and history of various things. He seemed to waste a lot of time talking about trivial things.
The huge tapestries were amazing. He proceeded to take us to see various objects in the Museum. A lot were pagan gods such as Apollo, Atlas etc. He pointed out how some of these provided the basis for certain paintings and carvings of holy things. I began to be not impressed.
We came to a reconstruction in miniature of the pantheon with all the various gods in each archway. He said in his usual jovial voice (and I don’t know if it’s true) that there was Mass held there every Sunday at a certain time. I called out “What? Here? In the Pantheon?” He said “yes”. There was no sign of any kind of altar – only a huge sort of shallow bowl.
By this time I was really mad and sad and couldn’t wait to get out of there. Finally, at the end of the tour – after a whole hour- we came to the Sistine Chapel- which is why we came. He (the tour guide) didn’t enter the chapel. The chapel was big and the paintings beautiful. We stayed a while to ponder.
When we returned to our hotel, we spoke to others in the group who had been 20 years previously. They said that the Vatican Museum had lots of beautiful, holy things but all we saw were the tapestries and a view of the Vatican gardens and Pope Benedict’s residence. Our Hotel in Rome:
Once again, we felt so blessed. Our hotel rooms each had a holy picture on top of our beds and a Bible (but in Italian). And there was a chapel with an altar and the Blessed Sacrament present, where we could pray as a group, and attend Mass when there was a Mass being offered.
The centre of Spirituality at San Giovanni Rotundo and the new Church (5th July).
This is a beautiful place to stay. It is called “Centro di Spiritualita Pade Pio”. There is a Crucifix in every bedroom above the beds.
A beautiful statue of Our Lady welcomes us in the foyer. A picture of St. Michael is over the breakfast table.
A statue of St. Joseph and the Child Jesus is in the dining room. The chapel is dedicated to Padre Pio.
We went exploring as soon as we arrived (after we checked in). There were lots of aids for prayer and meditation for sale at the Padre Pio Spiritual Centre and we all stocked up. There is a giant cross at the front of the new centre.
Two of us stayed longer and continued exploring. We had to go up a lift to the new modern church at San Giovanni. On the way we passed a picture of Our Lady that seemed to be painted like an icon. We have never seen it before, but we all thought it was highly inappropriate for Our Lady.
When we got there, we stayed for Mass, even though we had already been at Lanciano in the morning.
The new church was very modern and not to our liking. I think the inside was meant to look like the vault of the heavens but there were no holy pictures, or statues, or Stations of the Cross on the walls. There was, however, a big cross at the side (in front) of the altar. But it was in the wrong place. You tended to look at the priest behind the altar, who was saying the Mass. It should have been behind the altar so you could see it at all times.
Instead, behind the altar was a huge glass wall covered with weird drawings.
They were blinds which had been printed. I won’t comment. Picture is attached.
The good news was that a majority of people received Holy Communion on the tongue.
On the other side of the altar was a huge construction which I think was the baptismal font. And at the back, beside the altar, was a lifesize statue of Padre Pio.
The Mass was okay except, once again, there were no kneelers, and people stood right throughout – from after the “Holy, holy, holy” to Holy Communion. They did not kneel, or even genuflect at the Consecration, and (as in many places nowadays), they did not ring bells at the Consecration.
Also, at the Nicene Creed, they did not genuflect at the appropriate time.
By this time it was late, so we returned for dinner.
Monday 6th July:
After a tour of Monte Sant Angelo in the morning, we headed off again to the new Padre Pio complex. This time we searched for the new place of his tomb.
To get to it, we had to go through the new church. We followed a long, winding corridor with (modern) paintings of his life and of St Francis. It led to a big room with a small altar. Behind the altar, St. Pio is laid out on a stone behind glass.
The room was ornate and extravagant and covered in gold (walls and ceilings).
We were told that it was meant to symbolize heaven. We left there after praying to Padre Pio and presenting our petitions.
The Old Church, and Friary.
We headed off looking for this. We didn’t really see a sign (or maybe we didn’t understand) that at the end of the huge complex there was a Pilgrim Information Centre. It was just around the corner.
First, we entered the old church where Padre Pio had spent most of his life saying Masses and hearing confessions. We prayed and touched our handkerchiefs to the altar rails which he must have touched thousands of times.
Then we moved to the church next door where he had said Mass for the last 8 years of his life. It was much bigger than the original church. The images behind the altar, I understand, had been done by Vatican artists.
We headed down the stairs to where his tomb had originally been; in the crypt of this church. This led on to a walk through the many rooms of the Friary which were a monument to Padre Pio and his life.
There were his vestments, chalices, ciboriums, altar book, hundreds of pictures of him. There were some cane chairs where he sat and talked to a fellow priest in his younger years (and a photo of this) and much, much more. The highlight was the cell where he lived and slept and where he died, and the Crucifix from which he received the stigmata.
We were reluctant to leave. This was a holy place. Thus was the REAL Padre Pio. It’s a shame they moved his body. This is where the spirit of Padre Pio lives on.
Mass in the Hotel Chapel:
Yesterday, there also arrived at our hotel, about 40 priests and their bishop. We saw them at dinner.
Today we (some of us) were just going to sleep in and have a late breakfast as we are all exhausted. But the good Lord had other plans.
2 of our group (early risers) decided to go to breakfast at 7am. In the lift there was an itinerary for the visiting priests. It included Mass in the chapel at 7.30 am.
Well, these 2 good people came back to tell us. We had 5 mins to get ready but we only had missed a couple of minutes of Mass. There were 4 of us from our group and 3 other men at Mass.
The Mass was being said by the Bishop. (We recognized him by his red skull cap).
What a privilege that our Divine Lord wanted us to attend this Mass!
Needless to say, we prayed especially for this bishop and his priests – that they would have courage to proclaim the Truth in the difficult times to come.
All the priests joined in with full voice the various hymns they sang during Mass. They were in Italian of course, so we couldn’t join in.
At the end of Mass, after the final blessing, they all turned to the image of our Blesssed Mother and sang “Salve Regina” – a traditional old Latin hymn that most Catholics know.
We all joined in with full voice. Thank you Jesus!!!
We are now ready for our last journey on a train back to Rome later today.
*This is the chapel at centre of Spirituality at San Giovanni Rotundo. – our hotel at Padre Pio. Yes, it is new and modern, but it is nice. All windows are stained glass of Padre Pio.