It has been a couple of weeks since returning from Italy, and the memories of the Pittsburgh Catholic’s pilgrimage are rich and vivid. As the days pass, I’m still remembering things that happened on the pilgrimage and sharing them with friends and family members.
As the editor of the Pittsburgh Catholic, I went on the trip, wrote blog posts for folks to follow along with us, and uploaded photos for all to see on the diocesan website (www.diopitt.org) and Facebook. And I reported on the pilgrimage in the Pittsburgh Catholic’s Oct. 26 issue.
Doing the blog was an interesting venture. My main concern was the type and quality of the Internet connection encountered at each of our four hotels. Upon arriving in my hotel room, I would immediately switch on my laptop to try out the wireless Internet and the electrical plug to make sure I could do what we had planned.
After dinner every night, I would head to my room and try to describe the many things we had seen and done so people back home could feel part of the experience.
A side benefit of being in Italy right before a major U.S. election was that we got away from the political TV commercials for a little while. In fact, there wasn’t much to watch on television in Italy unless you could speak Italian, which I don’t.
For me, highlights of the pilgrimage include the papal audience (it certainly shows the universality of our faith); the papal Mass for the opening of the Year of Faith (what an incredible act of worship we have in the Mass); the pilgrims’ visits to Rome’s four major basilicas (I had the honor of proclaiming the reading and responsorial psalm during our Mass in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome); and walking the streets of Assisi, one of my favorite places on earth (it was my second visit to the town of St. Francis and St. Clare, and I can’t wait to go back).
While walking in Rome and Florence, proudly wearing my Steelers cap, I found out how far the Steelers Nation extends. “Hey, Steelers!”people yelled as I walked by. It was a better reception than I received during my visit to the only Steelers bar in Rome (La Botticella), which was closed. The woman who was cleaning the place was not very impressed when I mentioned that I’m from Pittsburgh. She has probably heard that line thousands of times.
I must say that the folks who “ran” the pilgrimage – from the staff of Select International Tours, to the tour guides and bus drivers, to the tour director and bus captains chosen by the Pittsburgh Catholic – were professional, friendly, informed and organized. Getting our group of more than 160 people more or less on schedule from one place to another, without any major mishaps, was impressive if not miraculous.
The role of Bishop Zubik, as our spiritual director, and our four bus chaplains – Fathers Jack Batykefer, Kim Schreck, Nick Vaskov and Brian Welding – was vital for reminding us that we were not on a vacation but a pilgrimage, walking with Christ on a journey of faith. The prayers and liturgies that they led made all the difference. Thanks to Father Vaskov, we had a handy booklet to follow along each day with the Liturgy of the Hours.
But what made it such a special journey were the fellow pilgrims who took a leap of faith and joined their beloved diocesan shepherd on an adventure they will never forget.
Everyone on the pilgrimage had a story to tell. There was a deep spiritual reason for most of the pilgrims to be on the trip. There were milestones related to marriage and friendships, devotions to certain Italian saints and a desire to experience the journey with a loved one. Being there with them made the journey very special for me, and I thank them for that.
It was great to be with people on the trip who, almost unanimously, are faithful readers of the Pittsburgh Catholic. Their appreciative comments about our paper, magazines and website gave me and others a welcome boost.
What a blessing for the Pittsburgh Catholic to host this pilgrimage. We can’t wait until the next opportunity. Stay tuned!