By Barb Arland-Fye
Meeting Pope Francis and celebrating Mass at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice were highlights for Bishop Martin Amos of a pilgrimage he made with people from the Davenport and Cleveland, Ohio, dioceses.
Bishop Amos and longtime friend Father Ted Marszal, rector of St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Cleveland, led the Year of Faith pilgrimage Sept. 27-Oct. 10. A total of 36 people participated, traveling on a cruise ship along the Mediterranean Sea.
“We carried with us petitions and intercessions that people had given us and made sure at each of the shrines we visited that we prayed for the people back home,” the bishop said.
The pilgrimage started and ended in Barcelona, Spain. “We were a day early for the cruise in Barcelona so we went to Montserrat and saw the Black Madonna. A lot of young people go there. We did a city tour the next day and went to the Church of the Holy Family (Sacrada Familia) in Barcelona that was started by (Antoni) Gaudi. It’s an incredible place. We had Mass in the crypt below,” Bishop Amos said.
“It’s a building that’s been under construction for more than 100 years and it’s still under construction,” said fellow pilgrim Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington. “It just reminds me we’re all being built into temples of God. He’s not done with us, building us into who we are called to be.”
For Bishop Amos, the visit to the crypt at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice was especially meaningful because he taught Scripture to seminarians for a number of years. “St. Mark is buried there (in the basilica),” the bishop explained. “The crypt is fantastic. You can see the niche where his bones had been” before being moved upstairs beneath the main altar.
Another memorable experience was celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, at Blessed John Paul II’s altar. Concelebrating the Mass were Fr. Goetz and Father Jeff Belger, pastor of St. Mary Parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella. Fr. Belger happened to be traveling in Rome, to everyone’s surprise. “We were getting ready to go to Mass and Fr. Jeff Belger shows up,” Fr. Goetz said. “We’re connected; we came together to celebrate Eucharist — just as we do in this diocese, we did in Rome.”
It was a Wednesday, the day on which the Holy Father holds his general audience. “For a good 30 minutes before the audience the pope was driving through the crowds, just smiling away, kissing babies galore,” Bishop Amos said. A high-ranking police officer who accompanies the pope quipped that he’s getting so many muscles from passing babies to the pope, the bishop added.
Pope Francis gave a 15-minute talk in Italian and then a summary of the talk in nine or 10 different languages. Groups in attendance were announced; “for us, they said a group from the Diocese of Davenport and from St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland was in the audience,” Bishop Amos said.
He and other prelates from around the world sat in a special section, waiting their turn to greet the pontiff. “I got to shake hands with Pope Francis and tell him that we were praying for him,” Bishop Amos said. “I spoke in English; I don’t know if he understood me or not. It was really cool, but you have about 30 seconds with him.”
In Ravenna, the pilgrims ended up at the wrong church for Mass. But the pastor graciously allowed the group to celebrate Mass there anyway. As a result, “everyone thought that was exactly the place we should have been,” Bishop Amos said.
Seeing so many churches and shrines built centuries ago, made the bishop “realize just how old the Church is and all the things it has gone through and that it continues to grow and to nourish people even in our day.”
Participants on bishop’s pilgrimage reflect on their experience
Fr. Marty Goetz
Father Marty Goetz, who had never been to Rome in his 21 years as a priest, said he participated in the pilgrimage because he wanted to see the larger Church. “I wanted to do something special for myself for the Year of Faith. I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to do that; to grow in my relationship with God.”
While the Church of the Holy Family in Barcelona was a great example of inspiration for him, Fr. Goetz identified other highlights of the trip:
• “To pray at the tombs of Ss. Peter and Paul and to ask them to help me to be the best priest I can be, and to do the same at the altars of Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Pope John XXIII.
• “At Blessed John Paul II’s altar; it was overwhelming to be able to proclaim the Gospel there.
• “A surprise. We were getting ready to go to Mass and Fr. Jeff Belger shows up. We’re connected; we came together to celebrate Eucharist — just as we do in this diocese, we did in Rome.
• “To celebrate Mass at St. Mark’s in Venice — in the crypt, and then the next day showing up at the wrong church in Ravenna and still being able to celebrate Mass because of the generosity of the pastor. It turned out to be a blessing. It was the wrong place, but it was the right place for where we were supposed to be that day.
• “Sharing faith with 35 other people and sharing our stories — where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
The pilgrimage helped Fr. Goetz to see “how I can be a better pastor and how I can lead others who are in prayer and how we can follow the way of Jesus.”
Roger and Elaine Bates
Roger and Elaine Bates of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish, Muscatine, shared their thoughts of the pilgrimage in an email to Bishop Amos. They wrote:
“Just wanted to drop you a note to tell you how much we enjoyed our Pilgrimage of Faith and thank you for everything you did to make it a trip of a lifetime. Getting to know you and the others from both the Davenport Diocese and Cleveland was tremendous. Everyone was so enjoyable to be around.
“It was a humbling experience for both Elaine and I to visit so many beautiful, historic and faith-inspired places. Our faith will no doubt be increased tenfold or more by everything we experienced on the trip. Getting to have Mass in so many awe-inspiring churches is something we’ll never forget, and getting a chance to be so up close to Pope Francis at the papal audience was the top highlight of so many highlights we had over those two weeks.”
LuAnn Farrell, of Ss. Mary & Joseph Parish, Sugar Creek, said she chose to participate in the pilgrimage because she saw it as an opportunity “to grow in my faith visiting so many important religious places. Privately, I have done things for others throughout this ‘Year of Faith’ and saw this as my chance to continue to grow in faith, to travel, and to have fun.”
She identified these highlights: “(1) Being in the presence of Pope Francis and having Bishop Amos offer Mass at Blessed John Paul II chapel. I was filled with pride to have our own Bishop Amos be on the same platform as the pope. (2) St. Mark’s in Venice in the crypt was so awesome, holy and old. (3) The outstanding mosaics in Ravenna — absolutely breathtaking and each told a story. (4) New friends — who believe in God and the Catholic Church as strongly as I do.”
The pilgrimage reaffirmed that “we belong to one, holy, Catholic and universal Church,” Farrell said. “Mass is Mass — even though we don’t all speak the same language. The comfort of saying the rosary together on the bus as we traveled, singing religious songs whenever we felt like it, praying in public, and having Mass said daily with three priests who took turns delivering excellent homilies. The overall endorsement for me was re-enforcement of the presence of God throughout the world in these faraway places and God’s loving peace. I was blessed and this trip was so fun.”
Susan Moss of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington, shared these thoughts about participating in the pilgrimage:
“Since this was my first trip to Europe, everything was special!! Some of the highlights included: 1) being selected to read at the Mass at the altar of John Paul II; 2) the papal audience with Pope Francis, receive his blessing, and sharing this enthusiasm and excitement with so many thousands of others that day; 3) daily Mass both on the ship and at some spectacular churches and cathedrals.”
She appreciated the wonderful tour guides who knew Church history and were able to share a large amount of information in a short time. “Bishop Amos was such a gracious host and together with the travel agency provided for us the opportunity to visit places and experience firsthand (without waiting in long lines) this history that is such an important part of our Catholic faith.
“On a side note: I learned from a staff person at the Michelangelo Hotel in Rome that the pope gets his hair cut at a small shop just behind the hotel. The next morning Suzanne Brueck and I walked over there (to take a peek) and had our picture taken with his barber. He was a delightful little Italian man who spoke no English, but was more than happy to show us around.”