By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
St. Teresa’s canonization Mass, seeing Pope Francis in person, walking through the holy doors in Rome and visiting Assisi, where St. Francis and St. Clare embraced all of God’s creation, were among highlights identified by pilgrims who participated in The Catholic Messenger’s pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. But some of the 52 pilgrims also identified personal moments that made their pilgrimage Aug. 30-Sept. 6 so memorable. This is the first in a short series of pilgrims’ reflections.
Paula Logan of Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington lost her husband to cancer in May 2015 and misses him very much. As she headed out the door to go on the pilgrimage, she decided to take a memento of her late husband. “Bobby’s watch was on my night stand. I thought, ‘I’ll take the watch and two bandana handkerchiefs. So they were in my suitcase.”
After the pilgrims visited the grotto at Tre Fontane in Rome and got back on the bus, Father Marty Goetz, their spiritual leader, mentioned that his watch had stopped. “So we got back to the hotel. I put Bobby’s watch on my wrist. I said, ‘Father you can borrow this, but you can’t keep it!’” Fr. Marty wore the watch everywhere, except during Mass. He always takes off his watch before Mass, Paula said. During Mass each day of the pilgrimage, she’d look at Fr. Marty and think, “Bobby’s watch was on that arm just minutes ago…. Bobby and Fr. Marty had a connection,” she said. Fr. Marty baptized Bobby a year before his death. But they’d connected “long before that. I think Bobby was taking care of us one more time,” Paula added.
During challenging moments on the pilgrimage, “I found myself laughing during the crowds, and the pushing and heat because of the blessing the bishop gave us on the bus. He said this is a pilgrimage, it’s not supposed to be easy. You’re going to have difficulties. I remembered that. People were shoving us before the canonization … I laughed. His words did a lot for me.”
What were the pilgrimage’s highlights for Paula? “Either the Canonization Mass with Pope Francis or when Fr. Marty was saying Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica at the chapel of Pope Pius X. “After Communion, I knelt in the back of the chapel where Father was saying Mass. I had just received Communion and was kneeling on the marble floor and I heard these men’s voices rehearsing as a choir and I thought, ‘It doesn’t get better than this. I’m this little Iowa girl in St. Peter’s Basilica. My pastor is saying Mass and this beautiful music comes wafting in from the side door.’ And we were sharing this Mass with other people. It made it universal.”
She reflected on the pilgrimage. “It was just a wonderful experience. We had a couple of hiccups, but we pulled it off. What I’m hoping stays with me longer than just this week is that I have a different sense of peace. I have a truly different attitude in my daily prayer life, especially. It’s a renewed sense of reinvigoration of my faith. I’ve been happier this week than I have been in a long time.”
A greater love for the church
Asked what she took away from the pilgrimage, Mother Susan Rueve, OSF, Superior for the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the Divine Teacher in Davenport said: “The bigness of our church, especially at the canonization. All those people and only a portion of the church! All the different nationalities together in the square made me think how truly universal is the Catholic Church. I came away with a greater love for the church and all her traditions and saints.”
What aspect of the pilgrimage had the greatest impact on Mother Susan? “The spiritual differences between a pilgrimage and a vacation. A difference between a journey and a trip. During the Canonization Mass it was during the distribution of the Eucharist … with so many people it was surprisingly intense with the shoving and pushing. I remember thinking that I was not going to worry about whether or not I would receive Communion. I did not want to be upset receiving the Lord. So people pushed in front of me and I allowed it. I was getting close to receiving and just about three rows back the priest left as he must have run out of hosts. Then, out of nowhere, Fr. Marty appeared and made eye contact and I was able to receive Communion. One-hundred-thousand-plus people and I received Communion from the one priest in our diocese who was there…. What are the odds?! It was a real blessing!”
The biggest challenge, she said, was “the HEAT! And the madness of the pushing of people fighting to get into St. Peter’s Square for the Canonization Mass.”
Thinking about Christ on the Holy Staircase
Kathy Herwehe of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville said the pilgrimage impacted her in this way: “I appreciate America much more since journeying overseas for the first time. We take so much for granted. The basilicas and their beauty and history are awe inspiring!”
Among the many places the pilgrims visited was the Holy Staircase, which is believed to be the staircase Jesus climbed to enter the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Historians say the staircase was moved to Rome in the fourth century at the behest of Empress Helena. The 28 marble stairs have been covered in wood for protection (www.newadvent.org).
“I attempted to climb the Holy Stairs on my knees and it was extremely hard,” Kathy said. “I thought about Christ and his struggles and really realized what a wimp I was. I even attempted to stand and ascend the stairs only to have someone yell ‘Kneel down.’ I cannot begin to imagine the struggles the early Christians endured but thanks to God and his followers we got to enjoy this very special pilgrimage together.”
A blessing, a prayer and friendship
Lisa Harris of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington, invited her young adult daughter, Kait Harris, to participate with her on the pilgrimage. Mother and daughter enjoyed each other’s company and developed fast friendships with other pilgrims. Lisa purchased a rosary bracelet for Kait in the gift shop at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, one of four basilicas in Rome with holy doors opened for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Lisa and Kait asked Father Marty Goetz, the pilgrims’ spiritual leader (and Lisa’s pastor) to bless the rosary bracelet. “He made it a personal blessing. He was so genuine and thoughtful with the words he used,” Lisa said. “The way he said that blessing brought tears to my eyes. It meant so much to me, and hopefully to Kait.” Another special moment occurred when the pilgrims made a mad dash into St. Peter’s Square to see Pope Francis during a general audience held the day before the Canonization Mass for Mother Teresa. It was Lisa’s first time in St. Peter’s Square and she planned to run to an available seat as the tour manager had suggested to pilgrims who had the ability to do so. Lisa could hear the song “Hallelujah” booming in the square, and was deeply touched. “All of the sudden, I thought ‘Stop! Be in the moment.’ So I did. I stopped and just walked and listened to that music.” Then she and another Catholic Messenger pilgrim, Jennifer Bell, spotted each other. “I love this song,” Lisa told her. “Me, too,” Jennifer responded. The two didn’t know each other before the pilgrimage. But that exchange sealed a bond of friendship, Lisa said.
Later, pilgrim Heather Tieman received news that her 22-year-old cousin had died in a motorcycle accident. Lisa, Kait and Heather had become close during the pilgrimage. “We saw Heather in the hallway. Her mom (a classmate of Lisa’s in high school) had called Heather and told her not to be alone,” Lisa recalled. “Why don’t we take a moment and say a prayer for him,” Lisa suggested.
The pilgrimage “was definitely an experience,” Lisa added. “Even when we were being squeezed so hard by the crowds I couldn’t get cranky. It was just part of the experience.”
Procession to St. Peter’s Basilica
Catholic Messenger pilgrims lined up behind spiritual leader Father Marty Goetz on the long street leading to St. Peter’s Square to begin the procession to the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. The sun beamed on the group as Fr. Marty led the way, carrying a cross with the emblem for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. We stopped five times to pray and reflect, first at Castel Sant’ Angelo. Then we stopped near the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, and again upon entering the Colonnade, and at the Holy Door of Mercy and, finally, at the Tomb of St. Peter.
“I think the procession, when Father was carrying the cross, that was very moving,” said Mary Margaret Wagner of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington. “We were all going in that direction with our faith.” Going through the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica amazed her. “To see and touch the figures on the door … it was like something came over me. I just knew the Holy Spirit was around us.”
Being a part of a group focused on reaching the Door of Mercy also brought to mind “that at times you’d need to be merciful towards other people,” Mary Margaret reflected. Indeed, she found herself needing to be merciful with others on the trip, and when her roommate became ill and had to go to the hospital, they were at the mercy of others to provide help. “I knew that God was going to take care of my roommate; you just have to trust.”
Mary Margaret had taken a fall before the trip began, but never thought about turning back. “I’d do it all over again, despite the fact that my ribs are killing me. I made it through. I did. I think that the Holy Spirit was leading me.”
“The Holy Spirit was surrounding me”
Heather Tieman, director of Evangelization and Renewal for Des Moines County parishes, said she took away many blessings and experiences from the pilgrimage. “The indulgences that I received from going through the Holy Doors gave me so much peace and made it much easier for me to see Christ in everything I experienced on the trip. I felt the Holy Spirit was surrounding me through every experience.”
Seeing the different cultures embracing everything in one place had the greatest impact on her. “The papal audience was also amazing and being in such close range as the pope came by left me speechless and feeling prayers and blessings being lifted for all. The most amazing thing that happened at the canonization besides the power of the Mass was the sign of peace. Saying ‘Peace be with you’ to people from all over the world definitely left an impact.”
What was the greatest challenge on the pilgrimage? “My biggest struggle was getting a call from home and being told that my 22-year-old cousin had been killed in a motorcycle accident. I spent the next day at the Vatican with Mass being said and going through Holy Doors and praying in each place we visited for peace and comfort. This pilgrimage was such a life-changing experience and I would definitely do it again.”
Coming home with many new friends
Kevin and Mary Strausbaugh of Ss. Mary & Patrick Parish, West Burlington, described the pilgrimage as a once in a lifetime experience. The closeness to the pope and blessings from him made for an amazingly emotional experience,” the couple said. “To be able to take back those blessings to family and friends was very meaningful for everyone. We started our travels with many strangers, but in the end came home with many new friends.”