10 girls and 3 Servant Sisters headed out from Rome to start a 4-day pilgrimage to several cities in Northern Italy. Nine out of the ten young women were Americans who had met the sisters thanks to a screening of Sr. Clare’s film at their university’s campus in Rome, where they are studying a semester. We planned the trip only a week before leaving, but the girls were all enthusiastic to visit so many saints and ask for help to live their lives, with holiness as the final goal: All or Nothing, as Sr. Clare would say.
The first stop was Bologna, where St. Dominic’s tomb is found. Mass at this church was at 6:00 p.m., and we arrived in the city just minutes beforehand, looking for seemingly non-existing parking spots for our two vehicles. The spots were finally found after help from St. Anthony of Padua and all our guardian angels. With a quick sprint through the streets of the city center, we managed to all arrive at Mass on time. Sr. Kristin Maria spoke a few words to the girls at St. Dominic’s tomb after Mass to begin the pilgrimage. We were able to spend some brief time in prayer there. We continued on the road and arrived at Brignano (close to Bergamo), where the Servant Sisters have a community, at around 11:30 p.m. They very kindly opened their house to us and let us spend the first two nights of our pilgrimage there.
The following morning we visited Sotto il Monte, hometown of St. Pope John XXIII. Most of us did not know much about him, so it was a real discovery! A great message he brought us was the importance of peace and reconciliation. We had Mass in English there, with a PIME missionary from Milan, who had spent his life working in the jungles of the Philippines and Mexico. In the afternoon, Sr. Elisa, who was born and raised in Milan, gave us a tour of that city, starting with St. Ambrose’s Church and ending with the cathedral. When we arrived back in Brignano in the evening, we found that the sisters and three Italian girls from the town had prepared a delicious pizza for us! The girls told us a little about their mission trip to Ecuador this past summer and showed us a video about it. We also got to see a video about Bl. Chiara Luce, to get us all ready for the visit to her home the following day! She is a young Italian Blessed who died in 1990 of bone cancer. This was to be the real highlight to the trip.
We started the third day of our pilgrimage spending the morning in Turin. We had Mass at the Church of Mary, Help of Christians, built by St. John Bosco. Afterwards, an Indian Salesian Father gave us a tour of Valdocco, the house and school that St. John Bosco built. We were able to spend time in prayer before the tabernacle where St. Dominic Savio remained in ecstasy for an entire morning and in the Church where he consecrated himself to Our Lady. His mottos, “Death rather than sin” and “I am in a hurry to be a saint because I do not know if I will have the time to do so,” really hit us all hard. After lunch, we headed off to Sassello. We arrived around 4:00 p.m., and Bl. Chiara Luce’s mother was waiting for us. We found the door open and her mother calling out to us, telling us to come right up. She found chairs for all of us and let us sit down around Chiara’s bed, while she stood and told us stories from Chiara’s life. Her husband had passed away 3 weeks before the trip, and her peace and joy were truly a testimony. Her face transmitted the conviction of a firm belief in Heaven and in God’s promises, which can only come through supernatural Faith and a life close to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother. We truly felt that we had come to visit a saint who had died when she was 19 years old. At the same time we were able to meet a woman who, while still alive, is truly on the path to holiness, and is the one who helped her daughter to become a saint. She was truly an example and we are very thankful to her for her time and her words. Afterwards, we were able to visit Bl. Chiara’s tomb (it was quite an adventure finding her tomb in the middle of the cemetery, in the darkness and rain). The visit to Sassello then ended with a stop at the local bar in the town, where Chiara used to go with her friends for a pizza and a gelato. The girls were able to buy some snacks, and the owners generously gave the sisters something to eat as well. We left Chiara with one clear message: the youth are the future of the Church and the world, and we must not waste a single second of our life. We must give our all to the Lord.
We then headed off to Genova, where Sr. Cecilia’s family has a house. A family friend, Luisa, was waiting for us with pizza and warm place to spend the night! The following morning we had Mass at the Shrine of the Infant of Prague, led by the Carmelite Fathers. After lunch on our way back, we stopped at Orvieto and Bolsena, to visit the Eucharistic Miracle that paved the way for the Feast of Corpus Christi.
We arrived back at Rome at around 9:00 p.m., with our hearts full of gratitude for all that the Lord had given to us during these four days of pilgrimage.