The adventure of a lifetime – Day 9 in Rome Italy
Ah, getting up at 8.30 a.m. is like sleeping in – yes! We used every minute of sleep wisely! After the traditional morning breakfast, we boarded the bus for our trip to St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica about a one hour drive. St. Paul is truly outside Rome, thus the crowds were quite a bit less and easier to navigate through.
St. Paul is massive both indoors and out. Father Thomas kept us enthralled as to the life of St. Paul who with along St. Peter were the two greatest leaders in our Catholic church. St. Paul previously names Saul was a ruthless well educated Jew who was doing all that he could to destroy and eliminate the budding and growing Christian community as he felt that it was his duty to do so.
Of course, most know about his conversion when he was knocked off his horse and blinded by a great light and the voice of God that said Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? When Saul asked the Lord who are you, Lord, the Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”.
St. Paul Outside the Walls was built to honour St. Paul who was transformed into the Apostle who brought the Christian faith to non-Jews known as the Gentiles. St. Paul suffered much, was imprisoned many times, shipwrecked, stoned, whipped, beaten, mocked and betrayed sometimes by those wolves in sheep’s clothing.
The Apostle Paul was martyred by being beheaded and is entombed at this massive Basilica. Our boys flocked to his tomb on their own to pray and to seek his intercession. For Akela / Grey Wolf and for Father Thomas it is their favorite Basilica in Rome. For those who hold the first name “Paul” much is often expected of them especially as to leading others to Christ and to set a good example for others to follow.
High above at ceiling level, there are paintings of all the Pope’s in the history, all 267 of them including our current Pope, Pope Francis. It was interesting to see what previous Pope’s looked like so many hundreds of years ago.
Now the time had come to visit a small town on the Mediterranean Sae known as Santa Marinella to enjoy a day at the beach. The boys were so excited as they quickly changed into bathing suits to frolic in the ocean, make sand castles toss a ball around, talk to friends or simply sit, stop, take in the view and catch a few sun rays or do what Grey Wolf did – to have a brief nap. It was heavenly, plus 23 degrees C, a slight wind and no clouds. The water was warmer than what we experienced at the Adriatic Sea so more boys went in for longer periods of time.
We had several local people come and see us welcome our FNE group to their beach in Italy while another parent brought her daughter to say hello as she is a member of our Italian girl’s movement. The Dad’s wandered off to sit on an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach to enjoy a cold one with friends. It is hard to imagine that it is only April 15th with summer still 9 weeks away!
Before we knew it our time on the beach ended as we changed back into our uniform to walk down the street to visit the hotel restaurant owned by the brother of Father Thomas (his twin yet they look different as to height and overall build). We explored the waterfront, sat in the chairs overlooking the sea with a gentle breeze before being called to dinner for a 3-course meal! It was fantastic with a pasta appetizer followed by the main course a very tasteful pork roast (per Grey Wolf and others among the best that they ever tasted) and potatoes followed by a tasty dessert. We enjoyed our shared meal together so very much with much laughter, stories, jokes and more. Very happy and at peace for all Timber Wolves, Explorers, leaders, and fathers!
We boarded the bus back to the seminary to prepare for the Easter Vigil Mass that would be like no other Mass ever experienced by many of our boys. After arriving back at the seminary, showering and getting into fresh uniform items we joined the hundreds of seminarians, priests, and visiting guests outside in the dark with our candles to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter so many years ago. A single candle was lit from a charcoal fire and this Easter candle was massive in size, so big that it needed to be moved on a small cart by 3 men.
A reading from the Gospel was undertaken and then the Easter candle was lit. From this Easter candle, others were lit until the outside courtyard was a sea of candlelight. This symbol as to the light of Jesus entered the world through his resurrection was not lost on our boys, leaders, and fathers. This fact is the central truth of our faith, if Jesus did not rise from the dead then people would pity us, as our faith would be in vain were a man died never to be seen or heard from again.
As we entered the darkened chapel with the many hundreds of individual candles lighting the way we are reminded that the light of God takes hold in our very spirit when one is baptized and welcomed into the family of God as one of his children and later strengthened through the sacrament of confirmation.
Fortunately, several brothers (seminarians) could stake out three pews so that we as FNE could all sit together with a good line of sight as to the Easter Vigil Mass one with many readings, beautiful singing, and of course all the beauty that a Mass of this nature offers. It is so very impressive to see more than 50 Priests join the mass. Brother Kevin translated all the readings and the mass for us into English via our individual earphone sets. The Mass lasted two and a half hours. Our boys even the youngest one at age 7 stayed awake and attentive throughout the entire Mass.
As Mass concluded we exited the chapel to extend Easter joy and greetings to fellow Mass-goers with deep excitement, joy, and belief that the greatest event in the history of the universe took place, the Resurrection of Jesus! Thanks, be to God! Many hugs, handshakes, and excitement as for many of us this is an Easter that is extra special as we celebrate here at the centre of our faith – Rome! We dragged our tired bodies off to bed knowing that only in seven short hours we will get up to go and have Holy Easter Sunday Mass with the Pope.
The adventure of a lifetime – Day 10 in Rome Italy – Easter Sunday
Surprisingly despite ever busy days the boys got up, dressed and in for breakfast in quick order and right on time for 7.45 a.m. We enjoyed the Easter cake and the extra’s waiting for us before boarding the bus for the Vatican. Traffic was surprisingly light as we zoomed to the Vatican, the bus could drop us off close to the main gates of St. Peter’s. The crowds waiting was not that big but the time to get through security was lengthy and challenging. The Police had the crowds hemmed in through a series of gates that narrowed to one opening were people flowed through to line up at security screening screens like what you see at an airport. Even though we moved as one larger group holding on to each others backpack the locals still managed to squeeze through our group to get a better position in front of us. We soon found ourselves broken not by choice into 3 smaller groups as we moved to the appropriate security gate. The Police would then allow small groups of people to ease out of the hoarding area, and time and time again we had to wait while others were given priority. At last, the Police took pity on us by holding the crowds back until all members of our group could ease out of the masses of people to head through to the final checkpoint. Total waiting time equated to more than an hour.
Surprisingly once we reached St. Peter’s Square we got a spot where we could see the main altar and a jumbo screen. At 9.30 am the process got underway for Easter Sunday Mass. Father Thomas provided the translation from Italian into English. As the Mass progressed and the Gospel was read we noticed unexpected black rain clouds move in although there was no rain in the forecast. As the Pope started to give his homily it started to rain and most of us did not bring a jacket or an umbrella. We huddled together to share what we did have in the form of umbrellas or rain gear as the intensity of the rain increased. Yet not one of our youth suggested that we should withdraw to take shelter or leave Mass as we watched hundreds of other people flee the rain either for some shelter or simply to depart the Mass to take cover.
We elected to pray two Hail Mary’s as a group to ask Mother Mary to intercede for us so that the rain would stop. And then it happened… the moment Pope Francis uttered the first words of the Eucharistic Prayer the rain immediately stopped and before the bread and wine became the body and blood of our Lord the skies totally cleared and our wet uniforms were dry! It is almost as if the rain never happened! This fact was not lost on us we marveled as to what the Lord has done through the intersection of our Blessed Mother!
When the time came to receive Holy Communion, bedlam broke out as the masses of people all pushed towards the gates to get to a Priest who was serving Holy Communion. What further increased the challenge to receive communion was that most people positioned in front of the gates awayfrom the gates so that others could receive communion as they wanted to retain their spot to see Pope Francis drive by in his Popemobile at the end of Mass.
It was quite a sight to see the desperation shown by the public to receive the Holy Eucharist at any cost as they jostled and squeezed their way to the front to reach a Priest to receive Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. We encouraged our FNE youth to be polite but to work to reach the front to be able to receive our Lord on this special Easter Sunday with Pope Francis and most were successful until the Priests serving the Eucharist ran out. The Priest’s serving the Eucharist were insistent that those who would receive would only do so if the received our Lord on the tongue to reduce the risk of Jesus being dropped and small pieces being broken off only to fall to the ground to see our Lord be trampled.
After Mass Pope Francis got into the Popemobile to drive around the grounds to see the people. Fortunately, we got another close look at him as he drives by to wave at us and the other Pilgrims in the crowd.
We then waited for the Holy Father to give his Easter Sunday address to the world and blessing. Fortunately for all of us we received yet another plenary indulgence (eight in total over the pilgrimage) for individual suffering souls in purgatory for their release for each individual indulgence offered up for them or for ourselves as to the elimination of purification in purgatory for ourselves should one die soon afterwards, thereby granting us a direct entry into Heaven. Conditions include praying for the Pope, going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, being detached from sin and participating in a special event recognized by the church for such a plenary indulgence such as attending Easter Sunday Mass with the Pope. Thank you, Lord!
The exit from St. Peter’s square as Mass came to an end was much more orderly and quick. Just after one pm, we arrived back at the seminary to enjoy an Easter feast with a five-course meal and even some wine for the leaders. A large chocolate egg was positioned at each table; the egg was quickly broken apart and shared among our boys both big and small. The laughter, stories, squeals of joy as each course arrives (including chicken nuggets that Ito so badly had a craving for) were heard from our three large FNE tables! What a feast it was!
Easter Sunday means family time and as an FNE family, we had an awesome time as we went swimming in the massive indoor pool at the seminary, played basketball, went for a walk on the beautiful grounds, played soccer or had an afternoon nap. It is amazing to see our timber wolves and explorers with so much energy remaining as they embraced the many opportunities to play together with their brothers.
At 6.00 p.m. after showers and getting back into our uniforms we gathered together to listen to testimonies as to how the Pilgrimage has impacted our individual lives. Given that we were all together as brothers we felt comfortable enough to share with each other from our heart the deepest and most profound experiences while together here in Rome.
Many were deeply moved and touched by our Lord during Eucharistic Adoration where we accompanied our Lord while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night, others at the Vigil Easter Mass, or at the Easter Mass with the Pope, or in confession or at the Tomb of St. Francis of Assisi. Many felt great peace and the love of our Lord for us as his children and that he is always there with us even if we can’t feel him!
Brother Kevin shared with us as to how impressed his brother seminarians are with what they have witnessed with our boys especially during Eucharistic Adoration where the belief and love for our Lord are so deep and sincere. Many of us admitted (including Akela / Grey Wolf) to shedding tears as we spent this time together with our Lord as we contemplated his suffering and how we as individuals have added to his suffering through our own personal sins.
We broke for a simpler dinner before coming together for more personal testimonies as each participant spoke from their heart. (Video clips and highlights to follow). Before we knew it 10.00 pm had arrived as we sent to the chapel to do our evening prayers. As Easter, Sunday ended we dragged our tired selves off to bed with all being asleep in a matter of minutes once our heads hit the pillow.
The adventure of a lifetime – Day 11 in Rome Italy – Easter Monday
Our last full day in Rome! My how fast the time has gone by! As each day passed on by the boys, leaders and fathers grow ever closer together as brothers and for the love of one another. Did Jesus not say in John 15:12 “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you”. Is this not one of the fruits of our Pilgrimage? Absolutely, positively yes!
Up for 7.15 a.m., breakfast and then off to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. Yet once again a perfect day without a cloud in the sky. We arrived and promptly entered the Catacombs to begin to understand the many many thousands of early Christians who gave their lives so that we could have and practice our faith today. We slowly went deeper and deeper down underground as the enormity of what we are seeing and experiencing started to sink in. The tour guide was excellent as he brought alive a very important part of the history of our faith.
After an excellent visit to the catacombs, Father Thomas celebrated Holy Mass just for FNE in a small chapel on the grounds that was just the right size to accommodate our group of 56 as we learned about the patron saint of Altar Servers St. Tarcisius who gave his life protecting the Eucharist from his pagan classmates. They beat the boy to death yet they could not open his hand to get at the Eucharist. It was only when the local bishop arrived that the hand opened to allow the host that he was carrying to be recovered by the proper church officials.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch on the beautiful grounds before heading out to downtown Rome to the Piazza Navona where we made our way through the wall to wall crowds admiring some of the beautiful historical sights and sculptures. We then started to visit just a few of the 900 churches that are in Rome that can be reached by walking by foot. The boys were most interested in seeing each church. In one church a group of them got together to sing the chaplet of divine mercy. Today like on many other days it's amazing how many people stop to snap one or more photos as we move on by often with positive praise passed on to the leaders or dads.
In another church, a group of our boys gathered again on their own and prayed the Rosary in front of the blessed sacrament. Very moving to witness and participate in. We noticed one lady videotaping the boys praying, and later take a photo of the back of one of our T-shirts that have the website address in it. She then came to us to tell us how impressed she is with what she witnessed and how can she learn more about FNE for her children? It turns out that she lives in St. Catharines, who knows where this may lead in the future, another FNE group?
Our FNE boys continue to amaze us and are amazing examples to encourage others to reach out to our Lord with love as they do. As we traveled from church to church we marveled in the distinctive beauty of each one. Of course, we did take the time to once again taste have the world famous Gelato ice cream much to the joy of all present.
We returned to the seminary to begin to pack and get organized for the next day. We then entered the chapel to pray and to allow for us to go to confession before returning home with most of those wishing to go going for a second or even a third time!
We started off the session with Father Thomas starting to answer a few questions that lead to a flood of questions from the boys on a very wide range of topics. Their interest, attention to detail, their great desire to grow in their faith and knowledge should never be underestimated. Even Father Thomas was surprised. Father then started to hear confession (with 20 boys in line) while the others knelt around the altar to give thanks to the Lord for so many different things that the Lord has done for them in their young age. Their simple thank yours brought tears of joy to at least one or two fathers present to witness this amazing outpouring of Love for our Lord Jesus Christ.
We needed to take a break for dinner with the seminarians. Several of the brothers made it a point to come and eat dinner with our timber wolves and explorers. There was much laughter as we ate our last dinner of the pilgrimage together while also posing for some fun pictures together.
Before we finished dinner, the timber wolves followed by the explorers went up together as timber wolves or explorers to publicly thank the seminary for hosting us a taking such good care of us. Ben Taylor spoke on behalf of the Explorers and Clement Tsang on behalf of the Timber Wolves. Both spoke from their heart and did FNE proud! We concluded our thanks with the respective Promise Songs much to the delight of all present. Later we were told that no other pilgrimage group impressed those present both that evening and during the week as our boys from our FNE family. Parents you can be very proud of your boys.
After dinner, we finished packing up for our trip home before joining the seminarians for their last 20 minutes of Eucharistic Adoration before singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for special intentions for those sick in Canada and for an Italian timber wolf mother that we met last weekend that was in hospital because it looks like her cancer has aggressively returned. She is the mother of 3 young children. Please ask the Lord to intercede so that her life can be spared! Thank you. With two Priests now hearing confessions all confessions were heard before we dragged ourselves off to bed.
Last day of our Pilgrimage – Day 12
Mass at 6.00 a.m. Up and dressed by 5.50 a.m. After Mass breakfast and final cleanup before boarding the bus for the airport. May good byes, handshakes and a few hugs as we left the seminary behind one last time for our trek to the airport. Before boarding the bus, we made a quick side trip to the main chapel to give thanks and to ask for a safe trip home to our families.
Arrival at the airport went well with a good flow through security to the gate, on the plane for an on-time departure. The flight while a long one at 9 hours and 30 minutes were well handled by our boys. In fact, a member of the flight crew told me that our group was a delight to have on board and that our boys are very polite and considerate. Good news indeed! Flow through customs was easy as one look at our boys in their uniforms plus proper paperwork completed equated to a fast-paced exit with our baggage. As we exited the customs hall parents and family members were waiting with posters and banners welcoming our FNE family members back home! Many hugs and tears of joy shed as our boys were reunited with their families to return home to rest before returning to school and work the next day! Our FNE Pilgrimage and camp with our Italian brothers exceeded our wildest expectations!
We have already started to talk about our next pilgrimage in 3 years, time…. To Israel and the Holy Land!
Thank you Lord for this Pilgrimage, for your many blessing, love, for our families and for our FNE family. I love you Jesus!
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