Monday, November 9 – Leave from the US. You have packed efficiently, not too much, but just what you need for this unique pilgrimage. That includes comfortable walking shoes! Safe flight!
Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy
We begin in Assisi. With a population of about 25,000, Assisi is a small medieval town perched on a hill in Umbria, the heart of Italy. It is known as the city of St. Francis, and is one of the prettiest and most peaceful cities in the world. Assisi has long been a spiritual center. Two thousand years ago, the Temple of Minerva was a centerpiece of Roman Assisi and can still be visited today. We will spend 3 days and 2 nights at the St. Anthony Guesthouse, which has been run by our friend, Sister Sue, for more than 10 years. She and the other Sisters are waiting to greet you and welcome you to Assisi.
Tuesday, November 10 – Welcome to Italy! You have arrived at Fiumicino airport, about 10 miles outside of Rome to the west, near the Mediterranean Sea. You may have seen the sea as your plane circled to land. Your first night’s lodging is very near – only a 10-minute slow walk in a interior walkway to the Rome Airport Hilton. This allows you time to rest before we begin the next morning. During this quiet day, meals will be on your own. There is a very good restaurant inside the Hilton, or you may choose to take their free shuttle to the city center for dinner.
Wednesday, November 11 – Assisi. You awake to your first full day in Italy. Dr. Robert Moynihan and Deborah Tomlinson will greet you in the lobby of the Rome Airport Hilton at 9 a.m. After brief introductions, we will board our private motor coach and head out for that little town in central Italy where St. Francis of Assisi was born. We will stop along the way for a morning coffee, tea, and brioche, or as the Italians call it, a cornetto. As we drive north and east looking out over Lazio and Umbria toward Assisi, Dr. Moynihan will discuss the Catholic Church today, and the impact of the recent decisions made by the Synod on the Church. After about two hours of driving, we will pull into the walled city of Assisi, and you will be escorted to your guest room at the serene St. Anthony’s Guesthouse, with its beautiful outside gardens. As you stand in the gathering room of the Guesthouse, you will have a panoramic view of St. Clare’s Basilica and the town of Assisi. The 360-degree views will take your breath away. Our friend Sister Sue will welcome you.
After a quick lunch, we will rest for several hours, then attend Mass. The Franciscan friars will be available before Mass for confession. Dinner will be early and delicious at one of our favorite restaurants in Assisi! Our first day will end before dark so we all can go to bed early for a good night’s sleep.
View from St. Anthony’s Guesthouse
Thursday, November 12 – Assisi. Attending Mass at the tomb of St.
Francis will begin our second day in Italy. It is a short walk downhill through the streets of Assisi to the Basilica of St. Francis. There, we will be greeted by our friends who oversee the Basilica, the Franciscan friars, who will give us a guided tour after Mass. After our visit there, our bus will drive us to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, in the valley at the bottom of the hill. Brother Alessandro (photo right) always welcomes us with his beautiful smile, joined perhaps to a delightful song. His story is amazing and his voice has become well-known worldwide.
After our visit to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, we will stop to reflect on our morning over a wonderful Italian lunch. We will return to St. Anthony’s guesthouse for a rest before our visit to San Damiano, the church connected with St. Francis’ encounter with Christ on the crucifix. Brother Euan, who is from England, now resides there and will greet us and explain further this story. Our last visit will be to the Basilica of St. Clare before we end our day with a meal at another one of our favorite restaurants, where we will share local wine, wonderful local food and our thoughts about the day.
Brother Alessandro singing to our pilgrims
Friday, November 13 – Morning: Assisi. After a leisurely breakfast, Marcella, our friend who was born and raised in Assisi, will guide us through the historic streets of Assisi, pointing out many of the hidden gems along our stroll; we will enter several important churches along the way, such as the Basilica of St. Clare and San Rufino (St. Rufinus), and come to a better understanding of the time of St. Francis. Our tour will finish in the Piazza del Comune, the main piazza in the city center, one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy. Lunch will be on your own, and there should be time to shop, before we say good-bye to Assisi and head to Norcia.
Over the centuries, “Nursia” has, in the Italian language, become “Norcia.” However, it is still the same city— the heart of Benedictine monasticism. Benedict and his twin sister, Scholastica, were born here in the late 400s, at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. So we have in Norcia a “link” to that ancient world which perished with Rome’s fall, but which, through the mediation of Benedict and Benedictine monasticism, came down to us through the so-called “Dark Ages” after Rome’s fall, those centuries from 500 to 1000 A.D., when civilization and learning were restricted to the little enclaves of Benedictine monasteries.
However, for the past two centuries, there has been a new type of devastation. The monastery that had flourished for a millennium was closed under the secularizing Napoleonic legislation introduced into Italy two centuries ago, in 1810. So, for almost 200 years, there were no monks here.
It seemed as if the link with the past had been broken. However, all of this changed with Father Cassian Folsom, an American Benedictine, who has been a friend since 1990. Father Cassian went to Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict) in the 1990s, saying that he sensed a vocation to re-found the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, and Cardinal Ratzinger encouraged him to do so. And so he came to Norcia with two companions, and by themselves, with no help, they brought the ancient monastery back to life. What they were doing raised eyebrows, but bit by bit, other young men came to join them.
Today, there are 18 monks in Norcia, and Father Cassian is gaining a worldwide reputation for his humble zeal in restoring the faith. We will have a chance to talk to him directly, and, if desired, to go to confession to him or to another one of the priests. Then we will attend the Mass celebrated by the monks in their chapel. You may also join them as they chant their prayers from early morning to late evening in the crypt church.
Friday, November 13 – Afternoon: Norcia. The Palazzo Seneca will be our home for the next two nights and is located only 50 yards from the main piazza where the Benedictines celebrate Mass. The palace that houses Palazzo Seneca was originally built in the 16th century and was completely renovated a few years ago, by our friends, Carlo and Anna Bianconi. The spa and cooking school are just two of its amenities. Quiet time in the Palazzo can be spent sitting in the beautiful library or in the garden room for a cup of afternoon tea or cappuccino. The family-owned hotel is simple yet elegant, ancient yet luxurious, which is why it was awarded the prestigious Relais & Châteaux award — an exclusive honor recognizing the finest hotels and gourmet restaurants in 55 countries around the world. ￼
Our dinners in Norcia — in front of this wood burning grill
After a rest, we will make our first visit to the Benedictine monastery of Norcia, built over the place where St. Benedict and St. Scholastica were born. We will meet some of the monks, tour the basilica, and learn their story — one of the most remarkable stories in the Church today.
Afterward, we will have dinner at a restaurant next to our hotel, which has a beautiful wood-burning grill (photo above) and also is owned by the Bianconi family. In late fall, this provides much-needed warmth, because the temperature in the mountainous region of Norcia is quite a bit cooler than that of Rome. However, you may find that you appreciate the fireplace for its ambiance more than for its warmth. Our meal will be made entirely of local products; we especially recommend their one-of-a-kind lentil soup, which tastes like no other lentil soup in the world. Sometimes one of the monks, often Father Cassian, comes out of the monastery to join us for dinner. These dinners are times for thoughtful conversation in the heart of Italy.
The main piazza in Norcia and Basilica of St. Benedict surrounded by the Sibillini Mountains
Ancient Wisdom Continues in the Sibillini Mountains
The region around Norcia, in central Italy, is filled with rugged mountains and steep valleys. This makes it a perfect area for hiking and breathing the fresh clean air, far from the crowded cities of Italy and the rest of Europe.
After Christian monasticism began to flourish in the desert areas of Egypt, and then of Syria — in the Christian east — during the 200s, 300s and especially during the 400s, gradually some monks began to travel westward to Italy and southern France. In the time of St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), in the decades just before the birth of St. Benedict in 480 A.D., the valleys around Norcia began to be populated by dozens of these monks. Many were hermits, living a solitary life. Others lived in more or less interconnected small groups, which provided an early model for what would become the communal life of St. Benedict’s monks.
Over the centuries, this eastern monastic experience was transferred to central Italy, and influenced first Benedict himself, and then many others.
Today, strikingly, there is a return to Norcia of Benedictine monasticism in the community headed by Father Cassian Folsom, whom we will visit.
But what is little known is that there is also a new flourishing of hermitic monastic life in the region outside of Norcia, in the valleys and on the mountain slopes of the Sibillini Mountains. No one knows exactly how many hermits are living there. All that is known is that these hills and valleys have become, once again, a “vineyard of the Lord,” where many seek to grow closer to God through a disciplined life of prayer and reflection. These hermits are not entirely isolated; they sometimes receive guests. And on our pilgrimage, we will have the opportunity to go into the mountains and meet with one or more of the hermits, listen to their spiritual reflections and learn from them.
We have made an appointment with Sister Maria, who lives near Amandola, in a small hermitage on the side of a mountain which is sometimes inaccessible due to winter snowstorms. She will receive our pilgrims and spend time with us. This extraordinary experience with a woman hermit in the Sibillini Mountains will be one of the highlights of our pilgrimage.
Saturday, November 14 – Norcia/Amandola. We will wake to a delicious breakfast of fresh fruits, local cheeses, meats, and breads spread in the quaint garden room filled with the morning light. If you would like something else, it will be served to you! All food is local and prepared to order.
Our day will begin with morning Mass, with the monks, at 10:00 a.m. They solemnly chant the liturgy in Latin, in the Extraordinary Form. This is truly an “extraordinary” experience, but in an “ordinary” way, for this is how the monks worship every day. Latin-English missals will be provided so that you can follow along.
After Mass with the monks we will hear a reflection by Father Cassian. Father Cassian has been battling a
debilitating form of blood cancer, but his suffering has only deepened his spiritual vision, and some are beginning to say, in and around Norcia, that he is a living saint. Therefore, we are very privileged to have this time with our old friend who is doing so much for the Church, and who always has profound insights to impart to our pilgrims.
After we spend time with Father Cassian, we will have lunch, then depart Norcia for Amandola to meet with our friend Sister Maria Susanna, who is a hermit — someone who lives alone each and every day of the year. A 90-minute drive around the Sibillini Mountain National Park will bring us to her hermitage where we will visit and seek her wisdom. When we return to Norcia, another meal will be grilled before us on the wood-burning, open-air oven, as we sip wine or Birra Nursia, the monk’s beer, reminisce about our adventures and share views on our day with the monks.
Sister Maria Susanna, a hermit living in Amandola, in her private chapel
Sunday, November 15 – Morning: Norcia. We will wake to our last breakfast in Norcia. After breakfast, Dr. Robert Moynihan will deliver another lecture on the recent Synod. Sunday Mass with the monks will follow at 12 noon. After Mass, there will be free time for lunch, which will be on your own, before we depart for Rome.
With a population of 2.7 million, Rome is one of the most populated cities in Europe, and one of the oldest. As we stroll over the time-worn cobblestones, the many layers of Roman history will begin to unfold. From the sculpture and architecture of the Ancients to the vestiges left from the early Church, through the Medieval and Renaissance periods with the masterpieces of artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini, Rome is truly a treasure-trove of art, culture and history.
Contained within Rome is the sovereign city-state of Vatican City, whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome. The Vatican has an area of approximately 110 acres, a population of around 840, and is the smallest country in the world.
This is a unique time in the Vatican, as Pope Francis continues to define his pontificate, and Emeritus Pope Benedict continues to reside in Vatican City in a small convent inside the Vatican gardens, not far from the Domus Santa Marta, where Pope Francis now resides. The Vatican usually is quieter in mid-November, and we expect to have the opportunity to breathe in that peace, during these days of the “two Popes,” Benedict and Francis, both so very different and yet each so filled with the love of Christ and of His Church.
Sunday, November 15 – Evening: Rome. Hotel Michelangelo will be our Roman home for the next 4 nights. Hotel Michelangelo is a 4-star hotel just a few steps from the Vatican and it offers views across to St. Peter’s Dome. Its style is inspired by the same Italian spirit, personal touch, and attention to detail of its namesake: the grandmaster of Renaissance art. Once settled in, Dr. Moynihan will lead us in a “familiarization” walk to Vatican City, paying special attention to St. Peter’s Square, in front of St Peter’s Basilica which was built above the tomb of St. Peter, the first Pope, the apostle to whom Christ entrusted “the keys of the kingdom.” Dinner will be at one of our favorite restaurants near the Vatican, so plan for lively conversation as we enjoy our first delicious Roman dinner.
Monday, November 16 – Vatican City. We will be up early to be at the door of the Vatican museums before 8 a.m., and there will likely be a crowd of thousands already lined up to get in. However, we will enter by a special door, avoid the line, and be guided to the Sistine Chapel, which we will be able to see in silence, before the crowds arrive. There, we will view many special treasures before enjoying a cappuccino at the outdoor café over–looking the Vatican Gardens. Our morning will finish with a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. Lunch will be at one of our favorite restaurants near the Vatican, followed by free time to explore and shop for religious articles for the papal blessing on Wednesday.
After a rest, taxis will take us to the Spanish Steps, where Robert and Deborah will lead us in an evening stroll to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Piazza Navona. We will also visit the Basilica of Sant’Andrea delle Frate, where Our Lady appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne, and where St. Maximilian Kolbe offered his first Mass. As always, Robert and Deborah will be pointing out the historical and religious significance of the important places we will encounter along our evening stroll. On the walk back to the Vatican area, we will stop at another fine restaurant for dinner, then onward to our favorite gelateria for our gelato (ice cream) before returning to our hotel.
Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano
Lanciano, which translates into “the lance,” is named after the lance of Longinus, the Roman soldier who thrust his spear into Our Lord’s side. Lanciano bears this name because it is the birthplace of St. Longinus. Around the year 700, a Basilian monk offered Mass in Lanciano’s small church of St. Legontian. The monk, who had doubts about transubstantiation, wondered if the bread and wine really became the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the words of Consecration, the doubting priest was a witness to the transformation of the bread into living flesh and the wine into five actual drops of blood, which then congealed. The five drops, of course, represent the number of wounds Christ suffered on the cross: one in each hand and foot from the nails, and the wound from the spear of Longinus!
Tuesday, November 17 – Manoppello/Lanciano. After breakfast, we will be traveling to two very important shrines which house some of the most significant miracles in Italy — the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano and the Shrine of the Holy Face.
We will be leaving early to travel about 2 1⁄2 hours, across Italy to the Adriatic Sea, to the town of Lanciano in the rugged Abruzzo region. Once we arrive in Lanciano, we will enter the church that houses the Eucharistic Miracle (photo above) to behold the wonder of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ made visible. After venerating the miraculous substance, we will listen to the Franciscan friars to learn more about the Eucharistic miracle.
We then will turn back toward Rome, heading to the little town of Manoppello, Italy (population 157 —yes, it’s tiny!) still in the Abruzzo region. Our drive is short — only 40 minutes. There, we will visit the Shrine of the Holy Face — the shrine whichcontains a mysterious cloth (photo right) bearing the image of a man with wounds on his face, an image some believe is the actual face of Christ, formed at the moment of his Resurrection. There we will celebrate Mass. Pope Emeritus Benedict visited this Shrine in 2006 to venerate the Holy Face of Manoppello. Before our visit to the shrine, we will first have lunch at the same restaurant Pope Benedict dined at when he visited Manoppello — a family-owned restaurant where Nonna, Grandma, cooks with the fresh ingredients from the region. A real Italian experience! After a few hours in Manoppello, we depart for Rome and enjoy a snack in an Italian “autogrill.” We will be full from our late lunch so dinner will be on your own.
Father Cucinelli, friar at the Shrine of the Holy Face
Wednesday, November 18 – Vatican City. Our last full day begins with breakfast, then we head to the Vatican for the Papal Audience at 10:30 a.m. Afterward, we will have lunch at 1:00 p.m. at a restaurant near the Vatican. Following lunch, we will depart for the three other patriarchal basilicas in Rome, St. Mary Major, St. John Lateran, and St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. St. Peter’s Basilica is the fourth patriarchal basilica. Each of these churches is a glorious monument to the Faith and contains treasures of art that can take one’s breath away.
In St. Mary Major, there is a painting of Mary (photo left), which is believed to be painted by St. Luke himself, making it the oldest painting of Mary in the world. It is called the Salus Populi Romani (English: Protectress of the Roman People — Protectress is a translation of the Latin “salus” which means “salvation” or “health.”) It has historically been the most important Marian icon in Rome, and was crowned by Pope Pius XII in 1954. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI venerated the Salus Populi Romani on different occasions, and asked Mary on each occasion to “pray for us.” One of the first acts after his election was Pope Francis’ prayer before the Salus Populi Romani. In May of 2013, the month dedicated to Our Lady and the Holy Rosary, Pope Francis also prayed his first public Rosary before this ancient and venerable image. And, he has continued to honor this important Basilica, visiting it more than six times since his election.
The Roman Breviary states: “After the Council of Ephesus (431) in which the Mother of Jesus was acclaimed as Mother of God, Pope Sixtus III erected at Rome on the Esquiline Hill, a basilica dedicated to the honor of the Holy Mother of God. It was afterward called Saint Mary Major and it is the oldest church in the West dedicated to the honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
St. John Lateran (photo below) is the oldest and ranks first among the four Papal basilicas of Rome, since it is the cathedra or “seat” of the Bishop of Rome. So, it was the first papal residence in Rome. For centuries, the Popes lived here, not in the Vatican. The façade has the inscription Christo Salvatori, “To Christ the Savior,” indicating the church’s dedication to Christ — the cathedrals of all patriarchs are dedicated to Christ himself.
As the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, it ranks above all other churches, including St. Peter’s, and so, unlike all other Roman Basilicas, it holds the title of Archbasilica. In ancient Rome, it was the baptism church. The Archbasilica was built in the time of Constantine and was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324.
St. John Lateran contains several important relics: an ancient baptistry built by Constantine; under the High Altar, which can only be used by the Pope, there is a relic said to be part of St. Peter’s communion table; and the Altar of the Holy Sacrament contains a cedar table that is said to be the one used by Christ at the Last Supper.
St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls (photo right) is dedicated to St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who was beheaded in Rome, and it contains his tomb. This very impressive church contains the images of all the Popes in little circular portraits.
Because we only have a few hours to see these magnificent, historic basilicas, we will concentrate on the meaning of each of the buildings, and the life and work of each of the saints to whom these basilicas are dedicated.
We will end our day with a farewell dinner, hosted by Dr. Robert Moynihan and Deborah Tomlinson, will be a celebratory feast and special friends and guests of Inside the Vatican magazine will be joining us to say arrivederci — until we meet again!
Thursday, November 19 – Farewell. After an early morning Mass (if time permits), breakfast, and goodbyes, your drivers will escort you back to the airport for your return home. Farewell to all our fellow pilgrims, our friends, until we meet again…
Not mentioned in this sketch of our itinerary are perhaps the two most important points…
1) During our days in Rome, we will have the chance to meet with a few Vatican monsignors, and perhaps even an archbishop or cardinal, who will listen and respond to pilgrims’ questions and concerns about the Church today, about issues of concern to Church members, and about working alongside Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis. These meetings change from pilgrimage to pilgrimage, but they are always remembered by pilgrims as special moments to be close to the Pope as he leads the Church in this difficult period of history.
2) We prefer to schedule Mass in the morning, but there is a possibility that Mass times can fluctuate due to circumstances and Vatican events. Each day we will have the opportunity to attend Mass. The Mass schedule for the Rome portion of our pilgrimage will be finalized closer to the time of our departure.
We will make every effort to adhere to the printed program and itinerary. On rare occasions it may be necessary to adjust arrangements due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control (including such circumstances as the weather, airline schedule change, hotel requisitions, political disturbances, or transportation mechanical problems). Should such adjustment be necessary, substitution will be made to the best of our abilities.