Listen to God's voice at the foot of the crucifix." ~St. Gaspar del Bufaro~

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Left My (old) Heart In Rome! {Final} (Part 4)

Here we are for Part 4...The final post about our pilgrimage to the Eternal City!
(These are links to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).
Whew, it's been extremely tough selecting just a few photos and a few words to highlight many things that are plainly difficult to highlight and express.  I'm not sure about the other pilgrims but I'm still trying to process and wrap my brain around the magnitude of our experience...Walking the seat of Christendom changes one's view of life forever. 
There's really no eloquent way to sum it up so it's best to keep it simple, just by being thankful. 
Truly, my heart swells with gratitude for having the opportunity to make this journey. It was a miracle that everything fell into place, including a very unexpected financial gift.  Not to mention an amazing husband who took time off from his busy work schedule to be with our children.  He is beyond capable of tackling our busy life, including the homeschooling duties, while leaping tall buildings in a single bound!  Seriously, he is Super Dad and for that, I am blessed beyond measure.
It was certainly a thankful-thing to travel with a sister-friend in Christ, Kim, together with our fellow parishioners (plus a couple of new friends, too:).  We will all share precious memories that will last a lifetime.
Last but not least, I am grateful for the knowledge and wisdom that was shared by our pilgrimage leaders, to include our spiritual leaders, hosts, and guides.  Time and time again, each one of them offered themselves in unique ways that illuminated the gift of our Catholic faith.  They helped make things tangible with both words and actions, tying in the past, present, and future of the church. It would not have been the same experience without any of them! 
Ultimately, for me, this journey sparked a burning desire to learn more and live a life better devoted to loving our fellow man, while trusting  God's plan to shine through.  Already, a surprise endeavor has emerged from the graces of this trip! (I'll reveal what that is towards the end of this post!:)
 On to the final tour...
 I forgot to mention earlier that in one of our several visits to the Vatican, we were able to tour the Vatican Museums...The views from here were spectacular!
It was a tremendous privilege to be here, let alone receive a fascinating art history lesson from this brilliant and energetic young man!  It sure helped take the mystery out of what we were looking at, especially since you aren't allowed to speak or take photos in the Sistine Chapel.  Having minimal education in art history, I would have been just shy of clueless without his help!
It was a beautiful day to soak in the great genius of Michelangelo, his counterparts, and students! 
Below is St. Mary Major Basilica...A true gem. 
Aside from being one of the 4 major Basilicas in Rome (the other 3 include St. Peter's, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. John Lateran), it was the first church built in honor of Mary, Mother of God.  Pope Sixtus III had it built in the 6th/7th  centuries and it was the 1st church actually built by a Pope. 
St. Mary Major was the expression of agreement with the Council of Ephesus doctrine of Mary as Theotokas or Mother of God...A spectacular expression, at that!
Beneath this beautiful Baldachino (word that I learned means canopy over the altar, designed to call our attention there), lies a true relic of Christ's Crib!

I especially loved the meaning behind the Apse mosaic (that looks like it's sitting on my head;-).  It depicts the Coronation of Mary over heaven and earth.  Her hands are held in such a way that direct us to back to Christ...Like a good mother, even centuries later, it's what she does best!
Beneath the Basilica is an original Nativity scene carved as a sculpture!
It was a beautiful stop just prior to viewing the ancient treasure of the baby Jesus... 
Being able to venerate and pray before the relic of Christ's crib was truly a Divine moment.  All prayer requests were certainly honored here!

Pope Francis has already been here 7 times since he became Pope.  He likes to come to this side chapel (Madonna Pauline Chapel) of the Basilica and pray.  One of Michelangelo's last works is on the altar.
There are also relics of St. Matthew in this Basilica and the famous artist, Bernini, is buried here since his father worked on the chapel.
Just down the street is this cute little cathedral...Funny how our perspective has changed to a cathedral being little, in comparison to the 4 great Basilicas!
Both Kim and I had this on "our list" of places we wanted to visit since it wasn't on the original pilgrim itinerary.   
Can you believe it? 
The "original" image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is right here!
Needless to say, many prayer offerings were made once again!
 Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Moving on to another not-so-little Basilica...
The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls sits near the site where St. Paul was executed for the faith, outside the walls of Rome in the year 67.  The church is built over St. Paul's tomb.  Although it has been reconstructed over the years, the impact of the hallowed ground remains nothing short of powerful!
Once again, we had the highest honor of celebrating
Mass and receiving the Eucharist in a place where apostles and martyrs made it possible for us to do so. Over a thousand years later, the sacrifices of St. Peter, St. Paul, and all of the early Christians are still sacred. 
The impact of this spiritual thanksgiving is beyond the power of words to convey.  Fr. Sal reminded us to let this take root in our hearts (especially as the word Eucharist means thanksgiving). This is who we are called to be as Christians, people of thanksgiving.
 St. Augustine also reminds us that "If you are willing to receive the Eucharist, you must be ready to give yourself in return."  This giving back to God is an unshakeable stamp on pilgrim hearts...
This leads to a common thread of every Catholic church in Rome that might have someone asking: 
Why are the altars of churches and these great Basilicas built over tombs? 
It's that ultimate gift that the martyrs gave... Their lives were laid down and their bodies and blood poured out of love for Christ Jesus, fully imitating Him...They were perfectly Christian and self-emptying.  Therefore the tradition continues that they are united with the altar of God, enthroned there in every church.  Tradition continues to this day and even newer Catholic churches all over the world hold relics of a saint on their altars.
Being able to pray before the tomb of St. Paul was breathtaking! 
The chains that imprisoned St. Paul are displayed over his tomb...Here our Deacon and his wife take it all in.
The spirit of contemplation is strong here in a place that holds the bones of the man who had gone to Damascus as the fiercest prosecutor of the Christians, only to end up as the most zealous propagator of the faith...
As we move into Lent, I am reflecting on this and the many unlikely places that God calls each one of us... 
This also leads me to ponder the countless unsuspecting doors and doorways of Rome. What you see on the outside is often nothing like what's on the inside.  You could easily walk around the city streets of Rome and not have the slightest hint that magnificence lies just beyond an ordinary looking door or building.  Try giving that door a nudge, on the other hand, and prepare to be flooded with extraordinary grace!
It's certainly a reminder that there's so much to discover beyond ourselves.  Sometimes we don't even realize how closed the doors to our hearts really are until we work on pushing them open a little wider...

 Here's a prime example of some very unassuming doors that held a treasure...Little did we know the treasure was almost too much to behold the heart...I surely thought mine would explode! Behind them lies 28 marble steps that brought Jesus before Pontius Pilate...They are the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs.  Need I say more?
 The stairs are known to have Christ's blood stains...Pilgrims are required to make the arduous climb on their knees.  It was an amazing devotion as we mediated on the sufferings of Jesus for our many prayer intentions.  It was an honor, once again, beyond words.
 What better place to surrender it all?
On to Assisi!
This was an absolutely phenomenal day trip...Rain and all.  Guide books label this charming mystical hill town as the
"City of Peace."  It's the perfect description!
Here lies the story, relics, and remains of St. Francis and St. Clare, famous Christians and now saints, who lived the model of simple humility, giving all they had for Christ.  Both coming from families of wealth, they literally did give up all of their worldly possessions to serve the poor and preach the Gospel.   
 Francis and his band of brothers became the Franciscan order and inspired Clare to start an order of nuns to follow their example.  More on their stories can be found here and here.  St. Francis is buried below this Basilica in a chapel under the high altar.  As can be imagined, it was yet another soul-stirring experience to pray here!
We were able to celebrate Mass in this Gothic part of the Basilica that was built just a few short years after Francis's death in 1230. 
After reading about St. Francis and his story for many years, it really felt like a dream to be here!
Certainly a highlight was viewing his tunic...In true St. Francis fashion, what a radical relic it was! 
We learned that he chose brown and grey, the colors of beasts of burden, to remind them of their duty to serve. 
Among many earthly treasures, this chapel of relics also contains the rags that wrapped St. Francis's stigmata and the chalice and paten that he used. 
Can you imagine our delight when Father Brian (our Grey Franciscan tour guide) gave us permission to take a few photos?  They are typically not permitted.
St. Francis preached a lot about how we are created to be in relationship with one another.  Our brothers and sisters bring us to salvation...We should see one another as a subject, not an object. 
He called for us to remember that we are loved and we have the right to be loved... 
So much to hear in the whisper of our hearts as we took this all in! 
The Basilica of St. Clare (St. Chiara) commemorates the life of service of Clare Favarone.  Leaving a life of wealth, she also vowed to live a life of poverty, obedience, and chastity. Eventually her mother, 2 sisters, and aunt followed her to the convent!  How's that for example?
This gorgeous church holds the tomb of St. Clare, where her incorrupt body is encased in a ceramic mold...It is absolutely beautiful.
This profound quote is displayed near her tomb under a statue of Mary:
"May you cling to this most sweet Mother who bore such a son as the heavens could not contain."
In St. Clare's Basilica hangs the original Crucifix of San Damiano. 
It's my favorite! 
Many of you may know that it's here beneath this Crucifix that God spoke to St. Francis about renewing the church.  The Franciscan order was later nicknamed "new grace" because of its renewal theme.  This original Crucifix was moved here from the Damiano church for better protection.
I just love it!
To top off the day, we were in for a BIG surprise! 
Once again, we headed into an unassuming dark entry...Up several sets of stairs in the rain... 
To find ourselves in the Formation House of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement!
Here we could literally inhale peace! 
We had NO idea this was waiting for us! 
The hospitality nearly knocked our wet socks off. (That says a lot after we were all pretty soggy from a day of wading through rain puddles:)
We proceeded to be treated to several courses of home cooked Italian food.  Together with amazing wine, Deacon Tom summed it perfectly as "warming the cockles of our souls!"
It was all, truly, just out of this world!
It was hard to leave here and go back out into the real world!  But there was more to see and share in the footsteps of St. Francis...Schlepping a long in the rain felt like the right thing to do after such an indulgent lunch!
 He was born in this stable/cave for goodness sakes...Legend has it that his mother was told by an angel that she would give birth in a stable/ cave. Who else does that remind you of?
This is Father Brian, our infamous tour guide and most generous host!  The last stop in the quaint little town of Assisi was the childhood home of Francis...Another blessing for all of us!
 The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels is actually a drive down the hill and another very holy place.  (By now I must admit that I was overwhelmed by everything I had experienced so far.)  My cup runneth over!  Yet, the awe continued as we walked the path where the walls of this Basilica enthrone the place where St. Francis actually died.
Just around the corner, it's a bit of a miracle that these beautiful doves are always here in this alcove and it remains a mystery how they get in and out of the indoor area...It is certainly perfectly fitting for this great saint who was the epitome of peace (doves represent peace), always proclaiming that we "can't look at creation without looking at the creator."

At the end of St. Francis's life, it is said that he no longer prayed because he became prayer itself...A living prayer.  He is famous for calling us to preach the gospel with our actions, using words only if we have to.  I've heard this before but this time it sunk deep inside me, resonating in the recesses of my spirit.  I think all of us took a little piece of Assisi with us that day.

Back on the ranch in Rome, we have another one of those "doors" I mentioned earlier...Each day, we gathered at the this seemingly ugly, iron, graffiti gate to enter for an afternoon or evening meal.  I'll never forget the first time we arrived here and wondered where in the heck we were?
The beginning of our journey left me no less in awe than in the end...On our last day I still reveled in this heavenly refuge, just on the other side of that ugly door. 
It really was hard to believe these beautiful grounds lay hidden, like a secret garden, amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Treated to another surprise for our "last supper"...The kindness and generosity of the people at the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas cannot be outdone.

As we headed for home, I think we all felt like we had already been "home", never ceasing to be amazed at where we will find God's face and grace.
The very last day in Rome ended with one final visit with Pope Francis and the Sunday Angelus prayer...Rain did not discourage us from attending, one little bit!  The kindness of strangers even helped us get a taxi back to our Inn when the rainy torrents almost got the best of us:) Vowing to pay it forward, I was presented with the perfect opportunity just a few weeks back in the U.S.!  It was a perfectly, perfect, scenario to culminate the journey that never ends!
Farewell, Papa Francis...We will be praying for you, as you wish!
I hope you've enjoyed following a long here, walking in the footsteps of the saints...Thank you for joining me!
And for those of you who sent me prayer requests, I thank you, again, for giving me the honor of carrying your prayers next to my heart.  I thoroughly enjoyed offering up your prayers in the countless sacred spaces of Rome and Assisi.  May you find comfort and peace with the will of God.
And now to reveal a new endeavor that has fallen perfectly in place since this trip!  (Note the University name:) I wonder if St. Francis and St. Clare had a hand in this?  Please pray for me and the strength to endure the amount of years this might take;-)
"Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal.  Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world which passes like a shadow.  Do not let the false delights of a deceptive world deceive you."
"Love Him totally who gave Himself totally for your love."
~St. Clare of Assisi~



  1. Thank you, Tiff, for taking the time to document your journey for us. It brought back so many memories of when I visited those places, and how my life has changed since then. It was a blessing for me, as I am sure it is a blessing for you.

  2. Ugh...I was in the midst of writing a LONG comment when it disappeared. To sum it up: This is simply amazing!!! I cannot believe all that you saw. I'm in awe and speechless. What a blessing. And the news at the end! Yowzer! God has lead you down a wonderful path; a new chapter in your life! I'm so excited for you and thank you for sharing your pilgrimage with all of us. God bless you, Tiffany!

  3. Thank you Tiff for sharing this amazing journey, it is so beautiful. God Bless You.

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  5. Thank you Tom, Patty, and Carmen! I really appreciate you taking time to comment:) Carmen, it was especially fun to hear from you, a friend from right here in my daily life! Thank again and God bless you all:)

  6. What an amazing journey!! I need to go back and read the rest (I think I caught the first post, but not the others).

  7. Thank you so very much for all your wonderful posts and documentation of this trip of a lifetime! I only wish I would have sent you my prayer requests prior to your trip, but I can have faith and hope that there was enough grace and prayers going on that you got me covered somehow :) My faith is renewed just following your pilgrimage through your words and photos! I am in awe and I'm so happy that you got to see so much! I really can't wait to share your journey with my family! I'm pinning this post, as well! I wish you all the best, also, on your new and exciting endeavor! That is just beyond awesome! I wish there was a Part 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10 because like you, I didn't want to your trip to end :) May this life-changing pilgrimage continue to bless you and your family always! God bless you Tiffany!


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