Several years ago my husband Greg and I went on a pilgrimage visiting the shrines of Italy. As we left California and headed for New York we had no idea what a life changing adventure we were about to embark.
Though Greg and I had a sleepless night traveling from New York to Italy we were amazed that we weren't even tired when we arrived in Rome the next morning. We had free time until dinner so we toured the area and visited one of the minor Basilica's called St. Peter in Chains. It was hard to imagine that this was the very place that the Bible tells us St. Peter was imprisoned, and during the night was freed by angels. The chains that were used to hold him are actually displayed on one of the altars.
Also displayed in St. Peter in Chains Basilica is Michael Angelo's statue of Moses. We were impressed at how magnificent the statue was and how surrounding the statue of Moses was carved a wall of smaller states telling the Biblical story that Michael Angelo wished to portray. Most of the people in earlier times were unable to read so the pictures and statues in churches were there to tell the stories of the Bible.
The following day we were able to visit the Pope. Seeing him and hearing stories about Pope Francis was a very precious experience. I was amazed to find out that, though he has audiences for only a couple of hours on Wednesday mornings, 80,000 people come to see him each week. The talk that he gave was translated into many languages. Primarily he encouraged people to practice the eight Beatitudes (spiritual ideals), speaking on each one and how to be with them.
The energy in Italy felt so enlivening and peaceful to me. The energy is subtle, and meditating was easy! There seems to be a level of unity that allows people to be close, to express their emotions, and to even flow in traffic without running into each other. Greg and I noticed that even though the cars came within inches of each other we didn’t see any dents in the cars. It is as though there is a subtle thread of protective energy running through Italy.
We continued our tour in Rome visiting the Vatican and the four major Basilicas: St. Mary Major built in the 5th century and known for what they believe are pieces of the original crib that Jesus laid in when he was born, St John Lateran built in the early 300’s where the statues of all 12 apostle are portrayed, St. Paul Outside the Walls built over the tomb of St Paul and also built in the 4th century, and St Peter’s within the Vatican which was built over the burial place of St. Peter.
While crossing a bridge in Rome we saw a statue of Michael the Archangel and were told that during the plague (the Black Death) in the 14th century, the Pope traveled around Rome asking people to come to St. Peter’s Basilica and pray for the end of the plague. While crossing the river he saw a vision of Michael the Archangel. The plague immediately ended in that area, and a statue was built to honor Michael the Archangel. Estimates are between 25 and 200 million people throughout Europe died of that plague. I love these miraculous stories of how we are being protected and guided throughout our lives.
Traveling high into the mountains we went to see the Abbey of Montecassino; the monastery founded by St. Benedict in 529 AD. In the Middle Ages there were thousands of monks who lived in the monastery, now there are just a few left. We stayed in a hotel at the top of the mountain that looked like something out of a movie, and the terrain of the mountain was lush and beautiful. The streets were so narrow the bus driver only had about one or two inches on either side of the bus to get through. It was an amazing performance!
The trip kept on getting better. We visited the cave where Archangel Michael first appeared in the year 404 AD. The story is told that there was a nobleman who lost his prize bull, and three days later he saw the bull kneeling down in front of a cave. He was frustrated when the bull refused to move from the cave so he tried to shoot the bull with an arrow, however, the arrow whirled around and came back at him. When he went into the cave to see what was going on, he saw the angel who told him never to shed the blood of a bull again. Eventually the Bishop built a Basilica in the cave upon the angel’s request.
There have been many miracles attributed to Michael the Archangel since then. As I sat in the cave talking to Michael, in my minds eye I suddenly saw the image of an angel flying and carrying a sword in his right hand. Earlier I had scratched the cornea of my eye and it was very painful. However, I noticed that the pain had left when I was in the cave and I could see out of that eye again.
From there we went to San Giovanni Rotundo where one of my favorite saints, Padre Pio, lived. We were able to see the huge hospital Padre Pio had built for the poor in that area, and also the amazing Basilica that they built in his honor after his death in 1968. There are over 100 books written on the life of Padre Pio and several movies that you can rent on Netflix. I particularly enjoyed the DVD Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth.
Padre Pio (now St. Pio) had the stigmata of Christ for 50 years. Even though the stigma was very painful, Padre Pio was joyful and had a great sense of humor. He was able to see and communicate with Jesus, Mary and his guardian angel, and many miracles occurred. He loved people and was able to intuitively know what they needed to deepen their spiritual lives.
Many years ago when they opened Padre Pio’s tomb in order to transfer his body to the new Basilica, they found that his body hadn’t decayed. He is laid out in the Basilica as though he is sleeping, where each day hundreds of people come to see him. The peace that surrounds his tomb is palatable.
The last place we visited was Assisi where St. Francis lived. Our guide said that 6 million people a year come to Assisi. It was fascinating to hear the various stories of Francis and actually see where it all took place.
Assisi hasn’t changed much since the 1200’s. We saw the Basilica where Francis asked to be buried and the cross where he heard Jesus speak to him, telling him to rebuild His church. The little church that he rebuilt is even preserved.
Actually, the words Francis heard from the cross may have meant for him to rebuild the church in a more spiritual way but even though he took it literally and rebuilt the church brick by brick, he still did a lot to truly rebuild the spirit of the church. Before he died he had 5000 followers, today there are over 36,000 Franciscans throughout the world.
One of the highlights of the trip was that after several of us took pictures of the cave that Francis lived in, and also pictures of a nearby statue of him, we noticed that there were beautiful blue orbs on all of our pictures, as though spirits surrounded these Holy places (see the picture above and the blue orbs on the statue). This trip to Italy brought to life all the childhood stories Greg and I have heard, and the books we have read.
In Assisi the Franciscan priests seem so light and free. One of the priests told us that in the Bible Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me,” which he delighted in telling us that it simply means that Christ leads the way and all we have to do is follow and be joyful.
So, as I walked through the streets of Assisi I thought of our tour manager and how she arranged everything for us; the hotels we stayed in, the restaurants we went to, the transportation to and from our destinations, the tour guides who lead us, and the places we visited. When we had free time and weren’t back on time she would wait for us, or she would look for us if we were lost. All we had to do was follow her and enjoy the journey.
Remembering what that wise joyful Franciscan priest had said I realized more fully that God has sent Jesus and other great masters to show us the way. They are our tour managers and have taken care of everything for us, we just need to love, be grateful, serve with an open heart, pray, meditate and be present to what is. And, enjoy the journey!
Love and Peace,
Mary Mohs LVN, MA, RYT,