WITNESSING HISTORY •Jim and Cheryl Manfredonia, co-founders of Domestic Church Media, await the announcement of Pope Francis’ election in St. Peter’s Square, March 2013. On April 25 they will be among 43 pilgrims with the DCM group in Rome watching the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. Photo courtesy of Jim Manfredonia

WITNESSING HISTORY •Jim and Cheryl Manfredonia, co-founders of Domestic Church Media, await the announcement of Pope Francis’ election in St. Peter’s Square, March 2013. On April 25 they will be among 43 pilgrims with the DCM group in Rome watching the canonization of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. Photo courtesy of Jim Manfredonia


By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent

In March 2013, travelers with the Domestic Church Media pilgrimage to Rome surprisingly found themselves in Vatican City for the election of Pope Francis, and witnessed his first appearance and blessing from directly beneath the window in which he first appeared as pontiff.

This month, 43 pilgrims will join DCM for its second historic pilgrimage: to witness the canonization of both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II the week after Easter, April 27 -- also known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Domestic Church Media operates two radio stations under the call letters WFJS (for Venerable Fulton J. Sheen) -- 1260 AM, in the Trenton, Princeton, and Bucks County, P.A. listening areas; and 89.3 FM, which covers Freehold, Colts Neck and Spring Lake, to name a few.

Though live radio broadcast likely won't be possible given their travel schedule, DCM plans to post updates on social media from the Vatican during their pilgrimage, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Just as last year's trip included an unanticipated occasion of papal election, the upcoming travel plans were made before the group knew with certainty about the Vatican's plans.

"After last year's pilgrimage I felt we had another opportunity to witness history with the canonizations," said DCM co-founder Jim Manfredonia. "We knew the canonizations were going to happen, but the Vatican wasn't announcing any official dates ... I was led in prayer to go ahead and plan a pilgrimage ... Within a few weeks of booking it, it was announced that it would be Divine Mercy Sunday." 

Booking before the canonization date was announced allowed participants the convenience of non-stop flights and rooms in a four-star hotel in the Villa Borghese area of Rome. Pilgrims will depart April 25 and return May 3.

"We'll be in Rome for five days, with a side day trip to Assisi, and then we'll travel over to San Giovanni to the Saint Padre Pio Shrine," Manfredonia confirmed. The group is also scheduled to attend the Pope's Wednesday general audience on April 30.

Being in Rome during such an historic event will have special meaning for Manfredonia, who co-founded Domestic Church Media with his wife, Cheryl, who will also attend the pilgrimage.

"John XXIII was the first Pope I remember. I was in second grade when he died, and I remember the nuns at my school weeping when he passed," Manfredonia explained. "And John Paul II had a major influence on me.  It was his encyclical letter, 'Veritatis Splendor,' that was the impetus behind me beginning my journey into Catholic radio. I've always felt very close to him, both when he was Pope and especially since his death.

"Anyone who has been to Rome with us will tell you how much time I spend at his tomb in St. Peter's Basilica," he continued. "I just feel a special friendship with him. So, it was only natural that we be there for his canonization."

Jim and Cheryl stood together with the other pilgrims in the rain in St. Peter's Square as the white smoke rose last March, announcing Pope Francis to the world.

"Last year's pilgrimage was the 'perfect storm' -- and I say that in a good way," Manfredonia said. "It was planned almost a year in advance. So when everything started to happen the way it did -- Pope Benedict's resignation and then the announcement of the opening of the Conclave the week that we were scheduled to be there ... and of course, being on the steps of St. Peter's when the white smoke appeared and standing under the loggia when the Holy Father first appeared -- we all believed was nothing less than Divine Providence.

"For me the most memorable moment was receiving Pope Francis' very first Papal Blessing!  I keep the video on my iPhone. It leaves me speechless."

Those joining the pilgrimage this year are also understandably excited at the opportunity to see the canonization in person. Deacon John F. Vassallo, Jr. and his wife Barbara, of Corpus Christi Parish, Willingboro, are among those attending with the DCM group.

"We had considered going on the trip last year, but didn't, and then we regretted it," said Deacon Vassallo. "So as soon as we heard about this trip, we 'signed up!' Plus we have always wanted to go to Rome, and this sounded like the trip of a lifetime."

A deacon at Corpus Christi for nearly 34 years, Vassallo hopes the trip will bring "a deeper appreciation of the vastness and universality of Holy Mother Church, and, on a personal level, that my wife has a wonderful experience!"

Vickie M. Ryder, parishioner at St. Joseph Parish, Toms River, wanted to go but was hesitant over the price. Through the generosity of a DCM radio listener from Texas, she was given a generous supplement which allowed her to attend.

Ryder is looking forward to “coming in contact with holy ground with fellow pilgrims united in faith; to celebrating the canonization of two popes that influenced me on my journey in this life.” She also hopes for spiritual healing for loved ones and plans to bring prayer intentions of family and friends to the tomb of John Paul II.

Father Fernando Lopez, parochial vicar for St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, will be on the pilgrimage as well.

"I'm going as spiritual guide," he said. "I may offer some comments about the places where we are going, and I'll be there to celebrate Eucharist every day and Reconciliation for those who want it. I'm looking forward to getting to know everyone more and have a beautiful experience."

Parishioners of St. Aloysius are already asking Father Lopez for stories upon his return. "'You'll have to tell us all about it,' they're saying! A lot of them are also great followers of John Paul II."

Father Lopez visited Rome just once before, as a seminarian. "This will be my first trip to Rome as a priest," he explained. "We as Catholics, when we go to Rome and the holy land, our faith is renewed. The way we see our faith is changed." Father Lopez believes the whole group will benefit from this spiritual renewal. "The way we worship our Lord will change, and it will change me as a priest."

Domestic Church Media  -- a completely listener-supported, 501(c)3 lay apostolate -- began 11 years ago, when Manfredonia started looking for a station to purchase.

"Our spiritual patron, Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once said 'If you attempt to do the incredible you will end up doing the impossible!'" he recalled. "I took that quote to heart when, with no job and no money, I stood outside the building that is now the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Media Evangelization, and which houses our WFJS main studios, and said, 'Lord, if you want this to be a Catholic radio station, you’ll have to send me the people who can help make it happen.'

WFJS 1260 AM began broadcasting from its Ewing location September 15, 2008. Its sister station, 89.3 FM, started broadcasting May 17, 2011.

As an EWTN affiliate, DCM programming includes notable EWTN shows such as "Catholic Answers Live," "Open Line," "The World Over," and archived shows from foundress Mother Angelica's live broadcasts. Additionally the station hosts several local programs, including “Catholic Matters” with Patti Staley, and Bishop David M. O'Connell's monthly first Friday show, "The Shepherd's Voice."

"We are currently looking into establishing a radio presence in North Jersey that will include coverage into parts of New York City," Manfredonia said. "This was always a dream of Mother Angelica."

Manfredonia plans to make a petition to one of the Church's newest saints for just that.

"That's my special miracle prayer intention for (Saint) John Paul II," Manfredonia said, "to help us get a station there."

Listen to WFJS radio on 1260 AM, 89.3 FM, and streaming live at www.WFJS.org. Complete programming schedules are also available on the website. Download the free radio app for iPhone, Android and Blackberry. For further information, contact Domestic Church Media, P.O. Box 7509, Trenton NJ 08628, or call 609-882-9357.