Story by EmmaLee Italia, Correspondent
With an itinerary that included a Papal Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica and visits to the tombs of saints and other holy sites of Italy, nearly 40 pilgrims of the Diocese of Trenton witnessed the Year of Mercy unfolding in the heart of Rome.
Click here to read Bishop O'Connell's travelogue on the Diocesan Pilgrimage
Hailing from all around the Diocese, with even a few pilgrims from other states, the group traveled to Rome April 4, joining Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., and several diocesan priests. And when they returned 11 days later, they had plenty to talk about.
The pilgrimage included stops in not only Rome, but also Siena, Assisi, Pisa and Florence.
Each site visited was a highlight for Philip Mitcheli and his wife Madeline, members of St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford. “Seeing all the basilicas and churches in the various towns going back centuries, and the marvel and beauty of the architecture, the massive size and history behind each” were particular moments Mitcheli held dear.
“It was better than I expected!” said Msgr. Casimir H. Ladzinski, retired priest of the Diocese. Having visited Assisi on retreats many years ago, he was pleased for the chance to see it again, and to celebrate Mass in the Church of St. Clare. “It brought back a lot of memories.”
Msgr. Ladzinski also felt that “all the Masses we [the priests] con-celebrated, particularly at the major churches in Rome and St. Paul Outside the Walls” were poignant experiences for him. As for it being the Year of Mercy in Rome, Msgr. Ladzinski said, “We got to go through a Holy Door in every major church ... Whatever grace God gives, I’ll take!”
Patricia Myers, member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Wilmington, Del., also remarked on the Holy Door opportunities.
“We were scheduled to go through four Holy Doors; we went through seven!” she said. “The churches are beautiful and immense. Photos do not do them justice.” Myers also thought that it was “fascinating” learning about the Palio in Siena -- a passionate horse race that takes place on July 2 and August 16 each year.
Larry Denny and his wife Janet, parishioners in St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, took the pilgrimage together, thankful for the opportunity to “see our Holy Father, the Holy Doors, and being with our down-to-earth Bishop!”
Denny appreciated how well-planned the trip was, allowing for little free time because they were kept so busy. “Every church was better than the last,” he said. The camaraderie was such that, despite being “with several priests and fellow strangers ... we all were one.”
Bishop O’Connell shared details of his pilgrimage experiences in real-time via several dispatches to The Monitor which were posted on the TrentonMonitor.com website. His engaging posts, complete with pictures of smiling clergy and laity in famed Italian sites, described meetings with various Vatican offices, inspiring liturgies, reunions with priests living abroad and his attendance at the Rector’s Dinner at the Pontifical North American College, the United States’ seminary in Rome, honoring the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.
Bishop O’Connell’s final entry describes an early birthday dinner with priests of the Diocese and Father Kevin Kimtis, a Trenton priest studying canon law in Rome at the Gregorian University. Rejoining the pilgrims the next morning, he urged the pilgrims to explore the spiritual benefits of a pilgrimage in Rome during the Year of Mercy.
“We met up with everyone at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the most beautiful churches in the world,” the Bishop wrote. “We had a lovely Mass in the Sistine Chapel there, celebrated by yours truly with Father Jason [Parzynski] preaching a fine homily. I encouraged folks to take advantage of the Dominican priest confessors while there so that they could fulfill the plenary indulgences offered during the Holy Year of Mercy.”
Msgr. Edward J. Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, dubbed the trip “sheer wonder and awe. We travelled with a great group of people, and having the Bishop along was a joy.”
Noting one of the highlights of the trip for him was the “Pilgrim’s Walk” from the Castel Sant’Angelo to the Holy Year of Mercy door in St. Peter’s Basilica, Msgr. Arnister noted, “The Bishop was there to greet us, and there were so many people of different language groups. It helped me to focus upon the universality of the Church, and how gifted we were with our Catholic faith. It made me more aware of what a great gift it is.”
The pilgrims did not just experience the trip for themselves, however; intentions and prayers were offered for loved ones and friends throughout the journey at various holy sites.
“I was praying for some sick people I knew,” said Msgr. Ladzinski, “and basically I asked God to continue to bless the priests of the Diocese, that they would continue to be faithful in their ministry.”
Mitcheli prayed “for our parish, our daily Mass participants, and for a healing for a friend diagnosed with cancer for the second time.” Denny said, “I prayed for peace and good health for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Myers took a special intention that she learned of just before the trip began. “The last email I received as I boarded the plane was that a friend was just diagnosed with metastasized cancer,” she explained. “I prayed for her in every church.”
Reflecting on the immensity of the pilgrimage and its meaning, the travelers came away with a new perspective and appreciation for the Church in Rome.
“The trip exceeded our expectations,” Mitcheli said. “The history of the Church came alive, especially when visiting tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul ... we came back with the experience of a ‘universal Church.’ Seeing all the people gathered in Rome for the Holy Year of Mercy was quite moving ... all gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear and see the Pope and get his blessing.”
Following the pilgrimage, Denny believes that “every Catholic should visit the Vatican. I was within feet of our Holy Father, along with thousands of people. We even celebrated Mass with our Bishop in the Vatican.”
And the experience shared by the pilgrims promises to be a lasting one. “At times I had tears of enjoyment ... a feeling that I will never forget,” Denny explained. “I am so proud to be a Catholic.”
“It was very prayerful. We had great social times at dinner and on the bus, but the trip was spiritually enriching,” Msgr. Arnister declared. I realized the depth of God’s great mercy and love for us.”