‘Niedziela’ made a pilgrimage to Italy
In nine days we covered 4,800 km, reaching the end of the Italian boot, the Gargano Peninsula. A group of employees of ‘Niedziela’, headed by the editor-in-chief Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis, made a pilgrimage to Italy to participate in the Roman celebrations of the closing of the Pauline Year, the giving of palliums to the new archbishops and the unveiling of the monument to John Paul II in the Gemelli Clinic in Rome. We also went to the places connected with St Francis and Saint Father Pio. We visited the Shrine of the Holy Face in Manopello, Monte San Angelo and Loreto.
4 a.m. was a good time to begin our journey, especially that we were to cover 1,200 km. The patron of our expedition St Paul must have got up before dawn to avoid the hottest part of the day. A Mass in our editorial chapel and at 5 o’clock three mini-buses set off southwards.
Road towards the south
We passed borders, which actually nobody noticed. The only signals that we crossed the territory of some country were SMSes sent by the mobile phone operators, giving us the numbers of the Polish consulates and emergency. On the way we could see the majestic monastery in Melk, Austria, regretting that we did not have time to visit this over 900 year old Benedictine abbey, with a famous library and school. Taking the western motorway, along the Danube, we could see the effects of the recent heavy rain in Austria – the riverbed was filled with water almost to the line of the bank. Going through Brenner Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in the Alps, we drove on the modern two-lane road. Once it was a dangerous passage for ancient merchants or mediaeval pilgrims.
Visiting the Little Poor Man of Assisi
The photographs of Assisi do not show the climate and whole beauty of the city located on the slopes of Monte Subiasio. We went along narrow streets to the Basilica of St Francis. In the crypt with the sarcophagus of the saint, the upper and lower churches, at the frescos of Giotto, Martini, Lorenzettie and other masters we met visitors from all continents. Their number was bigger than last years since this year marks eight centuries when the Little Poor Man received an oral confirmation of the religious Rules from Pope Innocent III. In those times St Francis wore the characteristic robe of minor brothers: a brown tunic designed in the form of a cross, tied by a white cord. Walking around Assisi, the place where there was a Christian community already in the 3rd century, one must visit the places connected with the life of the Saint. A baptismal font at which St Francis was baptised has been preserved in the cathedral of San Rufino. The Church of San Damiano is the place where he heard the voice of Jesus from the crucifix over the altar – the same cross can be also found in the Basilica of St Clare, the foundress of Poor Clares. In the church Santa Maria degli Angeli there is the Portiuncula chapel, the place where the Little Poor Man began his activities and where he died. Our visit to the city of St Francis is also a recollection of John Paul II who from this place appealed to pray for peace in the world.
Celebrations in the Eternal City
In Rome we realised a VIP programme, participating in the celebrations full of cameras and photographers. We also had an important feast of our editorial board, which we celebrated in a small party – the nameday of our Editor-in-chief. Every year, on 28 June we meet for Mass in the intention of Fr Ireneusz in our chapel. This time we prayed in Castel Gandolfo, in the chapel of the nuns who accommodated us during our stay in the Eternal City. Here we recollected St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, who effectively fought against heresies through his writings and polemics. He is regarded as the most eminent theologian of the first centuries of Christianity and he has to tell a lot to contemporary people, too.
At noon we were in St Peter’s Square in Rome. From 11 o’clock colourful crowds began to wait for the Angelus under the window of the Papal Palace. The prayer began. We impatiently waited for the words in Polish. Benedict XVI said that the Pauline Year ‘showed us the person of the Apostle to the Nations, fully dedicated to Christ and the work of evangelisation.’ He reminded us to testify about Christ with courage in our daily lives. We would meet the Pope again during the service of Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, built on the place where the body of the Apostle to the Nations was buried. Although it was an official celebration, the closing of the Pauline Year, the gathered were thrilled to see Benedict XVI. They clapped their hands, tried to be as close as possible to the passage where he approached the altar. Even nuns stood on the chairs to take photos of the Holy Father. On Monday we prayed with Benedict XVI for the third time. This was the feast of St Peter and Paul, the patron saints of Rome. The feast is so important for the Italians that it is a national holiday. According to the tradition the Pope celebrates Mass in the Vatican Basilica and during the Mass he gives palliums to the new archbishops, which is a sign of unity with the Bishop of Rome. The new archbishops included Americans, Brazilians, Italians, Mexicans and two Poles: Archbishop Andrzej Dziega of Szczecin-Kamien and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Latin Rite Bishop of Lviv. Every bishop was accompanied by his faithful from his diocese, his family and friends. Even the small group accompanying the bishops from Salvador, Sri Lanka or Burkina Faso did their best to express their joy when the Pope approached their bishops.
The next day we were invited for Mass celebrated by Archbishop Andrzej Dziega, his first Mass as the Metropolitan of Szczecin-Kamien. The Eucharist was celebrated at the main altar of the Basilica, under the famous stained glass depicting the Holy Spirit, and it had a cordial, almost family mood. Then we went to the Vatican crypts for ‘a special audience’ – prayer at the grave of John Paul II to whom each of us told his/her personal baggage of experiences and requests as well as to thank him for his intercession.
Meeting with Father Pio
The vicinity of San Giovanni Rotondo in the Peninsula of Gargano is a chapped, burnt land. We reached it after sunset. It was too late to go to the shrine. We went to the opposite side, to the little town. The houses and shops were along the main street where one could see numerous people enjoying themselves, were relatively new. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a poor village here and a monastery of the Capuchin Fathers with a small church in the peripheries of the village. Although nowadays the church is connected with the huge Basilica of Santa Maria delle Grazie, it is still the centre of the place. One can always see pilgrims, immersed in deep prayer, at the confessional booth where Fr Pio heard confessions and at the choir loft where he received stigmata. Many sick people come here since thinking about them Fr Pio initiated the construction of the House for the Relief of Suffering in 1956. Today it is one of the most modern hospitals in Europe. After the canonisation of Fr Pio a modern sanctuary was built on the slope behind the monastery and the church is a wonderful contemporary masterpiece of art. However, we remembered most the poor cell of Fr Pio, his personal belongings and a shelf full of thousands of letters he received.
In the sanctuary of the Holy House of Loreto we met Fr Zbigniew, a Capuchin who eagerly became our guide. The House of Mary from Nazareth was brought to Loreto by the De Angelis family, the governors of Epirus. Facing the defeat of the Crusaders in the Holy Land in 1291 they transported the house to Europe. The surname of the family explains the legend that the house was carried by angels. It is also known that the stone and its processing cannot be found here but were common in Galilee during the times of Christ. The technical examination of the House and the Grotto in Nazareth has confirmed that once they were built as one complex. The House is surrounded by a white marble housing with beautiful Renaissance sculptures. The construction of the basilica began in the second half of the 15th century. Decorated by the best artists it is a treasure of art of all ages. Around the nave there are 12 chapels, including a Polish one. The author of its frescos Arturo Gatti visited Poland twice to get to know our country and its culture. He depicted many historical figures on the walls, including King Sobieski as the victorious commander of the battle of Vienna and the commanders of the battle known as the Miracle at the Vistula. Our symbol is also a picture of Merciful Jesus in the vision of Sr. Faustina, placed in the main altar. We wanted to visit the nearby cemetery of Polish soldiers fallen in Italy. Unfortunately, it was closed at noon. Standing under the metal gate we recited ‘Eternal rest’ and … we set off to our country. Rich in experiences and encounters we will certainly wander along the places of our pilgrimage many times, the pilgrimage that has introduced us to great saints and unique sites.