It started out as a simple request by a local parishioner asking her priest if he could plan a trip to Rome.
What came to be was a Nov. 1-11 Italy Pilgrimage visiting Venice, Florence, Assisi and Rome with 84 people filling two buses.
This most recent trip, led by Bishop James Powers and the Rev. John Anderson, follows another trip they led to the Holy Land in 2014.
The November pilgrimage was coordinated by Nawas International, which is known for being a leader in Catholic pilgrimages that explore the roots of their faith.
Making sacred journeys to holy sites is a long-held Catholic tradition. Because of the extraordinary popularity of Pope Francis, millions of Catholics are renewing their faith on a pilgrimage.
“I was excited to hear that Bishop Jim and Fr. John were going to host a Pilgrimage to Italy as we had such a great time on the Holy Land Pilgrimage,” said Terri Mikyska of Rice Lake. “It is always so great to travel with friends who share the same Catholic faith.
“The itinerary was vast with stops in Venice, Padua, Florence, Assisi and Rome,” Mikyska said. “The magnitude of the architectural and religious history was awe inspiring. Being able to visit the places that Saints had lived and walked was truly spiritually uplifting. Celebrating Holy Mass in these holy places and having an Audience with Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, made this even more special. There really wasn’t a day that was not special. I made new friends and many great memories.”
Also on the trip and Mikyska’s roommate was Patti Anderson of Haugen.
“I decided to travel with this Pilgrimage as Rome had been on my ‘bucket list’ for a very long time,” Anderson said. “When I read through the itinerary and saw that Venice was included, that was the clincher for me. My next door neighbors had been to Venice and loved it so, I had to go!”
Others from the area included Bette Adams, Dorothy Benevides-Rudoll, Elizabeth Johnson, Joyce Nelson, John Nelson, Eugene Sirianni, Sarrah Sirianni and James Stoll.
As word of the pilgrimage spread, friends, relatives and others in the Catholic faith coming from 25 places in Wisconsin, three cities in Minnesota and one each from Illinois, Nebraska and California expressed interest and without hesitation made a down payment a year in advance.
Blue cap brigade
“Terri and I started in a car to MSP International Airport and not on the bus that the others were traveling in,” Anderson said.
“We were on our way to an exciting adventure–meeting up with other pilgrims 3 hours before our flight left for Amsterdam, then on to Venice.”
Anderson shared, “We all were excited to meet each other, read name tags and to receive our wonderfully chic blue ball caps. The reason for the ball caps was identification of the group, and in days to come indeed they proved very helpful to many.
“They were not pretty, and did not help the hairdos, but then one did not have to worry too much about the hair, especially when my electrical thingy would not work, thus the curling iron would not work,” she said. “We traveled by coach/bus from city to city and the gondola ride was fun.”
Yet a lot of their adventures were by foot.
“We did do a great deal of walking,” Anderson said. “The brochure said make sure that you had comfortable shoes. For 2 months out, I wore a different pair of shoes each day to see which ones were the best. My two pair of Keens won, and off I went. There were many, many steps recorded on several counters; not me, I was mostly just in the moment.”
• First stop: Venice. The group boarded a double-decker boat for a tour of the city of waterways, gondolas and picturesque bridges, which has over 200 churches. Highlights included St. Mark’s Basilica, St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.
Next stop: Padua. Here they saw 72 statues of prominent people on a portico on the way to a private Mass at St. Anthony of Basilica. They said St. Anthony is the saint to pray to when you are looking for what has been lost.
• Onward to Florence: Home of Michelangelo’s David and the finest collection of Renaissance art in the world, where one of the landmarks is Doge’s Palace built in Venetian Gothic style. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, which was once a 100-room palace and is now a museum. It featured a 24-hour clock with no mechanism, a zodiac clock and the largest oil canvas in the world. Its ornate, marble ceilings inlaid with 24-carat gold and walls covered with paintings depicted true stories.
“Most people didn’t read,” Anderson said.
“This is how their history was passed on.”
At the Piazza Michelangelo, a square with a panoramic view of Florence, they heard that marble talked to the famed sculpture artist, and it was his aim to free what was inside the marble, calling his sculptured forms prisoners until they were completed.
• Off to Assisi: Arriving in the small, hillside city of Assisi, the group visited the Basilica of St. Francis, the Church of St. Clare and Saint Mary of Angels Basilica, which houses a Chapel of Roses featuring a mural of roses depicting the time when roses grew without thorns after Francis threw himself upon the bushes.
• Side trip to Orvieto: Detouring a bit from their itinerary, their bishop and priest led the group by trolley to Orvieto Cathedral. Described as “halfway between the Earth and sky,” it was settled before the Etruscans, who came before the Romans. It is the site of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, where it is believed that someone not believing that the bread and wine signified the body and blood of Christ saw drops of blood spilling from a host onto the altar cloth. That cloth is still preserved in the church.
• Final destination: Rome. On to the sacred site where pilgrims gather, they visited Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel. The group got to see Pope Francis from the square.
“The Pope in his pope mobile traveling within inches of us was a special feeling,” Anderson remarked. “St. Peter’s Square is massive and just breathtaking as you turn slowly to take in every inch of the area. It was most inspiring, and I hope that I came back a much better person for taking the same steps of the Christians before me.”
“It was jaw-dropping spectacular,” Anderson said of the experience as a whole. “I think that traveling with our bishop gave us a unique insight to the many wonders of Italy. Having Mass every day was a treat and the Mass in the crypt at St. Peter’s was probably the most inspiring. With dead Popes lying beside you in their glass coffins gave you the feeling of such holiness.”
Anderson added, “Of course the art and architecture were amazing and the history was so real that one felt so tiny in this vast world of long ago. I was taken that things were saved and not destroyed. Even in all the bombings during wars, these majestic churches were saved. Here in America some are tearing down our heritage and history. In Italy they embrace their treasures so.”
While most in their group were drawn to the ornate walls and ceilings of the structures they visited, Anderson was impressed by their floors.
She explained, “The floors of the basilicas, churches and the museums were so enchanting. The quilter in me saw quilts on the floors. Many blocks that we use today were placed there in marble scraps and leftovers to make these beautiful pieces of art on the floors. I took many photos of the floors as well as art and tapestries.”