Wednesday, October 23, 2013


As a convenience to those who were with us on the Holy Apostles Year of Faith Pilgrimage, here are the links to all my travel blogs listed in itinerary order.

I will eventually move on to other topics, so if you want to direct people to my blogs on Turkey and Rome please send them to this Pilgrimage Blogs Link Page. Simply copy and paste the following URL into your site dashboard or web-builder, or insert it into your email. It will link directly to this page. Thanks!

The Happy Wanderers!

Monday 30 September 2013
Our basic itinerary, which got changed a few times as the days unfolded.

Tuesday 1 October 2013
The name of our hotel was . . . Titanic? Really?

Wednesday 2 October 2013
Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit
Hagia Sophia
The Blue Mosque
Topkapi Palace

Thursday 3 October 2013
Mass at the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua
Church of the Holy Savior in Chora
The Grand Bazaar
Cruising the Bosphorus

Friday 4 October 2013
Roman Ruins
Basilica of St. John the Apostle
House of the Virgin Mary

Saturday 5 October 2013
Orphan Mosque at Iznik

Sunday 6 October 2013
Praying at the Tomb of St. Paul

Monday 7 October 2013
Rome by Night
Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major
Church of the Gesu
Basilica of St. Clement
Scala Sancta
Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Tuesday 8 October 2013
Our moving liturgy with Fr. Paul at the Cathedra Petri altar.
Plus, the fun story of how Ken got away with playing guitar at St. Peter's!

Tuesday 8 October 2013
Our memorable day at these two iconic sites.

Wednesday 9 October 2013
A day that will live in our hearts forever!

Thursday 10 October 2013
Our journey through "Miracle Country"
Santuario del Miracolo Eucaristico
Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

Friday 11 October 2013
Going out in style at Le Terme del Colosseo
(includes supper video)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Friday 11 October 2013


After a memorable liturgy at the Shrine of St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), we lingered for lunch, and then bid a fond farewell to the picturesque San Giovanni Rotondo. We had another long drive back to Rome, and this time we would hit rush-hour traffic going back into the Eternal City. Paul Granato and Father Paul promised us a wonderful surprise for dinner that night and we were all in eager anticipation.

About halfway to Rome we made a stop at the Santuario Maria Santissima Addolorata in Castelpetroso, a province of Isemia on the Molise region. This is a Marian apparition shrine but we were unable to enter the impressive castle-like church. If you can read Italian, here is information from their website:

Sure enough, we hit rush hour just at the outskirts of the City as the afternoon receded into twilight. Paul G. kept looking at his watch but he didn’t really look too concerned. Our buses dropped us off near the Colosseum and we took a long leisurely walk through a park and down a narrow alley in the gathering darkness. We sometimes had to duck out of the way as honking Minis edged their way past our large group of pedestrians.

Finally, we reached our destination: Le Terme del Colosseo! We stepped down through a dark doorway and were immediately enchanted by the site of several tables exquisitely set for a five-course dinner. The dining area was one long tunnel of exposed red brick, bordered on each side of the room by wood paneling through which soft lighting emerged. It was a wonderfully warm and inviting atmosphere.

As soon as we settled into our tables, the music started. We looked up from our conversations and out came three singers dressed in Renaissance attire. Waiters brought out the first antipasto course — I should really say they “danced” out the antipasto — as our three singers regaled us with the first of many popular Italian arias and ballads. This was magnifico! We were obviously in for a memorable evening together in this, our Last Supper together.

Rather than write about our dinner experience, I thought you might enjoy a slide show I put together, with many photos from Mike and Kamio Strassmaier. . .

(Video only viewable on computers, not on tablets or smartphones. You can also view it on YouTube by entering “Le Terme Last Supper” in the YouTube search field.)

Our days together seemed to go by so quickly, and yet two weeks are ample time for us to bond and get to know each other well. We began at the Cradle of Christianity in Constantinople (Istanbul) and Ephesus. We prayed in mosques and celebrated our Catholic liturgy at beautiful basilicas in Turkey. That only set the stage for our journey to Rome, and our prayerful walks through the major basilicas and other holy churches, through the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the remarkable General Audience with Pope Francis. We ended our journey through “miracle country” — Lanciano and San Giovanni Rotondo, where, through his holy relic, we were literally blessed by St. Pio of Pietrelcina himself. And at just about every step along the way, we celebrated the Eucharist.

So many memories! So much grace! Soon, it would be time to go home and tell our friends and loved ones about this wondrous pilgrimage. But now we all share a bond that will never be broken by distance or years. I am so grateful!

Thank you, Father Paul and Sister Mary! Thank you, Paul and Ann Granato! Thank you Deacon Matt and Audrey Sujkowski! Thank you, all my dear friends of Holy Apostles Year of Faith Pilgrimage 2013! I hope these blogs will be a remembrance of the amazing journey that we walked together. God bless you all!

In Christ’s love,

(Click on the “Fly Like a Bird” link above, then click the Play arrow on the web page to hear the recording that Jesse Manibusan and I recorded of my song.)

Monday, October 21, 2013


Thursday 10 October 2013


Italy is a land of deep faith. Besides Rome, there is Assisi, legendary hometown of Saint Francis. The country is literally dotted with communities where miracles gave witness to God’s presence at work in the lives of people whose faith was strengthened by unexplained phenomena. Today we left Rome to explore two such communities.

Lanciano is a good 4-hour drive through the scenic Italian countryside. It was a leisurely road trip through rural greenery, hillside villas, deep mountainous tunnels, and occasional glimpses of the Adriatic Sea. Lanciano is a town of 36,000 in the province of Chieti which is part of the Abruzzo region of central Italy. A quaint villa with a decidedly old-world layout of narrow streets, shops and cafes, the people of Lanciano would have been content to live in relative obscurity if not for a miraculous event that would forever put the town on the map.

From the brochure of the Sanctuario del Miracolo Eucaristico:
This wondrous event took place in the 8th century in the little church of St. Legontian, as a divine response to a Basilian monk’s doubt about Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist. During Holy Mass, after the two-fold consecration, the host was changed into live Flesh and the wine was changed into live Blood which coagulated into five globules, irregular and differing in shape and size.
The host-Flesh, as can be distinctly observed today, has the same dimensions as the large host used today in the Latin church. It is light brown and appears rose-colored when lighted from the back. The Blood is coagulated and has an earthly color resembling the yellow of ochre…
Various ecclesiastical investigations were conducted since 1574. In 1970 and again in 1981, there took place a scientific investigation by the most illustrious scientist Prof. Odoardo Linoli, eminent Professor in Anatomy and Pathological Histology and in Chemistry and Clinical Microcopy. These analyses sustained the following conclusions:
The Flesh is real flesh. The Blood is real blood.
The Flesh and Blood belong to the human species…
The preservation of the Flesh and of the Blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.

In summary, when an 8th century priest doubted the Catholic Church’s core teaching that the bread and wine at Mass become the Body and Blood of Christ, the bread and wine he consecrated at his liturgy actually became human flesh and blood.

Is it true? You saw the account of scientific investigations above. The Flesh and Blood remain miraculously preserved 12 centuries after the miracle took place. It is a private devotion and the Church has apparently not ruled against it. Whether one believes this miracle or not, what is real is the tangible faith that has been invested in this sacred space since the 8th century.

We celebrated Mass with Father Paul in the sanctuary and, afterward, we each took turns approaching the monstrance and chalice where the Flesh and Blood are preserved. I cannot deny that there was definitely a divine presence there that penetrated my heart and soul like nothing before.

Our Lanciano pilgrimage completed, we boarded our buses and headed south toward San Giovanni Rotondo, home of Padre Pio.

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Friday 11 October 2013


San Giovanni Rotondo, a picturesque hillside community of 26,400 in the province of Foggia, is the home of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, known popularly as “Padre Pio.”

From a brochure of the San Pio Shrine:

Francesco Forgione, the future Padre Pio, one of five children, was born of simple, hardworking farming people on 25 May 1887 in Pietrelcina, southern Italy. Frencesco had a normal, happy childhood with adequate clothing and good, simple food. At the age of 5 he had already decided to dedicate his life entirely to God in the priesthood. At this tender age, he was also the object of the devil’s attacks but, on the other hand, this was compensated for with heavenly visions…
He entered the Capuchin novitiate at Morcone and, with the help of grace, completed the required studies and was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 at the age of 23. Padre Pio’s health was quite precarious so that, with the required permission, he was obliged to live outside the friary, retaining the Capuchin habit.

As a priest, Padre Pio was considered a master of spiritual direction and a compassionate confessor. He preached holiness and perfection in spirit, following the example of the Good Shepherd. There are reported miracles that served as witness to his ministry, including bilocation, and levitation during moments of deep prayer. Most notably, he received the blessing of the stigmata, the bloody Five Wounds of Christ, on his hands, feet and side. His entire life was a witness to redemptive suffering. In San Giovanni Rotondo, he founded a hospital and medical research center, the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (Home for the Relief of the Suffering). Padre Pio was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

At the Pilgrimage Church, Father Paul blessed each of us with a Padre Pio relic: the fingerless glove that covered his wounded hand. We then celebrated Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace. At the end of our liturgy, in honor of the saint’s Capuchin order, we sang “Prayer of St. Francis” by Sebastian Temple. As we sang the classic folk hymn, a Capuchin monk was standing near us with the biggest grin on his face. He told me after Mass that he didn’t speak much English but he certainly understood the hymn and enjoyed that we sang about St. Francis in Padre Pio’s church.

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Whether or not one believes in the miracles of Lanciano or Padre Pio, there is no denying the miracle of souls brought closer to God because of the faith that is so real and so evident in these two sacred locales. I close with a famous quote from St. Thomas Aquinas that is deeply associated with the miracle of Our Lady of Lourdes in France:

"For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible."

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, pray for us.

(Thanks again to Mike Strassmaier for generously sharing his photos.)

NEXT BLOG: Our “Last Supper” in Rome


Wednesday 9 October 2013


Any event involving the Pope is going to be an exercise in patience and crowd control. I experienced this in 1987 when Pope John Paul II visited San Francisco, and again in 2002 at Toronto for John Paul’s final World Youth Day. And now, here I am at the Vatican with over 70,000 other people at St. Peter’s Square, waiting patiently for an audience with the new Pope Francis. This is very exciting and one can feel the electricity in the air.

Our group left the hotel early at 7:00am to get good seats in the Square. At least we thought it was early. By the time we arrived at St. Peter’s half an hour later, the crush of people was overwhelming. All thoughts of good seating went out the window as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a sea of humanity for what seemed like an eternity. The line was not moving at all, and I was starting to get claustrophobic. So I pulled out my Rosary and prayed silently through two sets of mysteries (the Joyful and the Luminous) before we finally cleared the security checkpoint.

We hurried quickly through the back section of the Square and my heart sank with the realization that we might be on our feet for four hours. There were no chairs here in what was obviously a standing-room-only section. But then, we looked ahead and saw two of our friends, Bill and Ann Christman, waving from the top of plastic chairs in the middle section. Yay! We ran over, happily took our seats and settled in for the long wait. (I joked with Bill and Ann later that they were obviously experienced in finding good seats at festival rock concerts!)

The time was now 8:00am and the Papal Audience was scheduled to begin at 10:30. It started raining, of course, and out came the umbrellas. I’m an Oregonian so I don’t do umbrellas. I just put on my woolie hat and my rainproof windbreaker and sat out the precipitation. I had been waking up at 4:00am every day of our trip, so I easily fell into a deep nap, rain and all.

When I awoke 20 minutes later, a warm shining sun nudged us into removing our coats. The empty reserved chairs in front of us were filling up with a very large and loud group. Based on their red and white flags, I surmised they were from Malta, an island nation on the Mediterranean, south of Italy.

Suddenly, an emcee’s voice resounded over the loud speakers. In Italian, he was introducing the various groups of pilgrims, who each cheered loudly and waved their flags when they heard their names. It was not a bad way to keep the crowd occupied during the long wait. When an English-speaking emcee took the microphone, our group sat up in anticipation as he announced groups from Britain and Australia and the United States. After several minutes, we were disappointed when the Italian emcee returned. Our name was not announced but we cheered anyway.

I looked at my watch and it was 10:00. The entire crowd erupted into a loud cheer as people stood on their feet. The big-screen TV monitors revealed the reason: Pope Francis had arrived! There he was, standing in his open-air Popemobile as it drove slowly through the Square. He was smiling broadly as he blessed the crowd, reaching out to shake hands and kissing babies who were brought up to him. The Holy Father’s magnetism was electrifying and not even dampened by the pouring rain. Our cameras were snapping away and a few of us got some terrific shots as he drove past us. Around 10:30, the Popemobile arrived in front of the basilica and Pope Francis took his seat on a platform underneath a canopy.

By its very nature as a multi-lingual event, a General Audience of the Pope follows a very structured format. After an opening prayer, a reading from Scripture is proclaimed — today from the Gospel of John, chapter 17: Christ’s prayer for unity. The Holy Father then shares his reflections on this Scripture passage in Italian. He is followed by several cardinals representing several cultural groups as they speak in Arabic, Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish. Each cardinal thanks the Holy Father in the name of his cultural group, then gives a summary of the Pope’s talk in his group’s language. That is followed by brief remarks from Pope Francis geared specifically to each group, who hear a translation afterward by their cardinal. Because of the many languages involved, it takes some time for this process to unfold. After the final group has been addressed, we all stand and join the Holy Father in singing the Lord’s Prayer in Latin. He then concludes the General Audience by giving us his Apostolic Blessing.

This structure sounds very formal on paper but, as can be seen from the video below, Pope Francis often put his paper down and spoke to us from his heart. Today his message centered on Unity with Christ, and how the rich diversity of the Church is a true blessing from God. “Our differences make the Church beautiful,” said the Holy Father.

Our audience with Pope Francis was a shared experience that we will treasure always. Here are some links to his prepared text, plus a terrific video with English subtitles.

Click here for official English text of the Pope's remarks from our General Audience (Vatican website).

Click here for the complete coverage of our General Audience from Rome Reports.

Special thanks to Mike Strassmaier for his awesome photos! Here are a few more . . .


Tuesday 8 October 2013


We’re on a pilgrimage, so I try to pray at all the holy sites that we visit. That prayer has sometimes been deep and powerful — for example, at the tombs of St. John and St. Paul. But after our morning liturgy at St. Peter’s, when we returned to the basilica with our tour guide Paolo, it felt more like we were at a museum than at a house of worship. That’s not the basilica’s fault. St. Peter’s, covering about 15,500 square yards and reaching up 150 feet high, is overwhelming, historic, and very much a product of the Renaissance style from which it was birthed. Around 7 million people come to St. Peter’s annually, making it among the most visited sacred sites in the world. So, of course, the basilica will be crowded, busy and noisy on any given day.

All the churches and mosques we have visited are covered almost wall-to-wall with beautiful art or — in the case of the mosques where no images are allowed — exquisite architectural design. St. Peter’s magnifies that art-sharing a hundredfold. Its ornate columns, gold-leafed walls, paintings and statues were created by a Who’s Who of the Renaissance era: Raphael, Brunelleschi, Bernini, Michelangelo, and more. The obvious response from visiting pilgrims is jaw-dropping awe and camera snapping, plus a fair amount of pushing and shoving, especially at popular areas like the Pieta or the Tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII. In large crowds I start praying the Rosary silently. I find that it calms me and centers me, and on a pilgrimage it keeps me focused on the reason I am here.

I often hear comments from people along the lines of, “Such opulence! The Church should sell these treasures and give the money to the poor.” I admit I sometimes had that viewpoint when I was younger but I have since come to a more thoughtful understanding of the art and architecture of the Vatican.

1. These statues, paintings and buildings were commissioned by the Church during the Renaissance from the finest artists of the day. They are true works of art that reflect the baroque “over-the-top” style of that period — perhaps not the artistic cup of tea for many people of the 21st century but certainly worthy of preservation for future generations.
2. If the Church were to sell these art treasures, who would buy them? What would happen to them? Would the new owners (assuming someone could actually afford them) continue to share them with the public for the whole world to see? Would they be displayed in a respectful setting that would inspire visitors to prayer and faith?
3. Why is the Catholic Church always singled out with this question? The Anglican Westminster Abbey in London is filled with paintings and tapestries that attract millions of visitors annually. As we saw in Turkey, the Muslim faith also has relics and sacred treasures on public display at Topkapi Palace, not to mention the magnificence of the Blue Mosque. One never hears criticism of these sacred places. In fact, the Muslim community utilizes the Topkapi display of its sacred treasures as an opportunity to edify the faithful, and to educate people who might be curious to learn more about the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. So the Catholic Church isn’t the only faith community to understand and appreciate the value of sacred art.

Here are a few more photos of the sacred art of St. Peter’s Basilica:

Click here for the official Vatican website on St. Peter's Basilica.

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We were in St. Peter’s for only 90 minutes. I could have spent a whole week! But now it was time to move on to the Vatican Museum, which climaxes at the incomparable Sistine Chapel.

Seemed like the museum entrance was at least two miles away from St. Peter’s Square. More walking, more waiting in long lines. Along the way I was very amused to see a restaurant with a clever name that is a play on “Habemus Papam,” the Latin words used to announce the election of a new Holy Father (“We have a pope!”).

The Vatican Museum is basically a “stage wait” that leads to the REAL event: the Sistine Chapel. That’s not to denigrate the beautiful art that precedes the museum’s climax — everything from ancient Roman statuary to medieval tapestries to Renaissance ceiling frescoes. . .

But anticipation for the Sistine Chapel was certainly high as we eagerly awaited our chance to set foot in that renowned sacred space. Briefly, it’s the chapel of the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. It takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who began the chapel’s restoration in 1477. Perhaps the most definitive renovation was Pope Julius II’s commissioning of Michelangelo to paint the ceiling frescoes in 1508. Later, Pope Paul III commissioned the artist to return and paint the frescoes of Last Judgment over the altar in 1535.

I was in awe as we entered the chapel, which was wall-to-wall with a hushed crowd of people. Photography was NOT allowed. In fact, one young man who snapped a photo was promptly removed by security. So the images I share below are lifted from official photos from the Vatican website.

I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the intricate artistry of Michelangelo, who spent fours years lying on his back on top of scaffolding. That he was able to create a masterpiece under such challenging circumstances staggered my imagination.

The Sistine Chapel is, of course, renowned as the location where the College of Cardinals holds the Conclave that elects a new pope. We saw this most recently with the election of Pope Francis last spring (March 2013). But if you missed seeing that on television, I highly recommend that you check out the 1968 movie The Shoes of the Fisherman starring Anthony Quinn as a the first Russian pope. It is perhaps the most vivid cinematic portrayal of the ritual and traditions of the Papal Conclave, and the Vatican gave permission to the producers to film right in the Sistine Chapel. Absolutely fascinating and educational!

Click here for a link to the Shoes of the Fisherman DVD on Amazon.

Click here for more detailed info on the Sistine Chapel from the website of the Vatican Museum. Includes virtual tour of the chapel.

NEXT BLOG: General Audience with Pope Francis.