Good Friday

IMG_0883Golgotha. Rock, or Place, of the Skull.

Skull because it might have been a site of public execution, thus, skulls and bones strewn about the area.

Skull because a cemetery may have stood nearby. We know that they took Him to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, only a short distance away.

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There may have been other tombs in proximity.

Skull because the contours of the rocky hill itself may have resembled a skull.

Skull because Jews of the time held to a tradition that it was the ultimate burial place of the skull of Adam.

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In all cases, the evocation is death. Not, the immediate gore and blood of the moment of the death, the final gasp or last struggle. But rather, what remains to posterity once the vultures have cleaned all the carrion, and the sun has dried away all else that remains, leaving nothing but dusty rocks studded with bones, soon to dust themselves.

Death, the eternal moment. The forever, a sun-baked, air-soaked dust cloud of nothing.

At least, until this Man named Jesus.

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In the Path of Totality

Yesterday we (along with Fr. A) piled into the Megavan, hitched up the new travel trailer, and drove north for almost 500 miles in order to place ourselves within the narrow band in which the shadow of the moon will fall upon our Earth. After five hours sleep, we were up, cooking pancakes and sipping coffee and thanking our hosts for letting us camp in their front yard. Until about 48 hours ago, this wasn’t the plan, but, the unforgettable is rarely planned. 

UPDATE:

AMAZING, AWESOME


This photo, although pretty cool, doesn’t really show what it was like. This is too much like a sun with a dot in the middle. Actually the black of the moon was so intense and in contrast surrounded by a most vibrant WHITE ring with wisps of misty light emanating from the ring. 

A Pilgrimage Site in Rome for the “Saint of Auschwitz”

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe is most keenly associated with where he met his end, as a martyr imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz, who ultimately gave his life in exchange for the life of another man. But, if you happened to be on a pilgrimage to Rome rather than Poland, you could nevertheless bring your intentions to St. Maximilian.

Near the Spanish Steps, is the basilica of Sant’Andrea della Fratte (St. Andrew “of the bushes”). St. Maximilian said his first Mass there in the side chapel known as the “Chapel of the Miracle” or the “Chapel of the Miraculous Madonna” on April 29, 1918. The pews in the basilica are normally oriented in the direction of this Chapel, in honor of the miracle (story in greater detail found here) that occurred there.

A French Jew named Alphonse Ratisbonne was visiting a Roman nobleman (a Catholic), and in the midst of a conversation with this Baron, Ratisbonne became very critical of the “superstitions” of Catholics. The Baron challenged Ratisbonne to wear the Miraculous Medal and recite one Memorare each day, and Ratisbonne agreed, reasoning that even if it did him no good, it would do him no harm either. Meanwhile, the Baron and his aristocratic friends began praying for Ratisbonne’s conversion.

On January 20, 1842, Ratisbonne encountered the Baron on the way to arrange the funeral of a friend who suddenly died at Sant’Andrea della Fratte, and asked Ratisbonne to accompany him into the church while the Baron went to the sacristy to make the arrangements. As Ratisbonne stood before the side altar dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him.

According to this account:

Standing over the altar, Our Lady appeared wearing a crown and a simple long white tunic with a jeweled belt around her waist and blue-green mantle draped over her left shoulder. She gazed at him affably; her hands were open spreading rays of graces. Her bearing was quite regal, not just because of the crown she was wearing. Rather, her height and elegance gave the impression of a great lady, fully conscious of her own dignity. She transmitted both grandeur and mercy in an atmosphere of great peace. She had some of the characteristics of Our Lady of Graces. Alphonse Ratisbonne saw this figure and understood that he was before an apparition of the Mother of God. He knelt down before her and converted.

Returning from the sacristy, the Baron was surprised to see the Jew fervently praying on his knees before the altar of St. Michael the Archangel. He helped his friend to his feet, and Ratisbonne immediately asked to go to a confessor so he could receive Baptism. Eleven days later, on January 31, he received Baptism, Confirmation and his First Communion from the hands of Cardinal Patrizi, the Vicar of the Pope.

Following his conversion, Ratisbonne went on to become a Jesuit priest, and the Catholic world learned of the miracle associated with his conversion and was “impressed by it”.

It’s interesting to ponder that 99 years after Our Lady’s miraculous appearance and Fr. Ratisbonne’s conversion at the same altar where St. Maximilian said his first Mass in 1918, St. Maximilian was martyred.

Fr. Ratisbonne, pray for us!
St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Miracle, pray for us! 

Update on Hagia Sophia

IMG_0750Earlier this year, I posted about my New Year’s Day visit to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  Shortly after my trip, the terrorist bombing of some German tourists at Sultanahmet Square occurred, which was especially alarming to me because I stood at the precise location of the explosion on my way to visit Hagia Sophia a few days before.

In that post about the visit, I wrote:

Before entering the main floor of the Hagia Sophia, our tour guide briefly introduced its history to us, and I’ll never forget the way he did so: he told us that we were “very fortunate to be here today, when Hagia Sophia is still a museum. Turkey is changing,” he said, “and soon Hagia Sophia will be a mosque again. So it is fortunate you are here now, before that happens.” This fellow, with his black leather biker jacket and designed jeans, did not strike me as especially religious. Yet, he spoke with a sort of certainty that filled me with dread.

So, since that visit I’ve noticed a number of news articles concerning the Hagia Sophia. It seems that the warning about re-converting the Hagia to a mosque has essentially proven true.

This article (as well as others elsewhere) states that an imam began leading prayers at Hagia Sophia during Ramadan, and the Turkish press agency Anadolu reports that “…the National Office of Religious Affairs and the Mufti of Fathi in Constantinople jointly decided to appoint a permanent Imam for the Hagia Sophia” and to perform on a “daily basis” the five daily calls to prayer there. The linked article “With the appointment of the Imam, the transformation into a mosque is actually accomplished, independently of an explicit decision.”

Pray for Turkey, and the Christians who remain there.

“Son of Quartermaster” Reports on Food in China

FullSizeRenderQuartermaster’s Note: This is a “guest post” by my oldest son, a 13-year-old beginning 8th grade this year, who traveled with me to China this Summer.

In China there were many times when our group would sit down to a meal, and just be blown away, by food that didn’t even cost half the amount of a much lower-standard American Chinese restaurant, but looked and tasted three times as good!! In this way Chinese cuisine in China was on a whole other level.

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A chef at a restaurant in Beijing preparing to serve the famous “Peking Duck”

One of the things noticeably different in the places we ate, yet such an improvement, was the lack of fried flavorless meat with an overwhelmingly sticky sweet sauce (e.g., lemon chicken, General Tso chicken, orange beef, etc.). Instead, meat was carefully cut according to its cooking method, seasoned and flavored with things like cumin, Szechuan peppercorns, all sorts of other interesting spices and ingredients, and without heavy doses of syrup or sugar.

There were lots of interesting proteins to try: in addition to chicken and beef, we enjoyed pork, lamb, mutton, duck, and an array of fresh seafood. One of my favorite dishes was lamb cut into strips and stir-fried in a hot wok with lots of different spicy peppers and cumin. It was brought to the table atop a little portable stove that kept the aromatic meat sizzling through the meal.

With at least one vegetarian in our group at all times, we enjoyed lots of different

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American fast food such as KFC is fairly popular in large Chinese cities, but we were too busy enjoying all the authentic Chinese food to try it

vegetables and tofu. I don’t normally like tofu, in part because it’s rather flavorless, but the preparations of it in China were varied in terms of texture and cooking method — we sampled it in soups, cubed and deep-fried or cut into ribbons and stir-fried. Generally, tofu actually tasted like something edible, and since we always had other dishes with meats at mealtime, the amazingness of the meat balanced out the quantity of tofu, so that the tofu dishes became another fun thing to try.

During my visit to China I learned some things about stereotypes concerning Chinese food. For example, dog as food is not as widely accepted in China as the stereotype suggests. In fact, one of our hosts in Taiyuan shared his experience that animals like dogs and mules are sometimes consumed as food in China, but usually eaten only in certain areas and at specific times, like special festivals. He also told us that he would not eat the meat of an animal that he knew has been mistreated.

Picture2Soy sauce is a universal condiment at the Chinese restaurant in the United States, but not something you find on the table in China; it’s still an ingredient in cooking, but it is far more common to find a condiment such as hot chili oil or malt vinegar (certain provinces, such as Shanxi, are famous for special vinegars). All you salty rice lovers, being your own soy sauce.

The weirdest thing I ate in China was definitely scorpion, which we tried on Wong fu Jing street in Beijing. It was my first fried arachnid, and while crunching into something with tiny little legs and a stinger was a new experience, the taste was similar to crispy fried chicken skin, and hence, not bad. The most upsetting part of the experience with eating scorpion was watching the live ones that had been skewered and anchored in display baskets, waiting for their turn in the fryer, squirming around while remaining fixed in place.

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YUM!

As a seafood lover who is especially fond of sushi, I enjoyed visiting the local markets in Beijing, which had an absolute top notch selection of not only fresh and live fish, but all sorts of shellfish, shrimp, crab, octopus and squid, oysters, claims and other mollusks. We saw an amazing variety of things from the sea during our visit.

IMG_1918My personal food favorite of the trip definitely goes to the dumplings (“Jiaozi”). Unlike potstickers common in American restaurants, jiaozi are steamed and very tender. The dumplings contain a delicious mix of meat and vegetable, and usually a little “soup” that escapes when you bite into one. They are served with vinegar and chili oil. I enjoyed them so much, and literally ate dozens of them during the trip.

My trip to China this summer was one of the most tantalizingly awesome trips I have ever embarked upon, for me and my palate. I hope to travel there again very soon, and for anyone reading this, I hope that that your experiences involving China are filled not only with God’s love and grace, but also with the amazing Chinese  cuisine that I love so much.

China Pilgrimage Series: Our Lady of Graces in Bansishan

Recently, my oldest son and I returned from a pilgrimage and mission trip to the People’s Republic of China. I hope to share (in a series of posts in the coming weeks) some of what we saw and experienced.

Shanxi Province 

IMG_2067The capital city of Taiyuan is approximately 514 km west of the city of Beijing, with a population of 4 million (source: Wikipedia), and seat to the Archdiocese of Taiyuan and Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (source: UCANews).

Relative to other provinces in China, the treatment of the Catholic Church there is somewhat more relaxed. For example, there is very little distinction between that “above-ground” Patriotic Association Church and the otherwise “underground” Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

One small clue that this is so can be found in the picture below, outside the Cathedral. A great many churches in China are obscured by a wall or have some barrier between them and the facing street. Here, however, the very short fence is used to stand posters about the teachings of Catholicism, and on the public sidewalk there were two tables, with stools and umbrellas, with an array of Catholic tracts for passers-by.

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Bansishan 

One of two official pilgrimage sites in the Archdiocese of Taiyuan is Our Lady of Grace Portiuncula Basilica on Bansishan (a mountain). (Source: UCANews). Approximately 100 km north of Taiyuan and 1760 meters above sea level, pilgrims access the Basilica by ascending a winding narrow dirt road that is punctuated by Stations of the Cross monuments carved in stone. (Source: UCANews).

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According to local tradition, Mary appeared at Bansishan in 1783 and opened the eyes of a blind child. A Franciscan bishop built a church on the site, and another Franciscan bishop later rebuilt it. (Source: UCANews).

IMG_2106While many pilgrims, particularly the local Chinese Catholics, make their 10 km ascent to the Basilica on foot, we made our way aboard a small bus that gasped and choked from overheat when we arrived. I’m glad that I didn’t know that at least once before a coach loaded with pilgrims has overturned on the rugged road, but miraculously, passengers received only minor injuries. (Source: UCANews).

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Looking toward the mountain top with the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Atop the mountain sits the Basilica. Thousands of pilgrims make their way there on August 2 each year to receive the “Portiuncula Indulgence”. This year, for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the doors of the Basilica have been designated as one of nine holy doors within the Archdiocese. When they were first opened on January 13, “more than 10,000 Catholics, coming on foot or in long lines of vehicles braved the freezing weather of minus 16 degrees Celsius at the pilgrimage site.” (Source: Sunday Examiner).

While the government of the Shanxi Province treats the Church more diffidently than elsewhere in China, it’s not as though Bansishan hasn’t been through its share of upheavals. In 1966, it was demolished by the Red Guards. It was rebuilt beginning in 1988. (Source: sacredarchitecture.org). As recently as 2008, the local government has interfered with pilgrims making their way to the shrine. On May 24 of that year, “thousands of police” blocked the access road to stop the pilgrims from reaching the Basilica, who were forced to return home. “According to eyewitnesses, the police forces greatly outnumbered the pilgrims.” (Source: asianews).

IMG_2120Further up the mountain, which we hiked, is a rosary garden currently under construction, as well as a golden statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the crest. While atop the mountain, at the foot of the Sacred Heart statue, our pilgrimage group prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before we wended our way back down the mountain for our return to Taiyuan.

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A St. Peter’s Basilica Photo Quiz!

Here’s a little fun on this last Friday of Lent as we await the start of the Vigil of St. Joseph.

On my most recent Retreat, I took a few different books with me, but the one that surprised me most was Professor Warren Carroll’s Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Conquest of Darkness.1

I had little idea that a book about a 500-year-old Mexican apparition would provide such a wealth of insight for my travels in Turkey and Italy. I can’t even explain what caused me to bring it along, other than it was among the stack of books I’m perennially working to reduce.

Friend, if you don’t know very much about Our Lady of Guadalupe, or why the apparition is relevant to us today, then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this book and read it. At a mere 115 pages, it is approachable for anyone, and you will find it enriching and also spiritually beneficial.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is important. Don’t take my word for it. Someone in the Vatican thinks so too. Imagine my surprise when, somewhere inside St. Peter’s Basilica, I stumbled upon this:

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Perhaps you can identify where this is inside the Basilica, and if you can, and if you read Carroll’s book (or know about Our Lady of Guadalupe), then you can begin to infer the meaning behind why it’s there. The placement, relative to things outside the picture and also in orientation to the other objects in the picture, is very unusual.

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1 Professor Carroll was the founder of Christendom College. I recently posted a review of his book on Our Lady of Fatima and the events 0f 1917, here.  I’m currently in the midst of his book on the French Revolution entitled The Guillotine and the Cross. Carroll may well be my favorite history writer of all time.

Hagia Sophia: “it is fortunate you are here now”

This past New Year’s Eve, I found myself stranded in Istanbul, Turkey. My final destination was Rome and Assisi, but an irresistibly cheap fare (that included what was supposed to be just a two-hour layover at Ataturk Airport) carried me hundreds of miles past the Apennine Peninsula to the threshold of Asia Minor, where a winter storm caused the cancellation of dozens of flights, including my connection.

Due to the weather, thousands of people were stranded at the airport. Islamic pilgrims making Hajj to Mecca assembled at gates for flights to Jeddah who appeared as stranded as I was (perhaps more so, given the limitations of their garb: flowing white linen robes and sandals, little protection from the inches of snow that continued accumulating outside).

Even the airline’s hotel desk in the main terminal was inaccessible. The line to the counter, five or six persons wide, trailed like an interminable serpent through the airport – slow and languid, like a reptile placed in the freezer. So I resolved to strike out on my own. I Kayaked my way to a reservation for the night at a nearby Courtyard by Marriott, and thanks to the hotel’s free shuttle service, easily made it there.

In place of the steeples and crosses across the skyline of any Western city, in Istanbul there are minarets and golden crescents. was the foreigner — not just in terms of language and color, but creed as well. Were I in Rome at that moment, I would have considered myself practically at home, compared to Istanbul.

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The snow continued to fall that night, and after dinner in the hotel restaurant, I returned to my room for sleep. I greeted the New Year in dormition. Sometime in the morning hours, the snowfall and clouds abandoned Turkish skies, giving way to a morning of crystal blue against fresh white.

I returned to the airport before breakfast, although my flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until the evening. I did so because I found out that the airline offered a free tour of Istanbul for delayed passengers, complete with tour guide, tour bus, breakfast and lunch. The tour would include a visit to Hagia Sophia, or “Holy Wisdom”.

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A wonder of the world, construction of this edifice began in 537 A.D., and was originally the patriarchal basilica of the Patriarch of Constantinople, making it almost a millennia more ancient than the current St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It was also the world’s largest cathedral until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

IMG_0768In 1453 the Ottoman Turks invaded Constantinople and took possession of the city. Sultan Mehmed II permitted his troops three days of unchecked terror over the city, including the Hagia Sophia. The seat of Byzantium, and the place where Holy Roman Emperors standing in the “center of the world” received their crowns, was pillaged and desecrated. Holy relics were secreted away from the Hagia Sophia lest they be desecrated also.

Christian refugees prayed the Liturgy of the Hours within the Hagia Sophia during the siege. The invading horde entered the basilica to find Christians — priests, women, children and the elderly — who had taken refuge there. Trapped within, women and girls were raped, and enslaved, violated or killed along with the rest.

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Grafitti

Soon thereafter the Sultan ordered that the Hagia Sophia be converted to a mosque. Minarets and other Islamic elements were added to the structure and interior.

Today, Hagia Sophia is a museum. Our tour guide, a Muslim, maintained that in the centuries of the Hagia Sophia being in Islamic possession, nothing was ever intentionally damaged or destroyed. This is simply and patently false.

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Apart from the fact that Sultan Mehmed II permitted his soldiers to pilfer the entire city, including Hagia Sophia, in the years that followed, mosque workers indulged in removing stones from the mosaics on the walls, and oftentimes sold them to visitors. You can clearly see that anywhere that a mosaic is within reach, the stones from the mosaic have been removed. Only the parts of the images outside ordinary reach remain intact. Upper images (including the ones revealed by fallen plaster) are almost entirely whole.

IMG_0808In addition, there is the extensive use of plaster throughout the vaulting on the upper walls and in the dome of the structure, which covers a host of Christian images. Some claim that these precious works were covered with plaster to protect them from further damage. But there was the secondary benefit of putting them out of sight and hiding the historical reality of the building.

IMG_0811The building is in a perpetual state of crumble, so that plaster frequently falls off surfaces revealing beautiful Christian artwork and imagery underneath, creating problems for the Turkish authorities who must decide whether to permit such works to remain in view, or be covered again.

Turkey’s last century saw the formation of a secular government, efforts at Western-style democracy, and alliance with the United States. But that is slowly changing. Islamist political movements are growing in power. The hijab – once banned from schools and other public places like government buildings – is in resurgence.

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Before entering the main floor of the Hagia Sophia, our tour guide briefly introduced its history to us, and I’ll never forget the way he did so: he told us that we were “very fortunate to be here today, when Hagia Sophia is still a museum. Turkey is changing,” he said, “and soon Hagia Sophia will be a mosque again. So it is fortunate you are here now, before that happens.” This fellow, with his black leather biker jacket and designed jeans, did not strike me as especially religious. Yet, he spoke with a sort of certainty that filled me with dread.

IMG_0831Despite how resolute he was, I might have dismissed what he said, except that there are prominent leaders in Turkey who apparently share the same view. The conversion of Hagia Sophia is a movement that’s been growing for at least ten years. Most recently, in 2015 the Mufti of Ankara, apparently in retaliation for the acknowledgment by Pope Francis of the Armenian Genocide, stated that he believes the conversion into a mosque will be accelerated.

Once I made it inside, I cast my eyes upward to take in the magnificent main dome, surrounded by four six-winged angels. And then I moved to the second floor gallery in search of the best-preserved mosaics.

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I wanted, more than anything else, to see the famed Deësis mosaic: Christ on Judgment Day, flanked on his right by Our Lady, and St. John the Baptist on his left. All that remains of this treasure (after years of stones peeled off by miscreants) is the upper half of Jesus and St. John, and the head and shoulder of the Blessed Virgin.

I stood there, beholding the soft blue eyes and still vibrant lavender of Mary’s raiment, Jesus’ hand raised mid-action, His gaze suffused with Divine countenance, and – possibly best of all – John’s wild flowing locks blown in the wind of the Holy Spirit, and his noble head inclined toward God and Man.

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I choked up. I felt gratitude, to receive such a moment of blessing. I felt anger, indignant at the vandals who picked over such sacredness and the interlopers who besmirched it. I felt sadness at the manifested disunity and conflict of this fallen world, the usurpation of just dignity.

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But more than all else, I felt joy. The Hagia Sophia is a place that once contained Our Lord’s own Real Presence. Yet, today we can not now be seen visibly praying there. It is against the law. Yet, I was praying. I was in communion, and living proof that Christ is, was, and ever will be Sovereign of all. Come what may, whether here, or anywhere.

A Report for Pilgrims to Rome for the Jubilee “Year of Mercy”

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This week I returned home from my annual spiritual retreat and pilgrimage. My itinerary included visiting Istanbul, Assisi and Rome. This post reports some considerations for pilgrims to Rome during this Extraordinary Jubilee for the “Year of Mercy”. By following the suggestions outlined here, you will be better able to plan and anticipate your journey, and draw the most you can from it.

1. Anticipate Lines and Crowds, especially “On-Season”

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Line for entry at St. Peter’s

I have never visited Rome in the summer, because everyone says that it’s unbearably hot, so hot that the Romans escape the city — especially in August — and there are vast crowds of tourists and pilgrims for every attraction. If you can possibly manage it, I would suggest making a pilgrimage in the early spring or late autumn to avoid the most extreme heat and crowds. And, I can attest that right now is a wonderful time to visit, if you don’t mind slightly cooler temperatures and even fewer people everywhere.

Historically, Jubilee years equal greater than average numbers of people descending upon the city. Shopkeepers, restaurants and hotels anticipate additional revenue from a Jubilee. Some early reports are indicating that the numbers of pilgrims at the start of the Jubilee are falling short of original expectations, and there are a couple of potential reasons for this. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t expect a visit to Rome this year to be “normal”.

2. Be Prepared for Security Checks at All Four Major Papal Basilicas

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Military guard at St. Paul Outside the Walls

On my trip, I visited all four major papal basilicas (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul Outside the Walls), and I witnessed the security measures undertaken to keep tourists and pilgrims safe. Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you know that Islamic terrorists have explicitly referred to Rome multiple times as a potential target for attack.

As a result, the first thing you will see when you visit these sites is a military presence, complete with Humvee-style vehicles parked nearby, soldiers armed with assault rifles (and a significant number of police also), cordons around each basilica complex, single points of entry and exit for tourists and pilgrims, and metal detectors and x-ray machines.

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Security check at Santa Maria Maggiore

It’s a shame that in order to visit a house of peace and prayer you will be reminded of the threat of terrorist violence, but this is the new reality in which we presently live. The purpose of the security measures is to protect the individuals who visit and the sacred places themselves, and so we can accept the minor inconvenience and anxiety without letting it ruin the purpose of the visit.

At a minimum, you should expect to add at least 15-20 minutes (and during busier periods you would probably want to at least double this amount of time) to pass security. It goes without saying that if you visit without bags or backpacks you will save yourself some hassle, but you will still have to empty your pockets and wait your turn to pass through at least one metal detector, and possibly a secondary security screening.

3. The Holy Doors and Gaining a Plenary Indulgence

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Holy Door at Santa Maria Maggiore

Once you’ve passed security at the four major papal basilicas, you will want to enter the basilica by way of the “Porta Santa” or “Holy Door” that is normally kept sealed but opened specifically for the Jubilee. In his “bull of indiction” (Misericordiae Vultus) for this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis indicates his desire for the faithful that “…pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”

The Church offers the opportunity to gain one plenary indulgence (i.e., remission of all temporal punishments due to sin) per day for pilgrims who meet certain conditions: (1) the pilgrim must be in a state of grace at the time of the “indulgenced work”, (2) the pilgrim should have a detachment from all sin, including venial sin,

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Brick from the 2000 Jubilee removed from the Holy Door at St. John Lateran

(3) the pilgrim should sacramentally confess their sins, not necessarily on the same day as the pilgrimage, but within about ten days before or after, (4) the pilgrim should receive Communion, preferably by attending Holy Mass, for each indulgence, and (5) the pilgrim should pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.

 

4. Going to Confession

Compared to prior visits to Rome, when it was never terribly difficult to go to confession, the presence of priests in confessionals all over the Eternal City (and especially at the four major papal basilicas) appears to have increased for the Year of Mercy. In other words, the Church is “putting her money where her mouth is” by making priests even more available for sacramental confession — in a variety of languages, including English — so that a pilgrim has every opportunity to fulfill all the requirements for obtaining an indulgence and receiving God’s mercy.

5. Take Note of the Signs and Banners for the Year of Mercy

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Banner and Tent for Pilgrims outside Castel Sant’Angelo

Throughout Rome at various places, there are signs and banners announcing the Year of Mercy and directing pilgrims to sites of interest. The logo for the Year of Mercy is, ahem, a little strange, but it is distinctive and these signs will help orient you to where you want to go.

 

6. Special Considerations for Visiting St. Peter’s Basilica

Holy doors have been opened throughout the world in every diocese, but the pilgrimage undertaken by millions of faithful Catholics in a Jubilee year is to St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. In terms of Rome’s observance of this Year of Mercy, St. Peter’s is the focal point, and thus, there are some additional things to know before you visit this chief among pilgrimage destinations.

First, the largest crowd that you will find anywhere in Rome will most likely be at St. Peter’s. Long before this Year of Mercy, St. Peter’s was one of the few places in Rome where everyone was required to pass through security and have their bags x-rayed (clerics, nuns and religious in habits included). Since the most recent terrorist threats and attacks, the Vatican’s security routine has expanded and intensified. Expect that no matter when you visit St. Peter’s, you will wait in a long line to get inside, and if you leave the secured area for any reason, you will do it all again before getting back inside.

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A cross is given to each group to be carried on the walk to St. Peter’s Basilica

Second, if you wish to attend a liturgy presided by the Holy Father, you will need a ticket, which can be obtained by writing to the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. Follow the link for a calendar of the Pope’s events for the upcoming months, and note that the only electronic means of writing for tickets is to send your request by fax at the number indicated. Normally (unless you write well in advance or make special arrangements) tickets will be held for you at a ticket office near Paul VI Audience Hall. Do not forget that you will be instructed to pick up your tickets the day before the event, and, you will need to go through security to get them. In other words, budget additional time for this. To date, there is no e-mail address or on-line form that I know about for requesting tickets directly (however, you can request them on-line through the Pontifical North American College in Rome, but you will need to go there to get them).

 

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Holy Door, St. Peter’s

Third, if you wish to pass through the Holy Door of St. Peter’s, you should register as a pilgrim at the Vatican’s official website for the Year of Mercy. You can register as a group or as an individual. Shortly before your scheduled visit, you will receive an e-mail containing a document that you will need to print and bring with you. A volunteer will scan a bar code printed on the document to check you in as a pilgrim. As a registered pilgrim, you will be directed to first visit Castel Sant’Angelo to check in. From there, you or your group will walk down the Via della Conciliazione (which has been closed to traffic) to Piazza San Pietro. From there, you will go through security before passing through the Holy Door.

 

Please note that if you do not register as a pilgrim, you may not be permitted to pass through the Holy Door. On the day of my visit, tourists were (as typical) being admitted to the basilica, and it was possible to go through the Holy Door even if you did not begin at Castel Sant’Angelo as a registered pilgrim. However, the reports that I have read indicate that if there are sufficient crowds, only those who have registered will be permitted. Failing to register could mean intense disappointment.

7. Visit the Year of Mercy Pilgrim Information Center for your “Official Certificate”

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Pilgrim Information Center, Via della Conciliazione, 7

After completing your pilgrimage, you can proceed to the “Pilgrim Information Center” established at Via della Conciliazione, 7 (group leaders can also visit here ahead of time for pilgrimage materials) to receive a certificate printed with your name attesting when you made your pilgrimage to Rome. This is provided for free to anyone who has registered, and makes a nice personalized souvenir.

 

Conclusion

If you have never visited Rome before, a pilgrimage during a Jubilee is a special opportunity to seek graces. The Church’s Treasury of Mercy is flung open — not unlike the Holy Doors themselves — pouring out abundant riches upon the faithful.