Many special graces were received during the Young Adult Pilgrimage to Italy this past summer; in fact, jokingly one young man described the trip as trying to drink from a fire hydrant. A pilgrimage is a different experience than a regular summer vacation where one tours places a Rick Steve’s travel guide encourages one to visit. The Sisters and Brothers of the Apostles of the Interior Life prepared and guided the young adults from Texas and Kansas to encounter the Lord in places where Saints have encountered Him. Thus making the trip not about the photos they took, but rather about the experiences of prayer, community and the wonder of creation and of beauty.
The trip began in Northern Italy in the cities of Milan and Induno. Sr. Raffaella, Sr. Elena, Sr. Clara and Fr. Alessandro were very much at home, literally, and proved to be excellent pilgrimage guides of where they grew up. The parishoners of Induno graciously hosted one or two of the American pilgrims in their homes. Shannon Hamilton said about the experience, “What a gift to share together the beauty of the Catholic faith and the universality of the Church. Spending time with the Community in Induno was such a bonding experience for all of us. We were able to witness Christ not only in the beautiful churches that we saw throughout all of Italy, but in the people we encountered in this town as they opened up their homes to share their joy and generosity with us.”
On Sunday the host families and students shared a “Family Day”. They walked together up a small mountain called “Sacro Monte” (“Holy Mountain”) where chapels of each mystery of the rosary line the path. Everyone prayed the rosary together in both Italian and English. Christopher Hilger shared, “For me I vividly remember Sacro Monte being an incredibly powerful experience mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically– really in every single facet imaginable. Climbing the mountain while praying the rosary had so much meaning and symbolism in it, climbing the mountain the same way life is lived every day: uphill. But it was climbed with friends–future saints –sweating and toiling, but also smiling, laughing and enjoying time with the communion of saints and especially our Blessed Mother in the rosary and in visiting each Chapel.”
After a moving good-bye to the host families, the busload of students and AVI members traveled to visit important sites where saints lived and died, saints like St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Sts Peter and Paul, St. Monica and St. Lawrence. First the group visited La Verna, the place where St. Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ. Then they visited Assisi to encounter both St. Francis and St. Clare. “Walking in the footsteps of saints,” Alyssa Zessin reflected, “gave me a great but simple realization. Learning about their lives, there was a common theme between them all. No matter the circumstance, they continued to say ‘yes’ to God. They struggled, like we all do, but what made them a saint was saying ‘yes’ from the little to big asking’s. This realization made the answer to sainthood so real to me: just say ‘yes’ and God will take care of the rest.”
By the time the group arrived in Rome to visit the “Eternal City”, there had been numerous compliments given to the group by hotel staff personnel, bus drivers, and tour guides from every place we traveled. Everyone was moved to see such graciousness and faith-filled devotion on the part of the young people from America. Simply being a part of the group was a great grace, especially to be together in moments of prayer and encounters with God and beauty. Grant Vassar shared his most impactful grace of the trip: “the opportunity to tangibly encounter the Mystical Body of Christ in so many ways… and all at the same time. Almost every day at Mass, we could hear Jesus in the Gospel, receive Him in the Eucharist, give the sign of peace to each other – the mystical members of His Body – all just yards away from the graves of His saints, the members that have gone on before us. The sense of communion was so real. It was moving to see just how near Christ can make himself to us.”
God certainly made himself close during those ten days and the graces are continuing to bear fruit in the lives of the pilgrims as they continue their pilgrimage in their homes, workplaces and classrooms. “I do not believe I have ever felt more like God’s daughter than I do now thanks to the pilgrimage to Italy,” Alyssa shared with a smile.