It is going to take a while before I write about my recent Marian Pilgrimage, so I’m just posting bits and pieces thereof.
Out of the many beautiful and memorable experiences I had, these are my top five (in no particular order):
The Pope. Nothing can describe the joy I felt when I was able to join the Angelus Prayer led by Pope Benedict at Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican the day after we arrived in Rome. In my entire life, it was my first time to see a Successor of St. Peter. I was not able to join the World Youth Day in 1995 when Pope John Paul II came to the country to grace the event.
The scene in the square looked so familiar to me because I have seen it several times on television. When we arrived there, the square was flooding with pilgrims from everywhere – Caucasians, Asians, Africans, Indians, etc. I looked up and saw the recognizable window ostensibly marked with the red velvet cloth. At exactly twelve noon, the Holy Father appeared before thousands of us and led the Angelus Prayer. I did not know how to say the prayer in Italian, but there was a large LCD near us, where we could read our response … er, in Italian, hahaha. The Pope was so, so, very far away from us, but he was very near in spirit, plus the fact that his voice clearly thundered in the entire square. After the short prayer, Pope Benedict raised both his hands as greetings to the pilgrims. The crowd roared in return. I myself shouted at the top of my lungs, “HI, POPE”! I did it twice because my nephew Moses instructed me to send his warm regards to the Holy Father, so one more time, “HI FROM MOSES”! When the crowd subsided, the Pope said a few words and gave his blessing to all the pilgrims present there. It was again in Italian, and too bad, I did not understand any of it, but I know we were blessed by him through the tone of his voice, his gestures and the way the other pilgrims reacted to his words, when they kept very still and bowed their heads. It was a good thirty minutes we had with the Holy Father. After saying his final blessing, he raised his arms again and the crowd wildly responded even more. He waved repeatedly to the crowd to say goodbye, and all of us waved in return. I got misty eyed waving from afar, thanking God for giving me the opportunity to be there. We were supposed to attend the Papal Mass on our last day in Rome but a series of surprising unexpected events prevented us to make it (abangan!).
Holy Bath in Lourdes, France. Yup, I did it, I did it, I did it! I said I’d really try my best to take a dip in the running spring waters in Lourdes, and I did. In freezing temperature. Totally naked. We nearly skipped breakfast to go to the sanctuaries early so that we’d have a longer time for the other religious activities in the Lourdes Square. We made it in the nick of time and were the last persons to enter the sanctuaries for the first batch. We waited for almost two hours for our turns, but the waiting was an opportune time to reflect and prepare for the holy bath. It’s in obedience to the call of Our Lady of Lourdes to pray for the reparation of sinners by symbolically washing and drinking the water. Like St. Bernadette did, our faith pushed us to brave the cold and imitate what the Saint did. The bath was brief and hey, Mama Mary did not make me feel the cold waters. It was a very enriching experience for me. If you’d ask me which part I’d go again, I’d go back to Lourdes again and again and again.
Saint (Padre) Pio. We were expecting to see St. Pio’s incorrupt body in San Giovani Rotondo, Italy, only to be disappointed that his body, after having been fully exposed to the public since June 2008, was already returned to a silver coffin just in late September of this year. It’s said that his incorrupt body will only be open for viewing during anniversaries and other relevant activities, the soonest of which is five years from now. Nevertheless, this did not hinder me from enjoying our visit there. The place is so full of St. Pio and his presence is everywhere. I felt him strongly when we heard mass at the old church where he had celebrated mass for many years. St. Pio is known for the confessions he administered daily and the confessional box where he frequented is still found in the corner of the old church. After the mass, we wrote letters to him. It was a very emotional moment for me while I was confessing my sins by writing him. I tried so hard to contain my tears as I threw my letter to the enclosed confessional box. I felt so lighthearted immediately after, just as I always do after every confession. When I looked around, I found out it was not only me who got emotional there.
Saint Bernadette. My first time ever to see an incorrupt body; my first time ever to see a Saint. From Lourdes, we travelled to the Church of St. Gildard at a convent in Nevers, France where Saint Bernadette’s human remains lay in crystal glass at the right side of the chapel, open for all to see. There was little wax on her face because when she was exhumed, there was a blackish tinge on her face and her sunken eyes and nose might make an unpleasant impression to the public. Apart from this, the rest of her body is intact. She had been exposed there since 1925 with no artificial means to preserve the body. When I was not able to see the incorrupt body of Saint Pio, of course I felt a slight disappointment because I had so anticipated to see him. However, seeing Saint Bernadette lifeless, permanently lying at the side of the altar somehow got me thinking how it might be uncomfortable being under the public’s curios scrutiny perpetually. I mean, how could she rest in peace? I felt a pang of pity that she might be restless, or whatever. We even joked among ourselves after seeing her that we should include in our wills a provision that in case our bodies are incorruptible after we die, no public display must be made because it would be too tiresome, hahaha.
The Miracle of the Eucharist. On our way to Assisi, we stopped at Lanciano, Italy to witness the oldest (as there are quite a few) eucharistic miracle of the Catholic Church. We visited the Sancutary of the Eucharistic Miracle. Up on the altar, the “host turned flesh” and “wine turned blood” was openly displayed or what is left of it since the ninth century. The miracle happened when a monk began to doubt the real presence of Jesus in the “host” as his flesh and the “wine” as his blood. During mass, after the consecration of the Host and the Wine, the host turned into live flesh and the wine into live blood. After several examinations since the 9th century, it is absolutely and unquestionably concluded that “the flesh is real flesh and the blood is real blood; that the flesh and blood belong to the human species; that the flesh consists of the muscular tissues of the heart; that the flesh and the bood have the same blood type : AB — the same blood type uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin”. As I went near, the flesh (host) was off white or cream in color, and not fully and perfectly round and the blood (wine) was no longer liquid but dried up and in the color of yeah, dried blood. What is more, “the flesh and blood were left in their natural state since then and it’s presevation remains an extraordinary phenomenon”. After that visit, everytime I take communion, I’m reminded of what I saw in Lanciano and receiving the body of Christ has become more meaningful. BTW, my blood type is AB, LOL.