Holy Doors

Carrying the Cross

by Julie E. Kenney

People have been asking me what was my favorite part of visiting Italy. There were so many spectacular, first time or once in a lifetime moments that make it so hard to choose only one. The rolling hills in wine country of Siena were gorgeous. The intensely vivid colors of St. Francis of Assisi’s Basilica were breath-taking. The seemingly immense undertaking of the Holy Stairs was humbling and painful but oh, so worth every moment! St. Rita’s Basilica was inspiring and motivating, while St. Monica’s tomb was heartfelt and so meaningful to me personally. But none of those moments are THE moment I would choose as my absolute favorite.

My favorite moment in Italy came unexpectedly, in the midst of 101 degree heat and humidity with sweat rolling down my face and soaking the back of my shirt. My most memorable moment came when our small, but mighty, group of 30 women on a WINE (Women In the New Evangelization) and Shrine pilgrimage in Italy stopped traffic in Rome by carrying a heavy, six-foot tall, wooden cross through the streets of the piazza, up the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, through the Holy Door, and straight to the Rock upon which our church was built.

Sometimes in my life I’ve found myself internally ashamed by my shyness about my faith. I would think to myself, it’s my own personal journey; I have every right to keep it to myself. I often wouldn’t even make the sign of the cross before meals in public but instead offer a silent prayer to God thanking him for my food, thinking it would be awkward if people saw me say grace. At the same time I would admire those that had the courage to do this and wonder to myself what was my problem?

When our group carried that cross through the streets of Rome and over the threshold of the Holy Doors into St. Peter’s people actually stopped and took our picture! Cars stopped in their traffic lanes and let us pass by them without honking. We prayed our way straight through to St. Peter’s tomb and the emotions that each of us were overcome with were powerful, inspiring, and uplifting, all at the same time. Carrying that cross felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders as the sun beat down. As the sweat poured out of us, we could sense the burden of our suffering and the meaning that was wrapped up within it. We each carried that cross for our own sins, the burdens of our friends and family members that weren’t with us or able to carry that cross, for each member in the world that might not realize they should be carrying the cross, and also as a thank you to Jesus because he carried the ultimate cross for all of us.

During those moments while we prayed, people were respectful and honored our passage.  It made me realize that the world needs God, right out there in the open, in front of our eyes, for all of us to see. When I am silent with my grace before meals or when we hesitate to be totally truthful with others about our pro-life stance or our basic beliefs about the importance of a unified, traditional family structure we are doing the world—and God—a huge disservice.  

The world is crying out to see and hear God. The evidence is there and we cannot afford to fool ourselves into thinking that someone else will stand up for our beliefs any longer. My favorite part of Italy hammered that point home to me. Each of us, quite literally, has to pick up our cross, share it with the world, and allow the crazy flow of traffic to stop and take notice.


**While in Assisi (prior to the day "carrying the cross"), Julie was on Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo. Julie gave her heart-moving testimony of the cross she carried on her road to this pilgrimage and she spoke of the joy she experienced when she asked and allowed Jesus to bear the weight of her cross with her. To hear the interview, simply click here -> Catholic Connection: June 20, 2016

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Chapter 1 of “A Holy Year in Rome”

by Joan Lewis

When I read the first chapter of Joan Lewis' book, "A Holy Year in Rome", I couldn't help but think, "This is the best explanation of a pilgrimage and the best preparation for a pilgrimage to Rome all wrapped in one!" And so, as we begin our final preparations this week to journey with our sisters in Christ on our WINE & Shrine Pilgrimage, we wanted to share with you these excellent words of wisdom. Joan, who will be with us on our pilgrimage, was kind enough to let us share her first chapter with you. So, grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of vino), sit back, relax, and enjoy the post below. (If you haven't purchased Joan's book yet, don't worry. She's bringing a few with her when she meets us in Assisi.... and rumor has it, you might even get her to sign your copy.)

A Journey of the Spirit

As the People of God, our earthly existence is an eschatological journey towards the heavenly kingdom, our ultimate destination. This divine goal, our raison d'etre, too often takes on a secondary importance, however, as we set our eyes on other, more earthly goals such as careers, homes, and material possessions.

Yet, deep inside each of us, there is an inner yearning to be free of these encumbrances, to know the truth, unfettered by human things. A yearning to know who God is, to understand His goodness, His love for us, His desire for us to be with Him in eternity. A yearning to understand how the saints reached the goal we all aspire to. A yearning to understand how truly unimportant everything else is, if it does not lead us to God.

From Moses in the desert to modern times, man has sought this truth, has sought an understanding of himself, and of God, through pilgrimages. A pilgrimage is not only a trip to a destination, it is, as St. Benedict said in his Rules, a return to the promised land, to paradise lost, to a place where man can speak to God, one on one. By visiting shrines -  be it to seek spiritual benefit, to venerate a sacred object or image, or simply to be in the presence of a holy person - pilgrims take an important step on this road to self-knowledge, and eventually to eternity.

The first disciples were entrusted by Christ with the mission of bringing the Good News "out of their Father's house" and to the four corners of the earth. Since then, pilgrimages have become an inversion of that mission as the faithful seek the route that brings them back to their Father's house.

Pilgrimages, and the role of shrines in the life of the faithful are, in fact, so important that we find five canons dedicated to this subject in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, in the section governing Sacred Places and Times.

Canon 1230 tells us: "The term shrine signifies a church or other sacred place to which the faithful make pilgrimages for a particular pious reason with the approval of the local ordinary." Canon 1231: "For a shrine to be called national, the conference of bishops must approve; for it to be called an international one, the Holy See must approve."

The last one, Canon 1234, Para 1, states: "At shrines, abundant means of salvation are to be provided the faithful: the word of God is to be carefully proclaimed: liturgical life is to be appropriately fostered, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist and Penance: and approved forms of piety are to be cultivated."


PART 2 –


Pope John Paul II, in a homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, Mexico, in 1979, called shrines "places of grace, ... places of conversion, penance and reconciliation with God" and "privileged places to encounter an ever more purified faith, which leads to God."

In 1992 in Rome, the Holy Father addressed participants in the First World Congress of the Pastoral Ministry of Shrines and Pilgrimages, and spoke of the aim of a pilgrimage: "It is a basic and founding experience of the believer's state 'homo viator', man en route towards the Source of all good and towards his fulfillment. By placing his entire being on this path, his body, his soul and his intelligence, man reveals himself'in search of God and a pilgrim to Eternity'."

Whatever the reason for an individual's pilgrimage, when it is undertaken with due spiritual preparation, the heart of a shrine becomes enshrined in the heart of the pilgrim. Whether the shrine houses an image of the Virgin Mary, an image, relics or the remains of a saint, it indelibly becomes part of the pilgrim, with its very special message.

The message, the story, the history, varies with each shrine. In some the story is of conversion. In others it recounts a life of heroic sacrifice for love of God. And in others, a miracle.

The first "shrine," the shrine par excellence, was Mary, the Mother of God, a "sanctuary" to Jesus for nine months before He began his earthly journey. It is thus no wonder that the overwhelming majority of shrines throughout the world are dedicated to this most perfect of God's creatures, she who succeeded to the highest degree in her encounter with God, in understanding His goodness, His love for us, and His desire that we share the Kingdom of Heaven with Him.

As we start our pilgrimage to the basilica shrines of the Eternal City, we will look at their history but more important, we will seek to discover why people come back, again and again, why they feel compelled to visit a particular place. Are they drawn to Mary? To a saint? To a message?

Often the answer may be found in the votive gifts left at a shrine for "PGR," per grazie ricevute, that is, for favors received. While you will note a number of these votive offerings at the major basilicas you will visit on your Roman pilgrimage, they are far more numerous at some of Italy's other shrine-basilicas such as St. Anthony of Padua, St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii and the Holy House of Loreto, to name but a few. At these shrines the votive gifts often cover all available wall space and, occasionally, separate rooms are set aside for the pilgrim's "thank yous."

Only the imagination limits the form a votive offering can take. They can range from the standard silver wall plaque engraved with PGR to clothing, bicycles from champion racers, canes, crutches, embroidered items, statues, vases, jewelry, baby clothes, military uniforms, awards, diplomas, trophies, model cars, and sports teams' uniforms. And it is up to the imagination to guess the nature of the "favor received."

There is even a canon on this subject. Canon 1234, para 2: "Votive gifts of popular art and piety are to be displayed in shrines or adjacent places and kept secure."

So, pack a mental suitcase (don't forget your rosary!) as we start our pilgrimage, traveling not just as tourists, but as Christians seeking that deeper meaning of our life here on earth, undertaking a trip that is not to a place, but rather one that is a return home.

Looking forward to journeying with you!

Kelly, Teresa and Joan



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May 26: "Pilgrimage is a symbol of life." Pope Francis

On December 8th, the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica was opened in a historical ritual, a ritual which also began celebrations that will last a year. This is a celebration that we will enter into fully next month!

Why such a monumental occasion? Pope Francis explained to the faithful, “I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). 

“Pilgrimage is a symbol of life,” said Pope Francis. “It makes us think of life as walking, as a path. If a person does not walk, but instead stays still, this is not useful; it accomplishes nothing. Think of water: when water is not in the river, it does not course, but instead it remains still and stagnates. A soul that does not walk in life doing good, doing many things that one must do for society, to assist others, or who does not walk through life seeking God and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, is a soul that finishes in mediocrity and in spiritual poverty. Please: do not stand still in life!

Today, let us ask the Holy Spirit to put a spark in our step this June as we walk in relationship with our sisters on earth, in the footsteps of our sisters the saints, seeking to grow ever closer to that most perfect relationship for which we were created—the Most Holy Trinity.

Looking forward to journeying with you!

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