Thirty-nine women (and a few husbands) from parishes across the United States participated in this historic pilgrimage.
Arriving in Venice, the group toured St. Mark’s Basilica to revere the remains of St. Mark and take a gondola ride that evening. On to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, this gave the ladies an opportunity to light a candle in thanksgiving for good husbands or to find a good husband; a tradition of the Basilica.
A visit to Florence included the museum housing Michelangelo’s statue of David and many other amazing pieces of ancient art. We were amazed at all the statues that Michelangelo had started before this one and were on display, they called them prisoners in stone — how accurate! The Academia Gallery houses many other masterpieces, both paintings and sculptures, from the Middle Ages to Renaissance, by the greatest artists, like Botticelli, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Sarto and many more.
In Siena we toured the home of St. Catherine and celebrated Mass at her parish church, St. Dominic, where she attended daily Mass and went into ecstasy. Relics of her hand and head were amazingly preserved.
The next day we celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Our Masses were private and usually held in small chapels in the Basilicas. I was most moved by the fact that his tomb was right behind the altar. I was reader for that Mass which was a highlight for me on this Pilgrimage. In St. Mary of the Angels Basilica, which the city of Los Angeles is named after, we saw the tiny church in the woods where St. Francis began his ministry and St. Clare began her religious life. We went on to Orvieto and the Signorelli Chapel in the Cathedral of Ovieto where we venerated the sacred eucharistic miracle. Before all of these places and things were only words on paper for me and they came alive as we toured.
On to Rome, we arrived early in the morning when the sun was just coming up for Mass in a small chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica. There were no crowds and it was a beautiful morning. We toured the Vatican Museums and were awed by the Sistine Chapel.
I was most interested in our visit to St. Mary Major Basilica because our diocesan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was patterned after Mary Major. A side story is that two of us were in a cab going to St. Mary Major and the cab driver couldn’t seem to understand where we wanted to go, so in my best Italian accent I shouted, “Santa Maria Magiore!” and he got it. We visited the Archbasilica St. John Lateran, where the pope officiates as Bishop of Rome, the Holy Stairs, the Old Appian Way and the St. Sebastian Catacombs. Our guide told us in the 1990s they removed the bones from the catacombs because tourists were stealing them.
The most special part of our trip was to attend the papal audience where our NCCW President, Sheila Hopkins, presented the pope with a certificate honoring the 2.4 million works of mercy we documented from our membership during the Year of Mercy. The pope was pleased and said “Keep it up!” We were so fortunate to have such a beautiful day which only added to the excitement of it all. We had time before the pope’s arrival to enjoy the live music and to take in all the people, the buildings and statues. The papal host announced groups from each country and we made a loud noise when NCCW was named. In the afternoon we went on to see the Trevi Fountain and threw our coins to make sure we would have a return trip. We visited the Pantheon and Piazza Navona with the Bernini’s fountains.
The last day in Rome we visited the Roman Forum, The Colosseum, the Minor Basilica of St. Peter in Chains featuring Michelangelo’s Moses. A last highlight was the tomb and Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls which is one of Rome’s four ancient, papal major basilicas, along with the Basilicas of St. John in the Lateran, St. Peter’s, and St. Mary Major. Our final Mass was celebrated at St. Agnes in Agone Church. We were exhausted every evening but we took in so much it was worth it and a truly Holy Pilgrimage.
Established in 1920 by the U.S. Bishops with the mission to support, empower and educate all Catholic women in spirituality, leadership and service, the NCCW has affiliates at the province, diocesan, deanery and parish levels.
Rebecca Woodhull, Ph.D., is immediate past president of NCCW and parishioner of the Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.