By Joyce Mennona
Last Month, I was among a group of pilgrims attending the Passion Play in Sordevolo, Italy, with the Diocese of Brooklyn. We were blessed to have as our spiritual leaders: Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, Msgr. Steven Aguggia, pastor of St. Margaret Church, Middle Village, and Father Gerard Sauer, diocesan pilgrimage director.
There were 24 of us from various parts of the diocese who came together as a small community, yet part of a larger, universal Church. It was uplifting to travel through Italy and be reminded of the history, saints and traditions of the Catholic Church. Churches were filled with tourists, there were murals of the Blessed Mother randomly displayed through the streets and during lunch, waiters would ask our priests for blessings.
Upon arrival, we began our journey together with Mass at the Church of St. Peter’s in Chains, Rome, where Bishop Chappetto was the main celebrant. The Gospel reading was the parable of the old and new wineskins from St. Luke. Bishop Chappetto shared the importance of this passage, inviting us to be open to God’s will. He prompted us to consider in what way the pilgrimage would change us.
It was a gift to be in such a holy place, where the busyness of day-to-day life is suspended and time can be better spent in prayer.
In fact, it is important that time is suspended because once jet lag sets in, you’re exhausted. Exhausted as I was, I knelt at the Scala Sancta, or Holy Stairs, imagining Jesus’ exhaustion on His Way to the Cross. The steps, believed to be purchased by St. Helen and brought to Rome, are said to be the steps that led to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate, the steps Jesus walked during His Passion. Needless to say, at the thought of Jesus standing there, exhausted from the agony, scourging and weight of our sins, I was overwhelmed by what He has done, and continues to do for me – for us.
Another stop on the pilgrimage was Assisi, where the physical terrain of hills and valleys reminded me so much of life and Sacred Scripture – how sometimes we are in a valley, but many times we are on top of the mountain. This pilgrimage was certainly time spent on top of the mountain.
Deeply moved before the tomb of St. Francis, my mind was flooded with faces of people who have helped me in my life. How many of them were people from church! Yes, this was a personal experience; nevertheless it happened because I was able to take part in this event and was reminded at the onset to be open to conversion.
At the culmination of our 11 days together, we were each given a San Damiano pendant. We also received a book about the San Damiano Cross. Divinely inspired, it is actions such as these that remind me how much love our Heavenly Father has for us and that what we experience here on earth is just a glimpse of what is to come.
Although we don’t always have the opportunity to physically visit a place, we do have the opportunity to spend time in prayer, to actively seek out people who will nourish us spiritually and to be open to God’s will.
Mennona is the religious education director at Resurrection-Ascension parish, Rego Park.