Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 7

Pt. 7: Among the Lions of Assisi

A lamb among lions on the steps of San Pietro, Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
A lamb among lions on the steps of San Pietro, Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk
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Assisi, Photo: Patricia Enk

The peacefulness and beauty of the city of Assisi is legendary.  Around every corner there is an idyllic walkway, filled with flowers, ancient arches, and charming vignettes to beguile the pilgrim.  But there is danger beneath this serene facade. Assisi is filled with lions!  They are everywhere; in fountains, as sentries by stone walls, crouching at doorways.  The medieval city that was known to St. Francis and St. Clare, was built on pagan Roman ruins. Pagan temples and ruins are beneath the feet of pilgrims as they enter churches such as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and San Rufino. But, the lions are out in the open, a symbol of the strength and power of ancient Rome and a silent reminder today of the persecution of Christians and the many martyrs who chose death rather than deny their faith.

Lion and Martyr, Church of San Rufino, Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Lion and Martyr, Church of San Rufino, Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk

Before entering the Holy Door of San Rufino Church, one can’t help but to contemplate the lions at the center door; one is eating a lamb, the other gnawing on the face of a Christian–a graphic reminder of the ultimate blasphemy and goal of the evil one, which is to attempt to destroy the image of the Face of God in souls.

San Rufino, the first bishop of Assisi, was also a martyr, who died for the faith in 296.  Martyrdom is not, however, something from the distant past; it is tragically present in our world today in ever-increasing numbers. We were reminded of this fact as we stood in the long security line to enter St. Francis’s Basilica and other holy sites.  Armed soldiers were ever present, automatic weapons in hand, to try to maintain a peace; to protect the lambs from the lions.

Security in Assisi Photo: Patricia Enk
Security in Assisi
Photo: Patricia Enk

I have read many statistics on the number of Christians martyred: Seventy million since the time of Christ, most of them in the past century, an estimated “one every five minutes” according to a 2015 report by Christian Freedom International.  I don’t know how these statistics are gathered, but one need only turn on the evening news to see a new report of Christians being killed in the world.

In the face of so much suffering and persecution some may ask the question, “Where is your God?” Take another look at the photo at the top of the baby between the lions.  Although the baby and the viewer are perhaps unaware; the father’s loving presence is there–seen only in shadow.  We too, are often unaware of the Father’s loving presence and concern.  He has sent us, just as He sent His only Son, as a lamb among lions.

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(to be continued in Rome: Pt. 8)

Pilgrimage – A Journey toward the Face of God, Pt. 5

Pt. 5: The temple of the Holy Spirit in LoretoIMG_0611

Silent, peaceful, humble, gentle, pure…Immaculate! These words describe Mary, the first temple of the Holy Spirit, and may also be applied to the Holy House of Loreto as well.  One has a great sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit resting in this place. There is something very touching about the respectful way that the pilgrims silently enter the Holy House. They then stand or kneel, leaning against, or touching the holy walls in order to feel closer to Mary–touching the very walls that the Holy Family touched.  Just before the bells for the Angelus ring, the Holy House fills completely and the Angelus is recited, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace…” Here the Holy Face of Jesus was formed and hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How great was her longing to see the Face of her Son and Messiah!

Back wall, with "Gabriel window" of the Holy House
Back wall, with “Gabriel window” of the Holy House

“The House of the Holy Family! It was the first temple, the first church, on which the Mother of God shed her light through motherhood. She irradiated it with the light which comes from the great mystery of the Incarnation; from the mystery of her Son.”–Pope St. John Paul II

Our Lady of Loreto
Our Lady of Loreto

The grand exterior of the Basilica hides a message, just as it hides the humble Holy House in its bosom; it is a message for all pilgrims, that we must become like Mary, whose soul proclaimed only “the greatness of the Lord” (Lk. 1:46-55). The humble, simple work of everyday life was sanctified here, where the Face of God was present each day within the family. God was attracted by Mary’s lowliness and “He who is mighty” did great things for her–now all generations call her blessed!

Year of Mercy volunteers were available near the entrance of the Holy Door and handed us a very helpful pamphlet in English guiding us through the Basilica, both physically and spiritually. Using the guide, we offered prayers at particularly meaningful chapels beginning with the Baptismal Font inside the Holy Door where we renewed our baptismal promises. We spent the entire day in that sacred place and probably only saw a fraction of the beautiful artwork and craftsmanship lavished on the chapels, each one vying to give greater glory to God by the work of talented hands of many countries of the world.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures to share as a common phrase I heard in English everywhere was, “No photos, please!”

There is one more thing I’d like to mention about Loreto before moving on to Assisi and that is this: pilgrimages are filled not only with minor inconveniences, or events meant to help us grow in virtue, but also signs.  Signposts, you might say, along the pilgrimage path to remind us to keep going in the right direction.  We had a big sign, right outside the window of our hotel; it was not only one of sight, but of also sound–in fact, a never-ending “coo,” “coo,” “coo,” “coo.”  There was a pigeon coop directly outside the window of our room for some reason. Whereas Mary was a temple of the Holy Spirit, our temples, it seemed were more like a pigeon coop: Noisy, messy and in need of regular cleaning.  I’d say it was a good reminder to go to Confession.  God isn’t always silent; sometimes, He speaks loud and clear. We couldn’t miss that one. (to be continued in Assisi Pt. 6)

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Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God, Pt. 3

Pt. 3  The Steps of Pilgrimage – Works of Mercysteps

While the world media moves on rather quickly from disasters, the Christian remains at the foot of the Cross, because it is Jesus who suffers in our neighbor. Though the cameras and reporters depart, for some, just recovering from shock, it is just the beginning: Suffering from the deaths of loved ones, loss of belongings and means of support, living in hot tents or shelters, burying the dead, trying to put back together their lives. These are the steps of our pilgrimage: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25:40) We can become the face of Jesus to others.

“The Lord Jesus shows us the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal: ‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Lk 6:37-38) …It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy…to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.” –Pope Francis, Face of Mercy 

Louisiana floods
Louisiana floods

As the rain poured down in Manoppello, we received word from our family that the state of Louisiana was once again flooding–which renewed anxiety and fear for our friends and loved ones back home.  Our area had already suffered greatly from floods back in March. Facing our fears and trusting in God is always a part of pilgrimage. And now, the heartbreaking news of the devastating earthquake in central Italy as well as the ongoing suffering from the terrible floods here in Louisiana remind us to seek the Face of Jesus in our neighbor on our life’s pilgrimage.

Image of Jesus crucified which hung in Bl. Mother Teresa's room. It was one of her last sights before dying.
Image of Jesus crucified which hung in Bl. Mother Teresa’s room. It was one of her last sights before dying.

In a few short days, we will celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  Blessed Mother Teresa heroically carried out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by being the Merciful Face of Christ to others and by seeing the Merciful Face of Christ in others and most especially in the Eucharist, from which she and the Missionaries of Charity drew the grace and strength to serve Jesus “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

“Seeking the Face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and His hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world.  Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”  –Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa source: Flicker
Mother Teresa
source: Flickr

Let us follow the example of Mother Teresa and seek the face of Jesus in our neighbor by whatever means we have and remember in our prayers all those who have suffered and are continuing to suffer in the world. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (to be continued in Pt. 4...)

Pilgrimage – A Journey Toward the Face of God Pt. 1

Part 1:  The Face of Mercy in Manoppello

Manoppello, Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face, photo: Paul Badde
Manoppello, Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face, photo: Paul Badde

“The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life.  Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being a viator, a pilgrim traveling along the road, making his way to the desired destination…each according to his or her ability will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion; by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”  –Pope Francis from The Face of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus

Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and so our souls have a yearning, a natural longing for the infinite.  We are called to communion with God, to see Him “face to face.”  He is calling us to seek Him, to know Him, and love Him with all our heart, mind, and strength.  The history of salvation can be described as a gradual discovery of the Face of God by nations and individuals, marked by their battles, falls and triumphs, as they turn toward or away from the Face of God, on a pilgrimage–a journey which will only end when each person comes “face to face” with God.

The Year of Mercy cannot be complete until we have made some sort of pilgrimage toward God.  Although I had made a local pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, I had felt a very strong tug in my heart to return to Italy and re-visit places of pilgrimage that were especially meaningful to me. Together with my husband, I made the necessary preparations, but, the most important “packing” for the journey was to remember on our pilgrimage all those God has given us to love, and their intentions, people that we would like to have with us, but could not make the journey. We especially carried within our hearts those who were too sick, or too old, as well as those who have lost their faith, the deceased, and people in our country and in the world in need of someone’s prayers, placing all in our hearts so that we could carry them, in spirit, through the Doors of Mercy.

We began with the place in which I encountered the Face of Mercy in a very profound way in October of 2012: the Sanctuary Basilica of the Holy Face in the small mountain village of Manoppello. This humble, beautiful village has hidden in its heart, for centuries, what St. Pio of Pietrelcina called “The greatest relic of the Church”–a gossamer-thin byssus veil, bearing, in a miraculous way, an image of the human Face of Jesus.

Panel on Holy Door of Shrine commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2006
Panel on Holy Door of Shrine commemorating the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in 2006

We arrived very late at night after 28 hours of travel to a hotel in the village very near the Sanctuary.  The next morning we walked to the Basilica for Mass, entering the beautiful dedicated Holy Door, engraved with depictions of events in the history of the Veil.  My favorite was the panel recalling the visit of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to the Shrine in September of 2006.  It was a year later, that he wrote his moving prayer to the Holy Face in honor of that occasion and elevated the Shrine to the status of a Basilica.

Rector of the Shrine Padre Carmine Cucinelli places the Holy Veil in the movable reliquary
Rector of the Shrine Padre Carmine Cucinelli places the Holy Veil in the movable reliquary

The day after we arrived was a special occasion as well, as the next day, August 6th, was a Feast of the Holy Face, the Transfiguration.  The Veil, normally kept in a special reliquary high above the back of the altar (but accessible by a stairway from behind) was to be brought down after the Mass and placed in another movable reliquary, used in processions, near the front of the altar. The Veil would remain there throughout the day for prayers and veneration of the faithful, then be returned to its place behind the altar for the night.

Earlier in the day, on the steps leading up to the relic, I bumped into journalist Paul Badde, who has taken more photos perhaps than anyone of the Holy Veil and written so much about its amazing re-discovery.  I couldn’t have been more surprised than if I had bumped into Lazarus emerging from the tomb!  Paul has been making an amazing recovery from heart surgery, stroke, and a coma which lasted for more than

Sr. Petra-Maria gazes at the Veil of Manoppello
Sr. Petra-Maria gazes at the Veil of Manoppello

three weeks during Lent of 2016. Paul later introduced me to Sr. Petra-Maria, who, I soon discovered, shares with pilgrims her extensive knowledge and love for “Il Volto Santo.”  Like two other nuns, who shared similar names–Sr. Marie St. Pierre, a Discalced Carmelite nun associated with the Holy Face in Tours, and Bl. Mother Maria Pierina, an Immaculate Conception nun associated with the Holy Face Medal–Sr. Petra-Maria is a true apostle of the Holy Face of Manoppello.  The Holy Face draws her like a magnet; she never tires of gazing at His Face or drawing others to His peaceful, merciful countenance and telling and re-telling the incredible details of the features, the history, and especially, the spiritual significance of the miraculous image.  (I’ll have to save those details for a special post.)

Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello on Vigil of the Transfiguartion
Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello on Vigil of the Transfiguartion

Celebrations and entertainment were held in honor the Holy Face in the piazza in front of the Basilica in the evening by local musicians and very talented young people of the community, who gave a very enjoyable musical performance of the life of St. Francis. I’ll never forget the line of young “Franciscan monks” on the stage singing “Andiamo! Andiamo!…” “We go! We go! For the Blessed Mother!”  The next day the Holy Veil was brought out after Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration for the day and in the evening there was planned a solemn procession with the Veil and benediction.  But, as in all things in life, plans change… (To be continued in Pt.2)

"Andiamo! Andiamo!"
“Andiamo! Andiamo!”