What I learned about Jesus on my pilgrimage to Rome
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In 2013, I traveled on pilgrimage to Rome. A pilgrimage is more than a vacation, more than a tour through interesting sites. It’s a spiritual journey made with the sole of the feet and the soul of the heart. We come home from it changed, renewed, and spiritually more mature. And with stronger leg muscles, too! Wow did I get exercised both physically and spiritually. Here’s a short video I made about this:
Rome is full of basilicas that are full of the tombs and relics and paintings and statues of Saints. I visited and prayed with Saints Peter, Paul, Susanna, Philip Neri, Agnes, Augustine and Monica, Ambrose, Luigi of France, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, Catherine of Sienna, Robert Bellarmine, countless early Christian martyrs, and of course the Blessed Mother — and more besides. I also worshiped God at the relics of the manger that held the baby Jesus, relics of his cross, a thorn from his crown, the remnants of the title Pilate had the executioners nail at the top of the cross, and a nail from the cross.
Using photos I shot at these sites, here is a virtual pilgrimage of Basilicas and Saints in Rome:
Keep your eyes on Jesus!
I’m always saying, “Keep your eyes on Jesus”. Well, on the last Sunday of my pilgrimage, Jesus gave me a great example of how important this is. First, the background: God gifted me with one of the special seats close to the altar during Pope Francis’ Mass in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, through my friend Msgr. Joseph Kimu from Malawi, who knew a guy who works for a bishop who works in the Vatican. The bishop escorted the three of us through the driveways behind the basilica where the public is not allowed, past the Vatican Gardens, past the apartment building where Pope Francis lives, to the rows of seats right behind the priests who would distribute the Eucharist.
Here’s a video I made from that awesome Mass, which ends with the pope coming past me in his Pope Mobile, waving and smiling, full of joy and energy as if he hadn’t just spent 3 hours pouring himself out to the very huge crowd.
Now, let’s get on with the point of my story….
After the pope disappeared into the private zone of Vatican City, Father Joseph and I had to join the crowd to exit St. Peter’s Square. We were going to walk back to Casa San Carlo where we were staying. I’m guessing that it was a 2-mile walk, maybe more, and I looked forward to the physical exertion of it; I enjoyed getting achy feet for the sake of experiencing more of Rome.
As Father Joseph led the way through the very congested mob that was squeezing onto the streets, it would have been very easy for me to lose him. With every step, we could have gotten separated by people coming between us. To prevent that, I literally walked in his footsteps, so close that I nearly kicked his heels. I couldn’t afford to look to the left or to the right or anywhere else, or I would have lost sight of him in two seconds. I had to keep my eyes on the back of his suit and walk so close that he could have felt my breath on his neck. As this continued, the Holy Spirit gave me the thought that this is how it is with following Jesus: We must walk in his footsteps, very, very close behind him, without letting ourselves be distracted, or else things come between him and us and it is easy to go off in a wrong direction or to get pushed away.
Sometimes we get to relax this effort and walk beside Jesus. He knows it’s hard for us to continually protect ourselves from distractions, so there are times when the threats of distractions are fewer, like when Father Joseph and I reached the streets that are farther from St. Peter’s and when we crossed the Tiber River. That’s when it’s easier to chat with Jesus, walking beside him. That’s why we take time to be alone with him.
Keep your eyes on Jesus!