Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Day Laden With Trials in Lanciano and San Giovanni Rotondo

Sunday, a week to the day we arrived in Rome.  We were scheduled to leave Cascia at 7:45 AM to head to Lanciano, site of a  Eucharistic miracle, where one of the friars would be celebrating Mass in English for us.  Sunday is a very busy day in Cascia and buses are confined to a more stringent barrier than they are during the week.  Another group was leaving when we were, and we were given stickers to adhere to our luggage so that our cargo would go to the correct bus, but I had no faith in that system given the kind of luck I was having, so at 7:15 I dragged my suitcases up the hill to meet the bus.  It was chilly and there was fog but I didn't care - I knew where my luggage was.   There was some confusion about where our group was going to meet, so for quite awhile, I waited alone.  Finally, I saw another pilgrim straggling up the hill and I told them to let the rest of the group know I was already where I should be.

One of the friars had to return to Rome but the other was going with us.  After our journey to Lanciano was underway, the trip organizers decided we would pray the Rosary. It would have been advisable to simply allow the priest to lead us, but my friend decided to allow the group to volunteer to each take a mystery. I knew this was going to be a problem when one of the women, instead of simply announcing the mystery, decided to give an emotional mini-sermon about the Resurrection.  I know I sighed heavily because I truly feared what was going to come next.

I really hated to hear the recitation of the Rosary deteriorate into amateur hour, and I know that my sentiments are not exactly charitable, but I feel strongly that lay people should leave the preaching to the clergy and that the Rosary is a beautiful prayer that stands on its own merit and doesn't need embellishing.

The thing I feared most came true with the fourth Glorious mystery.   I am not going to say any more about it except that I could not wait for it to end, so offensive was the sound to my ears.  Can you imagine saying that about a prayer as beautiful as the Rosary?  When it mercifully ended, those of us in the back of the bus said an Act of Contrition for our lack of charity.  Trouble was, the fifth mystery was also recited by the same person. I heard a voice behind me say "Please, God, let it  be over".  You had to be there to know why. I couldn't help but feel anger at my friend for thinking it was a good idea to turn the microphone over to these people, especially the last one.

At Lanciano, I can only describe our quest to hear Mass as chaos.  I was reminded of the dreadful scene in the Sistine Chapel where I thought we would be suffocated to death.  This wasn't much better.  It was apparent that there was no real plan for us once we arrived and for awhile I feared we would have no Mass at all.  We were bounced from place to place,having to push through the crowed and finally, we went out into the cloister to allow the Mass in progress to end and the church to empty.  Finally, we were asked to come back inside and our priest was permitted to use the main altar.  The readings were handled by the same person who had taken the last two mysteries of the Rosary, in much the same way. I thought it was miraculous he didn't decided to give his own sermon while he was up there.  But that would not be the last of him.

I am ashamed to say that I was still so worked up after the Rosary fiasco on the bus, that I thought it might be best if I didn't receive Holy Communion, but then I thought better of it.  No mere human could have been expected to hear what I did and not feel some anger and resentment.

After Mass, we viewed the remnants of the Eucharistic miracle, still preserved in a reliquary behind the main altar.  A priest who had begun to have doubts about the Real Presence elevated the Host at the consecration when suddenly, the Host began to drip Blood.  The Blood was collected in a chalice and both the Host and the Blood were analyzed found to be human, type AB.  I did not take pictures of these sacred relics but you can google Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano and see for yourself.  Above is a shot of the main altar.  The church is now run by Franciscans and since this  was only a few days before his feast, the statue of St. Francis was displayed prominently.

Unlike the other beautiful basilicas we saw, this church was worn and seemed in need of repairs.  It had been ravaged by several earthquakes ( the Eucharistic miracle survived them all) and it was in a part of Italy not very well off, but the Mass that preceded ours was  beautiful and packed with the faithful.  The friar who helped our friar set up for Mass was typically Franciscan ( at least to me) - joyful and patient.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we got back on the bus for the ride to San Giovanni Rotondo so we could visit the church where Padre Pio received the stigmata and lived out his life.  The beautiful Adriatic Sea could be viewed from the bus and with the combination of the surrounding mountains we had a picturesque ride unlike any I'd ever experienced in the States. I didn't get the mountain in this photo, but take a look at how blue the water was.
At three o'clock in the afternoon, the same person who mangled the Rosary and handled the lectoring duties as Mass was invited to take the microphone again to "pray" the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  I could not believe that after what we endured that morning, that someone's misplaced sense of charity made them think it was ok to subject us to this again.  This, in my mind, was only going to further encourage the individual to continue to take it upon themselves to make themselves the center of attention at the expense of the prayer.  To make matters worse, the person decided to chant the chaplet.  That was the end of it for me.  I got out my iPod shuffle and began playing my Gregorian chant set to nature sounds.  The Asperges Me set to the sounds of running water and a wood thrush chirping saved my life, literally.  I would not have been able to endure that sound again.  God have mercy on me for saying it.

Sometime late in the afternoon, we arrived in San Giovanni Rotondo.  Some of the best photos I saw from the bus, which meant I had to keep them in my mind.  If I have complaint about our bus driver, it's that he didn't allow us more picture-taking opportunities from the road.  Anyway, I saw a scene that made me think of the wedding reception at the end of Fellini's Amarcord.  A large family set up a table in the middle of a rocky pasture, put a white tablecloth on it, and began spreading out their feast.  This same scene was repeated several times before we reached the town.
The convent (in Europe, priests live in convents and nuns in monasteries) where Padre Pio lived

I have to say that I don't think St. Padre Pio would have chosen the design of the new basilica dedicated to him, but the older church, where he had lived and served, was another story.  Try as I might to have some quiet prayer time, however, the fellow members of my entourage would not permit it.  I grew increasingly frustrated that day with the obvious lack of reverence and silence in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
There are many altars throughout Italy that have an image of Christ entombed beneath them

I had to visit the gift shop because a friend had asked me to do them a favor and bring something back and when I got there, the sisters from New York had invaded the place in a frenzy, buying up every Padre Pio holy card and medal in sight.  Those ladies could sure shop.  We were told to meet outside at 6:30 for a special surprise.  We were taken to the library in the shrine where we were treated to an English version of a documentary of a Padre Pio film with rare footage of him.  It was charming to see him with his friars, who obviously loved him very much, and to see him gently chastise the filmmaker for intruding upon him.  The conclusion of the film showed the exhumation of his body from its original tomb.  Our narrator informed us that he was not found to be incorrupt but it was obvious that it was still Padre Pio.

When the film concluded, our host encouraged us to add our names to the mailing list and he invited us to purchase Mass enrollment cards for the sick and deceased.  Unfortunately, we had to depart by way of going past the sacristy, and I was simply mortified at how loud the group was.  Shushing people and asking them to be quiet had no effect whatsoever.  I tried to run up the stairs ahead of everyone so I didn't have to be part of the obvious disturbance they were causing to the priest trying to celebrate Mass.  Some of the altar servers were sent out to tell us to be quiet.  Why did it have to come to that?

One of the most beautiful versions of the Madonna  I saw in all of Italy
Back in the night air, it was decided that the more elderly members of our group would need taxis to take them to our hotel, which we had yet to see.  Padre Pio was obviously big business in this little town as every corner seemed to hold a vendor where his image was purveyed in every conceivable form.  Below is a photo of the lighted archways that adorn the town at night.
We ate dinner close to 9:30 at night.  This was the nicest of all the hotels we had stayed in.  Forget the fact it had no air conditioning and I couldn't open my window wide enough to get any air and that the restaurant workers taunted some poor lost dog all night until someone yelled "Jack-asses!" out the window at them... it was still a nice hotel.

Tomorrow, we would set out for the place that most convinced me I needed to go on this trip - the grotto where the Archangel Michael had appeared in the fifth century.  But not before I went to confession at Padre Pio's shrine.


  1. Mmmm, we had a not too dissimilar experience in Rome in January this year......still pilgrimages aren't meant to be overly enjoyable...but a little rest from an over pious microphone holder would not go amiss.

  2. I hear you Richard, but I wasn't expecting the lap of luxury or gourmet meals. What I was expecting was to travel with like-minded pilgrims and to have ample opportunity to pray. You and I both know that a Latin Mass devotee would never have "performed" the Rosary that way or taken it upon themselves to preach before each mystery. Still, it has often struck me that a little "torment" was a small price to pay for all of the holy places and beautiful basilicas I was privileged to see.


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