The adventure of a lifetime – a Pilgrimage to Rome Italy

Day One – Thursday, April 6 and arrival Day 2 - Friday, April 7– departure for Rome Italy

Remember way back when as a child it felt as if it took a very long time for your birthday or Christmas to arrive or that summer vacation felt as it would last forever in the early dog days of August?  For our FNE Timber Wolves and Explorers, it felt that it would be forever before the big day for our departure to Rome Italy would finally arrive.

Together we washed many cars, raked leaves, offered for sale chocolate, cheese, offered pancake breakfasts, help pasta dinner movie nights and walked 20 kilometers and much more to help reduce the cost of the trip.

Meeting and camping with our Italian brother Timber Wolves and Explorers while exciting is a little challenging as our brothers have much more experience than we do in FNE.  Our Explorers carefully practiced morose code over and over again just to get it right.

A Pilgrimage is unique to every individual participating, there is no one common outcome or expectation only that we grow in holiness and grow ever stronger in our Catholic faith. Are we open to recognize our Lord in the everyday things, in each other and in those whom we will meet or encounter for the first time?  Are we prepared to embrace our Lord and kneel at his feet as we make the best confession of our lives, or to receive him with love and belief in the Holy Eucharist?

While our timber wolves, explorers, leaders and dads attending think that they are prepared for what awaits them, they truly have no idea as to the experience, love, brotherhood, cultural and historical experiences that await them!  Stay tuned to learn more in the days to come.

Last night (Wednesday, April 5) we gathered at our home parish of Blessed Trinity to participate in Holy Mass.  What a joyful Mass this was as we sang, prayed with deep reverence and happily received our Lord in Holy Communion kneeling and on our tongue as we tried to better understand that for a short period we would be one with our Lord.  What an amazing gift this is.  If the angels in heaven could be jealous of anything it would be this incredible melding of the one receiving our Lord in the Eucharist!

Time to go to the airport…. Day one – Thursday, April 6th

Packing last minute items went well into Wednesday evening, checking the packing list not once but two or three times more.  Morning could not come early enough for many of our boys, but perhaps a little too soon for the leaders and the dads joining them.

The boys quickly got up, showered and were in their uniforms long before it was time to go.  Time to be at the airport to check in, by 2.00 p.m.  Many already started to show up just after 1.00 pm as no one wanted to be late. Check in went smoothly as Air Canada designated two check-in agents and counters to look after our FNE group.  The process went smoothly as Akela reassured some of the boy’s mothers not to worry from a separation anxiety perspective as a good number of their sons are traveling a great distance without a parent for the first time.  Goodbyes were quick with lots of photos taken as we headed through security. 

Our uniforms continue to gain positive reactions as most of the boys travelled through screening at a designated station set aside just for our group.  The process was fast and efficient with little wait or delay, thank you CATSA!  Job well was done!

Some of our youth members could not resist picking up a drink and a snack or two to consume along the way because one never knows how long it will be before we eat again. (It was 9.00 p.m. actually).  Others made their way promptly to the departure gate to stake out a good seat while we awaited the arrival of the outbound aircraft, a giant Air Canada A330 aircraft. 

Before we knew it the time had come to board the aircraft and fortunately for us we boarded after business class so we could stake out enough space in the overhead bins.  The aircraft door soon closed and off the plane taxied to the runway.  Several the boys squealed with excitement as the giant A330 lumbered down the runway…. just over 25 seconds later the giant plane gracefully lifted off towards our first stop Montreal. 

We arrived in Montreal to a cold and wet day, but no bother to us as we walked off one A330 to a neighbouring gate to another A330 aircraft for the eight-hour crossing of the pond (the North Atlantic).  With an on-time departure, the fully loaded plane chopped through some mild air turbulence, turbulence that the boys hardly noticed as there were preoccupied with the fact that the film system was not working.  The flight crew did not want to disappoint the boys, so they reset the system and as the system came back up there was a cheer from our boys!  Dinner was great, either a pasta or a chicken dish.  In-spite of having snacks before departing either Toronto or Montreal airport every meal was fully consumed within record time.  As many a parent knows, their sons always appear to be hungry.

Now it’s time to encourage our timber wolves and explorers to stop watching their individual video screens or to stop doing homework and get some sleep… wish us luck on that one as we are now only five short hours away from arriving in Rome. 

Did the boys sleep… over the next almost four hours some did and others napped for short periods of time. As dawn broke, as we flew over the Swiss alps a simple breakfast of cake and juice was served.  All in great spirits as the reality of landing in Rome was almost upon us.

A very smooth and a picture perfect landing by the giant A330 with skilled Air Canada pilots at the controls… before we knew it we parked at the gate to deplane at the rear of the plane down giant air stairs to the ramp surface… the timber wolves and explorers delayed boarding the bus waiting for us on the ramp as the sights to see were exciting and unique as many an aircraft taxied past us to their specific gates.

Travel through Italian customs was quick and easy given the fact that we are Explorers and carry a Canadian passport.  And low and behold our baggage was waiting for us as we cleared customs followed by meeting Luca an Italian leader who welcomed us to Italy and escorted us to our waiting bus.

So, during our 90-minute ride to the Brownsea Camp, the national camp for our Italian brothers and sisters did anyone sleep?  Nope… too excited as to the sunny warm weather and the adventure that awaits us. 

On arrival, we quickly explored some of the campsites, found cool caves to check out and made friends with a number of local wild cats before enjoying a meal of homemade Italian Lasagna (made by Alberto’s mother in law) and a unique version of Italian pizza.  Now we await the arrival of our Italian brothers!

After settling in and grabbing a quick nap our Italian brothers arrived at the Brownsea Italian National camp.  The Canadian boys formed two rows on each side of the road to welcome the new arrivals and to say hello as the Italian Explorers hiked by with their backpacks, tents, and other gear.

The Italian timber wolves arrive Saturday afternoon as they need to attend school while the Explorers took time off school to be with their Canadian brothers.

The first thing to do was to meld the two countries together into one family of Explorers as after all we are all brothers, part of our larger FSE family.

Upon the appropriate signal, the Explorers raced into position into the troop formation to commence our joint camp with a prayer and calling out patrol cheers one after the other.  We are happy to say that our Canadian boys fit right in with everything that took place, we feel and act as part of the larger family.

First thing is first, to meld the patrols together.  Immediately the patrols were twinned together one Italian and one Canadian.  They will share campsites together (one per two patrols), build structures like a cooking and eating table, and prepare to participate in a campfire later on that evening.

The Italian national camp is well equipped with wooden spars, ropes and other materials that needed to be hauled pole by pole to the respective campsites.  The Explorers put their mind and muscle into moving what they needed to their respective campsites.  On Saturday the Explorers will be building bridges in designated locations. 

At first, our Italian brothers felt unsure as to their English language skills taught at school.... we quickly resolved this by intermixing the patrols over dinner... soon we witnessed many smiles, much laughter as they got to know one another.

In the meantime, the timber wolves explored the vast camp property. They found signs of wild boar in the area with footprints and the discovery of the mud pit that the animals liked to roll and play in. Beyond playing with the camps cats they also discovered two wild dogs that showed little interest in the timber wolves as they had no food with them at that time to offer to the animals.

The timber wolves climbed up into a larger watch tower where they could see the campsite for miles around an awesome sight to behold.

Before dinner, we entered a large cave and prayed the Rosary with many intentions being offered up especially for our loved ones at home.

Off to dinner (pasta as after all we are in Italy) and from there to a rousing campfire with a number of repeat after me songs (action ones in particular) to overcome any language challenges.  Much laughter and joy before holding closing prayers and off to bed.

It did not take long for the boys to fall asleep.... about 2 minutes at most as a deserved restful sleep was especially awaiting our Canadian boys.  We went to bed excited about what awaits us tomorrow!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 3 in Rome Italy – Saturday, April 8

Dawn arrived all too soon for the Canadian Explorers and even for a few of our Italian brothers as we continue to adjust to the new time zone.  There was not a single cloud in the sky and the wind had dropped down.

The morning silence was suddenly interrupted for our Explorers as the gathering horn sounded loud and clear off in the distance.  A few of the boys stirred slowly as the realization of the sound meant started to sink in… we got to get up now without any delay.  You could hear the patrol chief at each camp call out to his brothers, come on guys we can’t afford to arrive at the gathering place late or worst last.

After a few moments of frantic activity as we pulled on our uniforms the boys hustled to reach the gathering location.  Ever tried to run when some of your brothers are half asleep… pulling up their knee socks and tucking in your shirt, or pulling on your sweater… and then realizing that you forgot your Stetson!  Oh no, now we are going to be late as we will not leave any of our brother Explorers behind as we always move as a patrol!

The Canadian Explorers arrived to find their Italian brothers still in their pajamas?  Why? Because they do their wake-up morning exercises in their PJ’s before getting into uniform.  A lesson learned for tomorrow.  So, as a large troop, we all participated in morning pushups, jumping jacks and stretching exercises.

After a good work out, the Explorers are really now wide awake they returned back to their patrols to prepare for breakfast. An Italian breakfast is quite different than what one is used to in North-America, one with hot tea and a cake.  But the tea had to be heated up over an open fire and that required finding the wood in the woods and getting the fire started with only one match.  Breakfast was jointly prepared as twinned patrols, some patrols got the fire going quickly while others needed extra time.

Once breakfast was completed the leaders announced a surprise inspection of their patrol site, some sites required more work and other less.  Grey Wolf was asked to join the inspection team, they all did well with a remarked improvement noted as to the performance of our Canadian Explorers.

Explorers were now summed to a vast opening ceremony in front of a larger tower in the central part of the Brown sea camp through the blast of a whistle exactly as it is done in Canada, the explorers hustled to get into position for a very impressive opening ceremony.

Once in position we raised four flags, the Italian and Canadian together on the same pole to show a sense of brotherhood between our two countries within our larger FSE movement, another for the flag of our movement the Baussant, and lastly the EU flag. 

This was followed by the Lord’s Prayer in Latin and in English and then by singing proudly our respective national anthems.  Our Explorers truly sang O Canada from their heart as did the Italian Explorers for the Italian national anthem!

Next up one Explorer from each country came up to state in a loud voice the Explorer law, first an Italian Explorer and then Hojun Choi on behalf of our Canadian Explorers.  We the chanted our respective Explorer promise followed by singing the Explorer promise song, once in Italian and then in English.  Once dismissed the Explorers headed off to the first big challenge of the day!

Now the great challenge was presented to the Explorers, each twinned patrol was challenged to build a rope bridge one that would sustain the weight of the largest Explorer first and then possibly a leader.  This work required some baseline engineering skills to help figure our distance, weight, anchor foundations and stress factors.  The balance of the morning was spent to construct the bridges.  We could see that language differences were not a limiting factor as the Explorers worked closely together to jointly help each other to build the bridge.  We are pleased to report that they were successful.

 

Now off to lunch, the explorers needed no incentive as all that physical work building the bridge built up quite an appetite.  Lunch spaghetti and sausages.  Each twinned patrol invited two leaders to join them for lunch.  Parents… did you know that you sons are becoming better cooks after each camp? Grey Wolf knows as he has tasted earlier meals that needed some notable improvement.  This meal was much better indeed!

One can’t work all day, one needs to compete in patrol vs patrol games, and that they did.  In the words of a couple of the patrol chiefs:

“The games are cool as they are all new to us!  Some required physical endurance, others patience, others working together as patrols and not as individuals.  One game set out a great challenge, to get to a specific tree without being seen by a leader.  Michael Cho was the last Explorer caught, we have to play that game differently next time.”

It is a great thing to see the Explorers from both countries mixing together more naturally with each other as they played, cooked, built, prayed and sang together. Dinner pasta with ground beef and bread with a fruit dessert.  An evening campfire rounded out an exciting and challenging day.  It was getting quite cool as we are camping up the side of a mountain as our boys got ready for bed and quickly got into their sleeping bags.  All, were asleep within a few minutes as day two in Italy ended.

Our timber wolves were no less active.  Morning dawned all too soon for a few us as we rounded the sleeping timber wolves from their warm and cozy bed.  They quickly got up, brushed their teeth and put on their uniforms before heading outside for breakfast.

With breakfast quickly consumed they timber wolves headed off for the local area cave to pray the morning rosary that was well prayed with purpose, intention and with love for Mother Mary and our Lord Jesus.

After hunting for wild boars and perhaps the dogs that they say on Friday (they did not spot any that morning) they headed out of camp to visit a nearby town called Viterbo with parents of Italian timber wolves and leaders providing transportation.  The Italian leaders and parents of their boys are so kind, accommodating and loving, we feel welcome, safe and loved as part of a larger brotherhood and movement.  This experience and way of living and serving are especially unique to our FSE / FNE movement as perhaps compared to other organizations or sports teams.

Viterbo is truly an ancient town with much history and intrigue. Many buildings and structures are more than one thousand years old, think about it, Canada as a country is only 150 years old!  This fact was not lost on a number of our timber wolves as they walked and walked through the town as lead by the local Italian timber wolf leaders who spoke really good English, much better that our attempts at speaking Italian!  A number of the leaders and fathers expressed fatigue from the walking at the end of the day, a reminder that many of us (including Akela) need to be more physical in our daily lives.

First stop – a medieval Papal Palace.  The tour was exciting as we learned a lot about Papal history over the years.  The most famous church in town is called St. Rosa.  St. Rosa was a very special local saint.  St. Rosa’s uncorrupt body was there in a glass case.  We all knelt and prayed in front of St. Rosa to ask for her intercession to help us with some of our deepest requests held in our hearts for our Lord.  This was a very special moment for our timber wolves indeed.

Once every five years a huge platform some 3 stories high is built with symbolic scenes that are related to St. Rosa’s life is built.  This platform is then carried on the backs of hundreds of men through the local town as part of a massive religious procession.  We saw photos and drawings of previous processions, very impressive indeed.

A stop at the local town museum was a must to better appreciate the history of Viterbo.  To see items hundreds of years old and how the town over the many years came into being generated many questions from our timber wolves.

As noon drew near the timber wolves went to visit the local FSE group headquarters, a beautiful old building consisting of many rooms and play areas.  Here for the first time, our timber wolves met their Italian timber wolf brothers and even a few of their sisters for the first time.  Pleasantries were exchanged and a few active games played in the local open area before settling down for a wonderful hearty lunch.

Before meeting our Italian brothers as we walked through town we noted the interest as to who we are from the public that we passed by.  In fact, a number of adults stopped the fathers or leaders traveling with the group to learn a little more about our movement.  Our uniforms and the behaviour of our boys generate a lot of respect, joy and leaving members of the public wanting to learn more.

While all this was happening a couple of the fathers needed to get a sim card for their phones from the local service provider known as “tims” but the local store was closed.  The nearest one was a good 20 to 30-minute walk away (one way) too far from a time perspective.  One of the Italian mothers overheard their plight and immediately offered to help by driving the Dad’s to the store in question.  When there the fathers realized that the single clerk could not speak any English, how to communicate?  Once again this kind Italian mother stepped in and translated for the fathers.  On the drive back to the timber wolves she told them that she and her family have been praying for our visit and for good weather as they had a lot of rain before our arrival.  Thanks, be to God that the good Lord said yes to her prayers.  This mother and the Italian leaders that we have met are a wonderful example of what our larger family really consists of, love, service, kindness and helping the children be the best that they can be with Christ in the centre of their lives, to help us all one day become an ordinary saint!

After a wonderful afternoon, the timber wolves along with their Italian brothers returned to Brownsea camp for more dynamic and exciting games.  As leaders, we wish that we could harness some of their energy levels!

 

When dinner arrived (pasta and meat) the boys were really hungry, there was little left over food at the end of the meal.

Our boys then went off to have a hot shower which all enjoyed immensely we prepared for a rousing campfire program complete with follow me songs and even the “red flower” jungle dance!  There was so much fun, laughter, squeals of joy as the evening campfire program came to an end.

 

From there all 50 timber wolves fell quickly asleep… we gave our timber wolves 7 minutes to change and brush their teeth before lights out.  Time for them to fall asleep… some in 5 or 6 minutes as we eagerly look forward to the great adventure that awaits us on Sunday including Palm Sunday in the great outdoors with our Italian brothers and their families.   Italian families are very interested in meeting the Canadian timber wolves, explorers and leaders.  Evening prayers included thanking our Lord for yet another amazing blessed day.  I love you, Jesus, I love you, Jesus, I love you, Jesus!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 4 in Rome Italy – Palm Sunday - Sunday, April 9

This day was a little different as the boys, fathers and leaders woke up adjusted to the time zone, to a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze blowing and the birds singing from all around us and not a single cloud in the sky!  Thank you, Lord! Wolf Patrol was the first one up and in the exercise field all ready to go before even the first Italian patrol exited their tents upon the wake-up horn.

The timber wolves happily got up when summoned but their Italian brothers made it outdoors for their exercise program before we could get ourselves organized.  Several our older timber wolves want to copy their older Explorer brothers by finding and then carefully guarding their walking stick.  Timber Wolves, sticks, friendly wild cats, reported wild and hungry dogs, evidence of wild boars consistently draw our timber wolves into the outdoors to see what perhaps they can find today before being called to breakfast.

Once we were all organized for the morning Akela inspired by his brother Italian leaders surprised the timber wolves by getting them to run after him down the road for morning exercises.  After a good jog, we undertook 50 jumping jacks and stretching exercises before heading off for a typical Italian breakfast of bread, jam, cookies, and hot drinks along with a few cookies.

The explorers, as usual, prepared their own breakfast with their twinned patrol now functioning well as language challenges largely overcome while together they harnessed the strengths of each patrol into a well-functioning unit.  The explorers were treated with fancy pastries as part of their morning breakfast prepared by their respective chefs.  As breakfast was being prepared the Explorers commenced the labour-intensive task of dismantling their tables, rope bridges and the beautiful large tents that they were sleeping in thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our Italian hosts.  We are proud of our Explorers as they rose to the physical challenge without grumbling while helping each other to get the task done in good time.

As breakfast was completed a surprise inspection of their respective patrol corners took place by the joint Italian-Canadian leadership team.  One Patrol Chief asked… Polar Bear why did you not tell us that we would be having inspection this morning?  Luka the Italian Chief responded, a good Explorer lead by a strong patrol chief is always prepared for the unexpected.  If you keep yourself and your patrol organized and that everything is in its place, garbage is where it should be and your brothers keep their personal belongings under control a surprise inspection should be seen as an opportunity to demonstrate your well-functioning and managed patrol.  We can look at our faith, in the same way, are we strong in our faith, do we embrace the sacraments especially confession, are we on a solid path towards becoming one day in this life an ordinary Saint?

This morning's ceremony would be a special one as the timber wolves would be joining the Explorers for the first time to come together to raise the flags, sing our respective national anthems, state the promise and law on the side of the Rome foothills overlooking a valley and a small town below.  It was truly an inspiring sight. As we gathered for these ceremonies another Italian timber wolf den arrived for the day's program activities, more brothers for our timber wolves and explorers to enjoy.

The Vice President of the Italian Association made a special trip to come and bring greetings from the senior leadership team to welcome their Canadian brothers to Italy.

An amazing scene started to play out in front of us as dozens and dozens of families started to arrive complete with family pets, babies, siblings to come and meet the Canadian Timber Wolves and Explorers while bringing generous food and drinks for a “potluck” lunch.  The assortment was amazing and the food volumes more than enough to feed the hundreds of people present who came to welcome FNE to Italy and to show their love and support for their brothers and sisters in North-America.  When we in North-America say that we are part of a larger FSE family in Europe it is true as we have been welcomed and embraced as family members coming to visit the family from overseas.

Before lunch got underway the timber wolves played an amazing game that required catching the chicken (a leader in a chicken costume) and then setting up posts to defend against other opposing teams to gather as many eggs as possible.  In the end, every timber wolf shared in a large chocolate egg as the grand prize.  I can safely say that all the timber wolves consumed every possible piece of chocolate within a very short period… boys and chocolate… need we say more?

FNE through its larger FSE family embraces the importance of family with our model family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph leading the way.  This message was clearly demonstrated from the moment that we arrived at Brown Sea camp to the moment that we departed at the end of the day to Rome to commence our Pilgrimage.

The time now came to gather all the families and the more than 100 Italian timber wolves and explorers together for a wonderful feast offered up by the very generous Italian families and what a feast it was.  Our boys got a great deal of attention from the Italian families, their body language and for those who could speak English warmly greeted and welcomed FNE to Italy.  As lunch was consumed we noted how many of our youth would seek out one or more of their brother timber wolves or explorers to eat with, to share a few more stories along with much laughter. It was a beautiful sight to see indeed that brotherhood is alive and well within our Explorer family both at the youth level and most especially at the leader and adult level.  The fathers traveling with us also felt very welcome and included in all of the weekend's activities.

Now it was time to prepare for Holy Mass, this Sunday Mass was a special one, Palm Sunday. It was quite a sight to see as we gathered on an open field in front of a platform with speakers for Mass.  Members of FNE were elected to participate in the opening procession and to undertake the first reading, second reading, responsorial psalm and prayers of the faithful.

The homily was very profound first given in Italian and then in English.  We wish to share it with you now.

The True Glory of Humility

If we have to comment on the Gospel of the Passion, we can’t reach an end. So is all extraordinary, dramatic and joyful! But we’ll have Holy Week to do this…

We consider guys, the Gospel of the entry of Lord Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, along with other readings of the today.

Jesus makes an important public act: the reference is to the sacred entrance of a king: there is the procession of a famous character, with a crowd on the edges of the streets that applaud to him, shaking branches, laying blankets.

But Jesus has done this in a very strange way: He didn’t tell a powerful knight to prepare a horse for him, but a female donkey, a foal. We should have expected a sports car, a Ferrari! But Jesus comes with a subcompact car, a small car, so it is with Jesus, but so it is for every Christian and Explorer. What do we understand? Where is the glory? Thanks to Jesus, we recognize that where there is the real glory there is humility! It’s a great man, the man who is small! The leader who put themselves at the service of the smallest. The Patrol Chief has close the novice to himself, the smallest in the Patrol. And then the true glory doesn’t come from us but from the sky! Hosanna in the heavens! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Is there anyone who is not in his name and that’s it, but in the name of the Lord.  If we search for a glory that comes only from us, sooner or later we are going to remain disappointed: the secret of happiness – as well as Baden-Powell, reminds us – it is not going to start from us, by our will, but comes from God, from his name: “Our Father, hallowed is (not ours but) your name:, and this makes us capable of loving, to serve, to do good.  The secret of the glory, “the true way to be happy is to bring happiness to others, “seeking to leave this world a little “Better than how we found it. “Today we are called to “cheer”, to sing, not for ourselves, but for others: talk of heaven, of Jesus Christ, of the King of Glory; a glory which passes from the Passion, from the humility and the gift of self, by a large passion, love, and service to others! So be it.  Amen.

The Mass was very beautiful with an excellent Mass booklet so that we could follow along as most of the mass was celebrated in Italian.  The Mass was celebrated by the District Area Priest who when not celebrating Mass wears a leader uniform with a special pin highlighting that he is a Priest.

Immediately after Mass, we all gathered together for closing ceremonies that included a large group picture.  The Italian boys were so very very happy with the gifts that the boys brought from Canada – thank you!

As we went our separate ways many handshakes and hugs exchanged with the promise that this special relationship between our Italian brothers and sisters would not weaken but rather be strengthened.  

We asked some of our timber wolves as to their thoughts as to their interaction with their Italian brothers and they offered the following reflections:

ü  I really enjoyed playing games with my brother timber wolves, they are good team players, I worked hard to get to know their names and to make each other understood

ü  It was cool to try to learn a few words in a new language

ü  They do not cheat, their timber wolf howl is very catchy when they yell marcho, marcho, marcho

ü  I like how hard they worked to try to speak to us in English

ü  They are fast talkers

ü  Loved singing together the “repeat after me songs”

ü  They are good sportsmanship players

ü  The jungle dance that we did about the red flower was so much fun

ü  Their leaders are playful, they share and I can see that they love their boys just like our leaders do

ü  Their leaders communicated really good with us and looked after us, we really felt that we are part of their den

ü  The chicken game was so much fun, I loved getting the big chocolate Easter egg to share with my brothers

ü  The trip into town to learn about their history was cool

ü  The Italian timber wolves are very happy, we made new friends and we would like to see them again

ü  The Italians are always on time, they participate in everything well even if they don’t want to

From an Explorer perspective, as we finish writing this story the Explorers are reliving their time with their Italian brothers through songs in Italian, cheers and chants, stories and much laughter as they share stories among one another.  A very very positive and heartwarming experience for each and every one of our FNE members.  We look forward to our Italian brothers or sisters coming to North-America one day so that we can repay the favour.

This special bond between FNE and Italy started in the summer of 2002 when over 40 Italian Wayfarer Explorers traveled from Italy for World Youth Day being held in the city of Toronto. The FSE reached out to the only FNE group at the time for logistical and transportation help.  This was the start of a beautiful relationship that we work hard to this day to strengthen.  This joint camp helped today’s FNE leaders along with a few fathers truly understand what it means to be part of the larger FSE family.  We are more determined than ever to return home and double our efforts to build the FNE program through the FSE method as the positive results for our children is beyond worldly measurement.

Our bus pulled out from Brown Sea camp 45 minutes late as we headed to the seminary or so we thought.  We knew that the driver received the wrong information when he asked us which airline terminal we are departing from.  We wondered why we were approaching the airport.  So a 2-hour bus ride became an almost 3-hour ride.  So be it.

We arrived at the seminary (a massive modern beautiful facility) at 7.00 p.m. As we pulled up Father Thomas was happily waiting for us and welcomed us to the start of the retreat.  We quickly unloaded the bus before heading down to our sleeping quarters. Before we entered the building, we stopped around the statue of Mary to give thanks for our safe arrival. Timber Wolves all in one room and Explorers in the other rooms.  An exact number of beds for each group.  The leaders and dads each have a private room complete with a washroom, shower, bed and desk.  No time to unpack as dinner was waiting for us in the main dining room. The boys loved what was beings served, 10 oz. cheese burgers with french fries and a salad followed by the world-famous Gelato ice cream.  Tired boys, well-fed boys, truly happy and joyful boys!  Parents you can be very proud of your son as are we.

Before heading back to the dorms we stopped by the huge and beautiful chapel where we happily found Eucharistic Adoration in process.  We filed in silently to adore our Lord and give thanks before returning to the dorm for unpacking and well-needed showers, especially for our Explorers.  Into PJ’s and all asleep in less than 5 minutes by about 10.00 p.m. as we need to be up by 5.00 a.m. for a 5.45 a.m. bus departure to the City of Assisi.

All in all yet another amazing and very rewarding day.  Thank you Lord!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 5 and 6 in Italy – Monday, April 10 and Tuesday, April 11 - Assisi and Loreto Italy

Getting up at 5.00 a.m. for a 5.45 a.m. departure to Assisi was not anticipated to be easy especially after three demanding, physically active and intense days with our Italian brothers.  Far too often we as leaders can underestimate our timber wolves and explorers as to their resolve and determination. The wake-up invitation was passed on to the boys at exactly 5.00 a.m.  and by 5.20 a.m. they had used the washroom facilities, packed their bags and got into their uniforms.  By 5.25 we departed the building that we are staying at and commenced our walk to the bus that would soon arrive at the main entrance of the seminary. The walk out was orderly, all in one line with all present at the pick-up point 10 minutes early awaiting the arrival of the bus. The temperature was 15 degrees C with a full moon present as we hiked out, very comfortable temperature indeed. As the bus pulled up we got up from our sitting position by the edge of the sidewalk to load the bus both with boys and gear.  We had not been on the bus for more than one minute when the water auto system sprang into life spraying water everywhere.  A 60-second delay would have meant many wet people!  A good sign as to what awaited us this day.

Once we loaded the morning’s breakfast the bus pulled away as the sun started to peak out of the horizon.  There was little talking on the bus as we headed for Assisi a two-and-a-half-hour drive as most of the boys and leaders went back to sleep.

We started to climb the mountains and soon enough Assisi came into view, a stunning sight on a perfect warm spring day with the lush rolling green valleys down below some of them still covered in pockets of ground fog.

At last the Basilica of St. Francis came into view in the distance.  It was stunning and so very beautiful. The bus weaved its way through the narrow stone lined streets to get us as close to the Basilica as possible.  We arrived at 8.30 a.m. right on schedule, so we felt that we had extra time to get to the church for Holy Mass at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi! That was a mistake as the Italian military was present to screen every tourist wishing to enter the facility.  We all had our backpacks opened and searched while also carefully screening every one of our boys. Yet local Italian people showed up waiting in line for a few minutes before deciding that the wait would be too long so they bypassed our line and inserted themselves to the front of the line for a cursory look at their handbag before being let in. O well, patience is a virtue. It took us better than 45 minutes to all be screened with Akela / Grey Wolf being the last one.

We hustled ourselves into the church and made our way promptly to the tomb of St. Francis for our own private Mass. We quickly filled the chapel and prepared ourselves for Holy Mass as we started to realize that we are at the tomb of one of the most powerful and well-known Saints in the history of our church.

Several boys openly confessed to their brothers later in the day that they felt that this Mass would be just like any other, but this would truly not be the case for many of us.  The boys prayed from their heart, sang songs, served, and undertook the readings of the day.  Some of us wept at various points during the Mass while others felt a presence and others as if they were being loved and others who could feel for a brief moment the love of Jesus and the intercession of St. Francis of Assisi.

Father Thomas homily highlighted the story of St. Francis as to how the Lord worked in his life to get Francis to move away from his worldly riches and fame to help him become the extraordinary saint that he would become.  The Lord had a great plan for Francis, just like he has a great plan for each and everyone in the chapel that morning.  Father Thomas asked the question, do you think that it was you and your choice to bring you here to Assisi?  No, you are here on this Pilgrimage because the Lord has a plan for you, a plan and a life far more rewarding and fulfilling than what we can possibly envision.  Francis was radical, he gave up everything even his clothes to follow our Lord and do his will. 

Are you prepared to be radical to listen to what the Lord is calling you to do, to cooperate in his will for you or will you just be part of the masses wandering aimlessly looking for worldly goods and status that will never leave you fulfilled and truly happy? 

Mass was a very beautiful one and a solid foundation for us to commence our Pilgrimage this very day and very moment.  Mass was intense, personal, so very spiritually powerful that for many of us we will not forget this mass in this place and time.

After Mass, we made our way through the balance of this marvelous Basilica to learn more about the great life of St. Francis of Assisi. We would not be disappointed.

The Pilgrimages of old would include a lot of walking from one Pilgrimage site to another, well on this day, and in this place, we too will embark on a lot of walking… a great experience for our timber wolves, explorers, leaders and dads.

Next stop -the Basilica of St. Rufinus where St. Francis of Assisi had his encounter with his father and the local Bishop of the day.  Here St. Francis gave back to his father all that he owed including money that he had taken from his father to help rebuild the church including the very clothes that he was wearing on his back in front of hundreds of onlookers.  The bishop took a cloak that he used to cover St. Francis after he removed his clothing.  From then on St. Francis wore on old cloak as part of his daily living.

Next, on deck, we walked to the Basilica of St. Clair of Assisi another massive church.  Here we went to visit the tomb of St. Clair of Assisi who was in a glass casket as her body was totally incorrupt. She looked very beautiful even in death more than 800 years later!

Lunch time was upon us under a blazing sun, no clouds in the sky and a comfortable 23 degrees C day. Each six or patrol was given a set amount of money and they set out to find a food outlet of their choice to have lunch at.  Choices varied but in every case, a local Italian restaurant with local food dishes was selected.  We enjoyed sitting in a roadside café enjoying our lunch much to the delight of the locals.

Our walking Pilgrimage continued as we hiked down a beautiful and very steep hill to San Damiano where St. Clare of Assisi and her order of the “Poor Clares” lived.  Here we saw where St. Clair brought a Monstrance to the gates of this convent when an invading army arrived to enter and slaughter the sisters.  When the army saw Jesus in the monstrance they quickly fled leaving the sisters safe along with the people of Assisi.  A great miracle showing the power of our Lord through the holiest sacrament of the altar, the Eucharist!

Now the hike down was enjoyable but the hike up at about a 45-degree angle of incline was anything but easy under the blazing sun.  Yet the boys did not complain, some fathers had a particularly tough time making the climb.  Yet this simple walk, this simple struggle would later become one of the most profound spiritually awaking to the suffering of our Lord and to the utter determination of St. Francis who made this walk every day even in his weakened state as he grew sicker and sicker towards the end of his life. Jesus suffered so much for us, and we complain about this little suffering?  How can we? Jesus, you love us so much that you suffered many more times than I undertaking this walk?  Others reported calling out to God for help, one reported problems with his ankles, yet once asking for help the pain from walking this steep incline was overcome!

Now off to our last stop of the day!  A visit to another beautiful church – St. Mary of the Angels. We made the stop there to see one of the churches that St. Francis rebuilt, so a church in a church.  This is also where St. Francis gave the famous homily about “Take nothing with you”.

As we visited the main church several of the boys discovered a side Eucharistic Adoration chapel, once discovered a good number of them flooded in to quickly take their seats to be in front of our Lord.  Their prayers and attention to our Lord were so very focused, deep and sincere that it was quite something to see.  Unfortunately, we are not allowed to take any photos to show you what we observed.  When the time came to load the bus to depart for Loreto several of the boys begged Akela for another 10 minutes in the Adoration Chapel as they had not yet finished talking to Jesus or simply wanted more time to be in his presence. 

Lastly, a visit to St. Mary of the Angels allows one to earn a preliminary indulgence for the remission of all sins and the purification process in Purgatory by visiting this church, going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, praying for the pope and being detached from all sin.  Thanks, be to God.

The bus departed a little late from St. Mary of the Angels due to our boys wanting to stay a little longer in the Eucharistic chapel.

The bus ride to Loreto was lively with the boys often breaking into joyful song, chants, and chatter as we made our way to Loreto to our designated hotel.

Upon arrival, the boys were assigned to their rooms before flooding into the dining room for dinner.  Dinner was awesome, pasta appetizer followed by Chicken and potatoes and salad and wine (don’t worry parents, the wine was only for the adults).

Some 16 Italian Explorers and Wayfarers who live in the general area came to join us for dinner. Dinner was joyful and festive especially given that one of the Timber Wolves – Clement was celebrating his 12th birthday.  We had a giant cake plus a signed card, a gift and a presentation of the visiting FSE group of their group neckerchief to present to Clement.  Clement was so happy that he shed tears of joy and gave Akela a hug of thanks.  A very joyful experience for us all!  A birthday that Clement will always remember!

After dinner, we gathered together for personal testimonies as to our experiences and hopes for this pilgrimage.  The testimonies were so very powerful and inspiring indeed, with several boys, leaders, and dads in tears from time to time.

We wish to share with you some of their reflections, very powerful and from the heart! 

Testimonials 

 

Mathew

Fr Thomas spoke without the use of mic and yet we can still hear him. God speak to us, we have to listen to our Lord

Akela Paul

When Matthew announced that he found the adoration chapel, I rushed in and asked Jesus to love me more not less.

No matter how much you give to our Lord, it is always hard and difficult. Do it anyway and love without limit.

Jesus help me to Love others like you do, to see you in others. 

Anthony

Fr Thomas said that St Francis used to walk up and down the hill but how can I compare myself with the saint. Then I think about Jesus, how they spit on him, insult, torture and continue to carry the cross even knowing that he will die. I was encouraged by this to climb the hill.

Paul, Polar Bear

It was in the seminary, after dinner that evening where I remembered that I was here 12 years ago, full of seminaries. I felt a sensation gashing over me. Reminds me what I felt 12 years ago and the spiritual high.

Bo

This is my 2nd trip to Italy. The pilgrimage is not only for my sons, but also about myself, During the mass at the tomb of St Francis, I asked Jesus to help me love more my family. I felt more connection with my family and with our Lord.

 

Ho Jun

Happened yesterday, the chapel in seminary, everyone there is a brother trying to become a priest. God is calling us in little signs.


Father Thomas in his homily – God gave Francis a purpose, he was entrusted to re-build the church. God is calling all of us to do great things for the church. 

Ethan

When I was praying, I felt like someone is watching over me.

God is listening to me. Answering my prayer, 

Daniel

On the way up from supposedly a washroom, I wanted to relax/rest.

I heard Fr Thomas talked about St Francis being weak and how he walked each day up the hill. Climbing the hill towards the bus, I felt happy.

Kelvin

This is my 2nd time to Italy. The first thing that to come to mind is the evening at the seminary, in the chapel praying with the seminarians. Very encouraging to see that a lot men are wanted to become a priest.  

Second – the trip in Assisi, spending art, basilicas, great saints. The church reflecting the same way, attracting pilgrims. I desire to become more humble and closer to God.

Vince

After communion at the tomb of St Francis, I prayed and learned that to go to heaven, I need to improve my daily prayers; not to be attached to be attached to material things such as electronic devices, etc.

Andy

The first time I came here is when I was in grade 2 and received my first communion at St Francis tomb.  This time I asked for strength.

FNE is our family, our protection.

Brian

St Clare is a great example of great faith, belief in Jesus. While walking up the hill, it keeps me going.

Mang Noel

My first time in Rome. Tunic of St Francis reminded to me live a simple life. How we are blessed with material possessions such as electronics, clothes, shoes. I will encourage my family to live a simple life.

Second – going up to the hill, I had to carry 2 bags which are heavy. Offered it like my cross and not to give up. I was encouraged by Akela Paul, brothers, Timberwolves, and the youngest boys in our group.

Samuel

With many churches, lots of time to pray for my mother and my brothers in FNE. 

Michael

At the tomb of St Francis, I truly felt his presence.

During the climb, I was tired, hot – but the Lord gave us strength to make the climb.

Benjamin

Grow and share devotion to St Francis, In adoration, I was praying for strength and felt protection I can always expect from St Francis and St Clare

Andrew

While walking up the hill, hot and weak, can it be any worse? I then remembered how Jesus carried the cross without complaint and here I am complaining about it being hot.

Shawn

Felt that someone is watching over me. I realized Jesus is watching me. Walking up the hill, tired and exhausted – I almost give up but I  was determined.

Jamil

At the tomb of St Francis, surrounding with paintings about him, I was inspired. Father Thomas story about him boosts how I pray.

Richard

I felt a strong connection. 1st at St Francis painting about final judgment, the representation of hell – it was scary. It reinforces my faith. 2nd. Lots of confessional, lots of chances to get forgiveness.

Michael

In adoration, kneeling and thinking, first major prayer session about myself, love me and love my family. Let me think about the people I know. I pray that the trip is smooth as possible

Simon

I can talk for an hour, 30 mins.  First prayer in front of the cross and remember the words “until you truly love”.  Second – St Francis married to lady poverty. Not only worry about wealth, everyday life. Love Jesus unconditionally. Third - The walk – many more opportunities and days to go.

Akela Cris

A great opportunity to walk the same place St Francis walk.

Simon F

With basilicas, beautiful places, I am not very close to God. Not ready to get close to Jesus. I realize how I missed the experience with God, Jesus touched my heart. At the walk up the steep hill, I offer every single step to walk with Jesus.

Watch you head daddy” my son said while walking down the stairs. I was harsh, by pushing him hard in everyday life but now I realize that I need to help him and love him more.

Jacob

When we were walking in the sun, I remember the comfort at home, the air condition then I realize that it is good to give up something for God.

Justin

At tomb of St Francis, I felt he’s watching me. Felt strength.

Samuel

I think about suffering, Physical, mental suffering. During the movement from one church to another, I had temptations of bad thoughts, use of bad language. I am not taking mass seriously. Now found out it is helping me from learning a valuable lesson. Church protect us from eternal punishment. 

Michael

Help me improve my own faith.

To think about my own actions before I do it.

Ian

I feel it is cool, cross spoke like a human. The body of St Claire fascinating. I felt the connection with St Francis because of the story in the square.

Matthew

During adoration, I found that I wanted to stay longer, by visiting with God.

Justin C

I need to try much harder to get to heaven. I see now how easy it is to go to hell.

Jose

On the picture of final judgment, I am afraid that if I don’t change I’ll go to hell. I want to be better, lead my patrol better and lead my patrol to heaven.

Christopher

While at mass at St Francis tomb, I felt like someone is watching me. God sent St Francis to watch over me.

Oenai

Morn at the tomb of St Francis. After communion overwhelmed with a great sense of sorrow. I wept for the people in Egypt and for Michael homesickness, it was so overwhelming yet beautiful.

Joonho

While everyone on their 1st step, I felt pain in my right calf. I don’t want to give up.  I asked the Lord to help me and the pain went away!

Michael

Anxiety of the trip. Maybe this is the cross I need to bear.

Luke

Fr. Thomas spoke to us about the strength of St. Francis because, like him, I can’t give up.

Aaron

St Francis calling me during the mass.

Rylan

Mass at the tomb of St Francis is not an ordinary mass, it’s a special place. Someone is watching me, I need to concentrate in the mass.

Clement

The picture of the final judgment look scary – if we are going to heaven or hell. Too much suffering in purgatory.

 The hill is uncomfortable, but yet I see Jesus carry the cross, beaten up.  He suffered so much more than our little suffering.

Justin F

Walking up the hill, extremely tired. If St Francis walk every day and Jesus carry the cross, can’t be compared. Much less painful.

Diego

The homily by Fr Thomas at St Francis tomb. Each one of us has a purpose like St Francis. Many people condemned to hell. We are privileged in FNE to have a pilgrimage in Rome. We need to try what God is calling you to do. 

Bert

First pilgrimage. The strength of St Francis whom we should emulate. Need strength to love our family; commitment to our study and work; continuous improvement.

Francis

Unusual for me not to be able to prepare for the trip, too much occupied with work.  I will work on being more patient and more obedient. Though painful at times, I should be more obedient with my faith.

Ray

Anxiety of paying the bills for the trip. We should acknowledge fathers who are willing to come but can’t due to a particular limitations or circumstances. I felt that the open mass with the Italian brothers is the most memorable so far because I was very close to the altar. The altar that is simple, the chalice, the open field – a sign of poverty for me. I am here today for a reason and that is to be able to spend time with my son.

 

Upon return to the seminary, the timber wolves and explorers could choose a rousing time in the large indoor pool or go outside to play basketball.  Despite a long day the boys still had lots of energy to run or swim full out.  O if only us older leaders could tap into their energy!

Then just before dinner Mr. Martin Hafner the Federal Commissioner of our larger FSE family came to visit us.  The Federal Commissioner is responsible for our entire movement both here in Europe and in North-America.  Our General Commissioner for North-American Akela Paul / Grey wolf reports directly to the Federal Commissioner. The timber wolves and explorers shared their opening ceremonies and promise songs and the leaders and dads gave their own testimony as to their thoughts and experiences with the FNE program with the Federal Commissioner.

Their reflections were truly profound and moving. We took a break for dinner (pizza and salad) that was quickly consumed by our hungry boys.

After dinner, we resumed the larger group discussion where our youth leaders as Patrol Chief’s and Sixers shared their thoughts and experiences.  Parents, you can be really proud of your sons as to what they had to say from their heart!  Examples included:

·       FNE is like a family, we are all brothers no matter where you come from, we love one another and help one another.

·       FNE has helped me grow really strong in my faith and to love Jesus more and more.

·       FNE shows that we can help change the world in the future for the better.

·       FNE expects a lot from us, helping us to one day become and ordinary saint.

·       My time in FNE keeps me away from those who are bad examples, may lead me into sin and it makes me so very happy.

The Federal Commissioner then shared his experience first as a 10-year-old timber wolf and later as an Akela, Troop Leader, Group Chief, Deputy General Commissioner, General Commissioner for Germany and then as the Federal Commissioner responsible for all 21 countries.  The timber wolves and explorers had a number of questions for Martin before we broke for a few games in the games room.  Then we gathered together for evening prayers before heading off to bed as we have to get up at 5.50 am to get ready for our audience with Pope Francis tomorrow morning.  Another exciting day awaits us!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 7 in Rome Italy – Wednesday, April 12

5.40 am came early to us today, yet our boys managed to pop out of bed and get into their uniforms and up into the cafeteria within 20 short minutes.  We are blessed to once again wake up to a beautiful cloudless warm day!

Breakfast this morning consisted of freshly baked bread (still warm inside), boiled eggs and cereal. The Dad’s arrived extra early to help Father Thomas make the lunches that we would take with us (ham and cheese, an apple, a cinnamon bun, and a bag of chips).  By 6.45 am we were on the move to walk single file to the nearby train station for the short ride to Vatican stop some six minutes away.

The train service improved since our last visit in 2011 with a modern new train and on-time train service.  We boarded quickly to ensure that our group would all get onboard.  We effectively exited the train and commenced our walk to St. Peter’s at the Vatican.

There was much excitement as we turned one corner and suddenly St. Peter’s arose above the skyline as we snapped photos of our first view.  The crowds waiting to enter St. Peter’s square were huge, but getting through security was less difficult than what we experienced in Assisi.

The brothers (seminarians) helping Father Thomas that day quickly moved ahead to obtain a prime spot right where the Pope would be coming by in his Popemobile and where we could wait in the shade.  We played little games, Father Thomas talked to the boys about who was who in the statues towering over the square and then suddenly as 9.30 am rolled around a great cheer went up as the Pope suddenly appeared in his vehicle entering the square.  The timber wolves and explorers got excited and surged to the gate railings to get a better glimpse of the Pope with cameras in hand. 

They would not be disappointed as the Pope would pass within 6 feet of us and look us right in the eye, smile, and wave! The boys called out to His Holiness as he passed by with our Canadian and FSE flag on display!

We the listened to the Pope’s homily about the importance of Love, to listen to Jesus, to call on him to help, to love like him and not to put our hope in earthly material things or personal status as none of these will satisfy the human heart. This is what the Pope said in his homily (translated for us by Father Thomas from Italian to English:

It is exactly on the cross that our new life is born. It is a very different hope that is on the cross. Very different from the other hopes that crumble. What is our hope on the cross? It is like the seed that falls to the ground and dies. Only in breaking and dying will there be new life from that seed. Jesus did that. Like the seed, he made himself small. He allowed himself to fall into the earth. Not only that, he allowed himself to be broken... how is hope born? It is born of the cross... look at Jesus on the cross. There is our hope, a hope for eternal life... Jesus transformed, taking for Himself our sins... How does Easter transform us... Our fears he turns into trust, our darkness into light. That's why with Jesus everything can be turned to light... our losses into victories... hope can transform everything. Because God died so we could have life. When we turn to Jesus, we change. We gain a victorious life. This is how we can transform our lives and our world. It seems like I lose my power if I love people like I lose something. But in reality, I gain so much more. When I want something else and I get that something else, I will keep wanting more and more. It will never satisfy us. The more we get the more we want. And we lose it all anyway in the end. Love others, serve others. Live the way God wants us to... be the hope of the world. Serve others. Love others. Sometimes we get tired. But follow hope when we serve. Follow hope when we give.

The gold is not the goal. Jesus gave his life and his body for us in the Eucharist... and this is precisely what Jesus has in store for us. A life that gives joy... love that gives life... love is the motive that makes our hope move forward. These are days for love. As the grain of wheat falls on the ground, we have to contemplate the Christ.. We have to discover Jesus on the cross, his life, and his death. I'm going to give you something for you to use in your home. Stop in front of the cross.. Look at Jesus on the cross... Tell him, "Jesus, in you I always have hope." Say it together: you are my hope. Say it: you are my hope.

The Pope greeted the many groups present including English speaking members from Canada, we let out a great cheer at that moment.

As the Holy Father’s General Audience came to an end we settled down to enjoy our lunch before heading off to the “Church of the Holy Spirit”.  This church is dedicated to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  A beautiful church indeed.  We obtained permission to sing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Father Thomas started to lead us in song with a soft voice, but as soon as he did the boys responding with strong clear voices.  Other worshipers and tourists present certainly did not fail to note the beautiful prayer song with such belief and love by the timber wolves and explorers.

On the way back we made a brief side stop, to enjoy the world famous gelato ice-cream happily consumed by all present.  The vendor was so happy to see so many customers all at once.  Not a single trace of this ice cream was left before we continued our trek back to St. Peter’s.

The lineup to get into St. Peter’s was quite long but we made it through within a reasonable time.  When the Explorers and Timber Wolves first entered the largest church in the world finished in about 1612 after 120 years of construction they let out an audible “wow” as to the beauty that awaiting them.

We explored all that was open to the public within the next three plus hours in small groups with Brothers from the seminary present to assist us.  We prayed, took many photos’, learned a lot about the history of the church and studied the meaning of the different sculptures strategically positioned throughout the church.  From one of the boys, this visit is so awesome!

As we closed out our visit we made the long and very challenging trek up to the Cupola some 320 steps up that passed through steep and ever narrow passageways.  It is a good workout and not for the faint hearted (those with weak legs or a heart condition).  Just so you know Grey Wolf (Akela) made it up the stairs without any undue physical stress, yet a great workout.  The view from the top is absolutely stunning, especially on a cloudless day!

After descending we made our way to the train station for our trip back to the seminary for some sports, prayers, Holy Mass, supper (Sausages, salad, rice and a cake for dessert), showers and off to bed just before 10.00 pm with all asleep in less than 15 minutes.  Tomorrow Mass of the Last Supper and our trip to the Vatican museum, the best museum in the world!

Each one of our timber wolves and explorers is very happy, peaceful, content, joyful, and keeping up, even the littlest ones. Our Pilgrimage and joint camp with our Italian Explorers continue to exceed the wildest expectations!  Thanks, be to God! I love you, Jesus!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 7 in Rome Italy

This morning was different as compared to another day, we could sleep in and not need to get up until 7.00 a.m.!!! Wow! As always our boys managed to quickly get themselves out of bed, dressed and ready to go by 7.25 am as we gathered to enter the massive Chapel at the seminary.

We have taught the timber wolves and explorers how to effectively walk in a straight line and how to enter the chapel without any unnecessary noise as many seminarians were present praying before their day would get underway.

After some silent reflection and prayers, Brother Kevin came and gave us a talk about the meaning of the Last Supper and how Holy Thursday was the start of the most important time of the year for our church. You could see our youth paying careful attention to every word that was said.

Then off to breakfast for buns, cereal, milk and packing our lunch consisting of pita bread, ham, cheese, chips, fruit, and orange drink as we prepared to set off for our great adventure, a visit to the Vatican Museum.

Today must have been a popular day to go to the museum as upon arrival we saw many thousands of people in line waiting to get in.  Fortunately, we arrived holding group reservations and thus could bypass a line that would have taken two plus hours to get through just to enter the main lobby of the museum.  We promptly passed through security but had to check in our day bags for security reasons.  A good idea for us as it meant a more comfortable walk through the museum.

Our visit would not be a simple random one, rather an enriching one as we had two professional tour guides Brother Kevin and Brother John lead us through the museum in two groups, one for the timber wolves and the other for our Explorers.

We saw so much, paintings, sculptures, drawings, each with a story and a unique place in history.  The understanding of our faith and its development was brought to life in great detail through stories (boys especially like stories) and a direct link to biblical references.  The timber wolves had lots of questions for Brother John.  The highlight of our visit was for many the Sistine Chapel.  Before entering Brother Kevin using an electronic display screen provided us all with a detailed understanding of the incredible meanings of the different scenes that we would encounter.  He told the story of how the Pope of the day used this chapel for his private chapel and how he wanted it to look.  Leonardo De Vinci was hired to undertake the work and what he produced far exceeded the wildest expectations of the day.  One Cardinal complained to the Pope that it was scandalous for some as many of the paintings to include people who were nude. Leonardo De Vinci responded that we are made in the likeness of God and that the human body is a thing of beauty, not one of shame and that his work was meant to be looked at without lust or other negative connotations.  The Cardinal carried on with his complaints while the work was underway.  When the painting was completed the Cardinal was horrified to see that the face of the devil in the scene of the last judgment was the face of the Cardinal.  When this Cardinal went to the Pope to complain the Pope was reported to have responded by saying… people that are in purgatory will be rescued and saved but those who are in hell are beyond any hope and thus there was nothing that he the Pope could or would do.  The complaints from the Cardinal ended at that point.

We could not stay long in the Sistine Chapel as the crowds were so immense and pushing to move.  The guards attempted to keep order, to keep the noise down and to prevent people from taking photos with little effect.  The crowds would lessen their noise for brief moments of time only to have it raise back up to a higher level later.

We exited the Museum after almost 4 hours of walking with our brains a little overloaded as to what we had witnessed, truly an amazing sight to behold.  It is interesting that the museum generally does not display any recent artworks (in the last 500 plus years).

A stop for lunch was next in order on the steps in a public area where we basked in the beautiful warm Rome sunlight with a slight breeze blowing through the area.  We enjoyed resting our feet and consuming a well-earned lunch.

We then departed back to home the seminary for a visit of one of three sites that are recognized as Experts on the Shroud of Turin for a tour at the University that is part of the larger seminary complex.

The speaker Brother Thomas helped us all understand how to read the markings on the Shroud while also recognizing that science cannot explain how the shroud captured so much detail as to our Lord, his body and the sufferings that he went through.  Our timber wolves and explorers had many many questions for Brother Thomas who is viewed to be an expert on the subject. 

Collectively we came to better understand the extreme sufferings that our Lord went through and how horrific this suffering was for our Lord Jesus Christ who allowed all this to happen due to our sins while making the perfect sacrifice to God the Father so that the gates of heaven could be opened.

After the lengthy talk, which left the boys spellbound we toured the various exhibits on display before visiting a life-size bronze image of our Lord as taken from the shroud.  Many of us were very moved by what we saw and learned and others like the writer of this story were moved to tears.

The Mass of the Last Supper was very moving with many Priests and Seminarians present as we gathered to pray, sing, contemplate, witness the washing of feet of 12 men, and to receive both the body and blood of our Lord at Holy Communion.

At the end of the Mass, we exited the building as a people to bring Jesus to the Garden of Olives where he spent the evening before being betrayed by Judas. Each of us carried a candle in procession to this special place.  Upon arrival, we joined many hundreds of others in silent adoration before heading off to dinner and then watching of the opening scenes as to the agony of Jesus in the garden.  This is always a moving and intense scene.  The boys were very moved by what they witnessed on the gigantic movie screen.

Dinner was awesome with chicken wraps and rice.  Our boys went back for seconds and thirds as they worked up an appetite throughout their busy day.

From there we returned to keep Jesus company for better than one hour and for some up to two hours.  Many of our boys and leaders went to confession some for the second time since arriving in Rome while being there to keep Jesus company.  Parents if you could see how well your son prayed in front of our Lord in silent adoration, many of you would shed tears of joy! In fact, later on in the week a good many of the seminarians reported on how moved they were as to the piety, seriousness and strong belief, respect, and love for our Lord Jesus Christ held by our timber wolves and explorers.

We then dragged our tired but very happy selves off to bed.  Another beautiful and very successful day thanks be to God!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 8 in Rome Italy

Thanks, be to God today dawned to be another beautiful cloudless day but one that would challenge every one of us spiritually and physically.  The question is, can our timber wolves and explorers rise to the challenge and task, or will they crumble as some groups have in years past?

8.00 a.m. was a much more reasonable time to get up although it felt that we had just put our head down when it was time to get up.  Like in every day past the boys bounced up, got into their uniforms and were ready for the adventure that awaited them.

Today being Good Friday would call on all participants to make a real sacrifice as to the reduced food intake (one regular meal) plus to experience some physical discomforts as part of our days, activities.

Breakfast was simple, a bread roll, cereal, and milk. Immediately after cleanup, we went to the place of repose to pray, to adore Jesus as we reflected on his suffering overnight in the prison and the scourging and death on the cross that is yet to come.  Our boys showed great reverence while being present in front of our Lord seeking to console him during his passion, and that they did.

As we withdrew from the Altar of Repose we moved quickly and silently to board our bus for the first of two critical stops – the Holy Stairs that Jesus himself walked up and down to see Pontius Pilate to be judged, scourged and then condemned to death by being crucified the most horrible of all deaths.

We are not the only ones wanting to share a little in the Lord’s sufferings by going up these 28 steps on our knees as hundreds of people were in the line in front of us to do the same thing.  This amounted to a 2 plus hour wait in a slowly moving line. The good news, our boys took it all in stride by creating games, sharing stories, laughing, and evening spontaneous singing.  In fact, the volume of the singing was so loud that it reached the ears of those on the stairs such that the organizers had to come out to ask us to stop singing!

At long last, we reached the front of the line.  We are learning real fast that people in Italy do not respect personal space (like where you are in line) and they will squeeze in between any of our boys to get their spot ahead of our boys.  Before we knew it, our group was split into several smaller groups.

But no matter, press on we did.  At last, we reached the Holy Stairs as we sank to our knees to realize that on this day so many years ago our Lord walked down these very stairs after being scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, beaten and mocked dripping blood along the way.

The climb up the stairs on our knees was anything but comfortable, yet it felt good to struggle and pray at each step on the way up as the reality of what the Lord has done for us began to sink in, to become more real in different ways for each of us on our pilgrimage. Was this climb worth the wait, absolutely yes, yes and yes!

Today we would have only one main meal, lunch.  Father Thomas negotiated a good deal at a small restaurant for a cheese pizza, or a spinach pasta and a soft drink.  When you have 55 hungry people descending on the restaurant the staff gets quickly overwhelmed as we took every available seat plus a few extras outside at standing positions.  Their small kitchen was overwhelmed with our orders so it took almost 2 hours before the last two Explorers were served.  Was the food good, you bet as not a scrap was left on any plate.

We had to hustle to get to the Good Friday services at Holy Cross Cathedral.  The church was packed, we found some space near the sidewalls and sat on the floor.  When the time came for the procession of the cross (with pieces of wood for the actual cross of Jesus contained within a glass container on the cross being used for the procession) our brother Italian Wayfarers came through the church to clear a path for the procession.  We feel to our knees knowing that our Lord died on that very cross just a short few minutes ago on that first “Good Friday”.  A very powerful moment for many of the boys.

The Good Friday Service was a beautiful one with beautiful music and Father Thomas providing translation for us as the service was in Italian.

As we exited the church we had one mission in mind, find a washroom or two that could handle 55 people.  Public washrooms in Italy are hard to come by with many charging up to 1 Euro per person. We did finally find one at St. Mary Major that could meet our needs.

We now commenced quite a fast-paced walk to St. Praxedes where the pillar that Jesus was tied to for the scourging was located.  It was hard for some of us to see that at this pillar our Lord suffered unfathomable pain primarily for people’s sins of the flesh!

We took some private time to pray and venerate the cross in a calmer and quiet church as compared to the hustle and bustle that we have been part of all day.  Our boys sang one decade of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy as we begged our Lord for his mercy on this day that he gave up his life for us sinners.  Thank you, Lord!

Now we made our way to the Coliseum for Stations of the Cross with Pope Francis and tens of thousands of fellow Catholics.  It was truly a sea of humanity.  We had to walk quite the distance to get to the primary security checkpoint.  Security was super tight with Police everywhere. We once again reminded our boys to stick together as a large blog and not to let people squeeze in between us as we lined up for the security check that included the physical search of our backpacks and the use of a metal detector.  Guess what, the boys got split up into three or four groups as members of the public wormed their way in to get to the front of the line. 

Now through security, we began our trek to the Coliseum to try and find a good spot to view the evening's Stations of the Cross.  Dinner was water and a small package of cookies as we are fasting for Good Friday.  We sat down at the side of the road to consume our merger offering.  Good news – not a single complaint re fatigue or hunger, we are carried on as a happy family.

As we approached our viewing spot we had to go through a second screening and search by the Police, this time it was a little faster.

The Stations of the Cross was beautiful and very meaningful, despite the boy's fatigue they stood for the almost 2-hour stations without complaint.  Father Thomas translated for us the key points of each station being presented.  The music was beautiful and rewarding indeed!

As the stations ended we had a hike out to our bus.  This time we moved as one line with each person holding onto the backpack of the person in front of them.  We noticed an Italian film crew filming us as we left the site.  Again, no complaints as we got onto our bus and headed back to the seminary.  We arrived at 11.45 pm, venerated the cross in the chapel, in bed with all lights out by 12.15 a.m.  Yes, we could sleep in till 8.30 am!!!  Another exciting day awaits us on Holy Saturday!

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 9 in Rome Italy

Ah, getting up at 8.30 a.m. is like sleeping in – yes!  We used every minute of sleep wisely! After the traditional morning breakfast, we boarded the bus for our trip to St. Paul Outside the Walls Basilica about a one hour drive.  St. Paul is truly outside Rome, thus the crowds were quite a bit less and easier to navigate through.

St. Paul is massive both indoors and out.  Father Thomas kept us enthralled as to the life of St. Paul who with along St. Peter were the two greatest Apostles.  St. Paul previously named Saul was a ruthless well educated Jew who was doing all that he could to destroy and eliminate the budding and growing Christian community as he felt that it was his duty to do so.

Of course, most know about his conversion when he was knocked off his horse and blinded by a great light and the voice of God that said Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?  When Saul asked the Lord who are you, Lord, the Lord answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”.

St. Paul Outside the Walls was built to honour St. Paul who was transformed into the Apostle who brought the Christian faith to non-Jews known as the Gentiles.  St. Paul suffered much, was imprisoned many times, shipwrecked, stoned, whipped, beaten, mocked and betrayed sometimes by those wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The Apostle Paul was martyred by being beheaded and is entombed at this massive Basilica.  Our boys flocked to his tomb on their own to pray and to seek his intercession. For Akela / Grey Wolf and for Father Thomas it is their favorite Basilica in Rome.  For those who hold the first name “Paul” much is often expected of them especially as to leading others to Christ and to set a good example for others to follow.

High above at ceiling level, there are paintings of all the Pope’s in the history, all 267 of them including our current Pope, Pope Francis. It was interesting to see what previous Pope’s looked like so many hundreds of years ago.

Now the time had come to visit a small town on the Mediterranean Sea known as Santa Marinella to enjoy a day at the beach.  The boys were so excited as they quickly changed into bathing suits to frolic in the ocean, make sand castles toss a ball around, talk to friends or simply sit, stop, take in the view and catch a few sun rays or do what Grey Wolf did – to have a brief nap.  It was heavenly, plus 23 degrees C, a slight wind and no clouds.  The water was warmer than what we experienced at the Adriatic Sea so more boys went in for longer periods of time.

We had several local people come and see us welcome our FNE group to their beach in Italy while another parent brought her daughter to say hello as she is a member of our Italian girl’s movement.  The Dad’s wandered off to sit on an outdoor terrace overlooking the beach to enjoy a cold one with friends.  It is hard to imagine that it is only April 15th with summer still 9 weeks away!

Before we knew it our time on the beach ended as we changed back into our uniform to walk down the street to visit the hotel restaurant owned by the brother of Father Thomas (his twin yet they look different as to height and overall build).  We explored the waterfront, sat in the chairs overlooking the sea with a gentle breeze before being called to dinner for a 3-course meal!  It was fantastic with a pasta appetizer followed by the main course a very tasteful pork roast (per Grey Wolf and others among the best that they ever tasted) and potatoes followed by a tasty dessert.  We enjoyed our shared meal together so very much with much laughter, stories, jokes and more.  Very happy and at peace for all Timber Wolves, Explorers, leaders, and fathers! 

We boarded the bus back to the seminary to prepare for the Easter Vigil Mass that would be like no other Mass ever experienced by many of our boys.  After arriving back at the seminary, showering and getting into fresh uniform items we joined the hundreds of seminarians, priests, and visiting guests outside in the dark with our candles to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter so many years ago.  A single candle was lit from a charcoal fire and this Easter candle was massive in size, so big that it needed to be moved on a small cart by 3 men.   

A reading from the Gospel was undertaken and then the Easter candle was lit.  From this Easter candle, others were lit until the outside courtyard was a sea of candlelight.  This symbol as to the light of Jesus entered the world through his resurrection was not lost on our boys, leaders, and fathers.  This fact is the central truth of our faith, if Jesus did not rise from the dead then people would pity us, as our faith would be in vain were a man died never to be seen or heard from again.

As we entered the darkened chapel with the many hundreds of individual candles lighting the way we are reminded that the light of God takes hold in our very spirit when one is baptized and welcomed into the family of God as one of his children and later strengthened through the sacrament of confirmation.

Fortunately, several brothers (seminarians) could stake out three pews so that we as FNE could all sit together with a good line of sight as to the Easter Vigil Mass one with many readings, beautiful singing, and of course all the beauty that a Mass of this nature offers.  It is so very impressive to see more than 50 Priests join the mass.  Brother Kevin translated all the readings and the mass for us into English via our individual earphone sets.  The Mass lasted two and a half hours.  Our boys even the youngest one at age 7 stayed awake and attentive throughout the entire Mass.

As Mass concluded we exited the chapel to extend Easter joy and greetings to fellow Mass-goers with deep excitement, joy, and belief that the greatest event in the history of the universe took place, the Resurrection of Jesus!  Thanks, be to God!  Many hugs, handshakes, and excitement as for many of us this is an Easter that is extra special as we celebrate here at the centre of our faith – Rome!  We dragged our tired bodies off to bed knowing that only in seven short hours we will get up to go and have Holy Easter Sunday Mass with the Pope.

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 10 in Rome Italy – Easter Sunday

Surprisingly despite ever busy days the boys got up, dressed and in for breakfast in quick order and right on time for 7.45 a.m.  We enjoyed the Easter cake and the extra’s waiting for us before boarding the bus for the Vatican.  Traffic was surprisingly light as we zoomed to the Vatican, the bus could drop us off close to the main gates of St. Peter’s.  The crowds waiting was not that big but the time to get through security was lengthy and challenging.  The Police had the crowds hemmed in through a series of gates that narrowed to one opening were people flowed through to line up at security screening stations like what you see at an airport. Even though we moved as one larger group holding on to each other’s backpack the locals still managed to squeeze through our group to get a better position in front of us. The most aggressive group to squeeze through our boys was a group of 5 little nuns.  Absolutely nothing was going to stop the Sisters from getting to their designated location including our FNE boys.  We soon found ourselves broken not by choice into 3 smaller groups as we moved to the appropriate security gate.  The Police would then allow small groups of people to ease out of the hoarding area, and time and time again we had to wait while others were given priority.  At last, the Police took pity on us by holding the crowds back until all members of our group could ease out of the masses of people to head through to the final checkpoint.  Total waiting time equated to more than an hour.

Surprisingly once we reached St. Peter’s Square we got a spot where we could see the main altar and a jumbo screen.  At 9.30 am the process got underway for Easter Sunday Mass.  Father Thomas provided the translation from Italian into English.  As the Mass progressed and the Gospel was read we noticed unexpected black rain clouds move in although there was no rain in the forecast.  As the Pope started to give his homily it started to rain and most of us did not bring a jacket or an umbrella.  We huddled together to share what we did have in the form of umbrellas or rain gear as the intensity of the rain increased.  Yet not one of our youth suggested that we should withdraw to take shelter or leave Mass as we watched hundreds of other people flee the rain either for some shelter or simply to depart the Mass to take cover.

We elected to pray two Hail Mary’s as a group to ask Mother Mary to intercede for us so that the rain would stop.  And then it happened… the moment Pope Francis uttered the first words of the Eucharistic Prayer the rain immediately stopped and before the bread and wine became the body and blood of our Lord the skies totally cleared and our wet uniforms were dry!  It is almost as if the rain never happened!  This fact was not lost on us we marveled as to what the Lord has done through the intersection of our Blessed Mother! 

When the time came to receive Holy Communion, bedlam broke out as the masses of people all pushed towards the gates to get to a Priest who was serving Holy Communion.  What further increased the challenge to receive communion was that most people positioned in front of the gates refused to move away from the gates so that others could receive communion as they wanted to retain their spot to see Pope Francis drive by in his Popemobile at the end of Mass. 

It was quite a sight to see the desperation shown by the public to receive the Holy Eucharist at any cost as they jostled and squeezed their way to the front to reach a Priest to receive Holy Communion on Easter Sunday.  We encouraged our FNE youth to be polite but to work to reach the front to be able to receive our Lord on this special Easter Sunday with Pope Francis and most were successful until the Priests serving the Eucharist ran out.  The Priest’s serving the Eucharist were insistent that those who would receive would only do so if the received our Lord on the tongue to reduce the risk of Jesus being dropped and small pieces being broken off only to fall to the ground to see our Lord be trampled.

After Mass Pope Francis got into the Popemobile to drive around the grounds to see the people. Fortunately, we got another close look at him as he drives by to wave at us and the other Pilgrims in the crowd.

We then waited for the Holy Father to give his Easter Sunday address to the world and blessing.  Fortunately for all of us we received yet another plenary indulgence (eight in total over the pilgrimage) for individual suffering souls in purgatory for their release for each individual indulgence offered up for them or for ourselves as to the elimination of purification in purgatory including for ourselves should one die soon afterwards, thereby granting us a direct entry into Heaven.  Conditions include praying for the Pope, going to confession, receiving the Eucharist, being detached from sin and participating in a special event recognized by the church for such a plenary indulgence such as attending Easter Sunday Mass with the Pope.  Thank you, Lord!

The exit from St. Peter’s square as Mass came to an end was much more orderly and quick.  Just after 1 pm, we arrived back at the seminary to enjoy an Easter feast with a five-course meal and even some wine for the leaders.  A large chocolate egg was positioned at each table; the egg was quickly broken apart and shared among our boys both big and small.  The laughter, stories, squeals of joy as each course arrives (including chicken nuggets that Ito so badly had a craving for) were heard from our three large FNE tables!  What a feast it was!

Easter Sunday means family time and as an FNE family, we had an awesome time as we went swimming in the massive indoor pool at the seminary, played basketball, went for a walk on the beautiful grounds, played soccer or had an afternoon nap.  It is amazing to see our timber wolves and explorers with so much energy remaining as they embraced the many opportunities to play together with their brothers.

At 6.00 p.m. after showers and getting back into our uniforms we gathered together to listen to testimonies as to how the Pilgrimage has impacted our individual lives.  Given that we were all together as brothers we felt comfortable enough to share with each other from our heart the deepest and most profound experiences while together here in Rome.

Many were deeply moved and touched by our Lord during Eucharistic Adoration where we accompanied our Lord while he was in the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night, others at the Vigil Easter Mass, or at the Easter Mass with the Pope, or in confession or at the Tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.  Many felt great peace and the love of our Lord for us as his children and that he is always there with us even if we can’t feel him!

Brother Kevin shared with us as to how impressed his brother seminarians are with what they have witnessed with our boys especially during Eucharistic Adoration where the belief and love for our Lord are so deep and sincere.  Many of us admitted (including Akela / Grey Wolf) to shedding tears as we spent this time together with our Lord as we contemplated his suffering and how we as individuals have added to his suffering through our own personal sins. 

We broke for a simpler dinner before coming together for more personal testimonies as each participant spoke from their heart. (Video clips and highlights to follow).  Before we knew it 10.00 pm had arrived as we went to the chapel to do our evening prayers.  As Easter, Sunday ended we dragged our tired selves off to bed with all being asleep in a matter of minutes once our heads hit the pillow.

The adventure of a lifetime – Day 11 in Rome Italy – Easter Monday

Our last full day in Rome!  My how fast the time has gone by! As each day passed on by the boys, leaders and fathers grow ever closer together as brothers and for the love of one another.  Did Jesus not say in John 15:12 “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you”. Is this not one of the fruits of our Pilgrimage? Absolutely, positively yes!

Up for 7.15 a.m., breakfast and then off to the Catacombs of St. Callixtus.  Yet once again a perfect day without a cloud in the sky.  We arrived and promptly entered the Catacombs to begin to understand the many many thousands of early Christians who gave their lives so that we could have and practice our faith today.  We slowly went deeper and deeper down underground as the enormity of what we are seeing and experiencing started to sink in.  The tour guide was excellent as he brought alive a very important part of the history of our faith.

After an excellent visit to the catacombs, Father Thomas celebrated Holy Mass just for FNE in a small chapel on the grounds that was just the right size to accommodate our group of 56 as we learned about the patron saint of Altar Servers St. Tarcisius who gave his life protecting the Eucharist from his pagan classmates.  They beat the boy to death yet they could not open his hand to get at the Eucharist.  It was only when the local bishop arrived that the hand opened to allow the host that he was carrying to be recovered by the proper church officials.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch on the beautiful grounds before heading out to downtown Rome to the Piazza Navona where we made our way through the wall to wall crowds admiring some of the beautiful historical sights and sculptures.  We then started to visit just a few of the 900 churches that are in Rome that can be reached by walking by foot.  The boys were most interested in seeing each church.  In one church a group of them totally on their own without any adult suggestions or help got together to sing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  Today like on many other days it's amazing how many people stop to snap one or more photos as we move on by often with positive praise passed on to the leaders or dads.

In another church, a group of our boys gathered again on their own and prayed the Rosary in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Very moving to witness and participate in.  We noticed one lady videotaping the boys praying, and later take a photo of the back of one of our T-shirts that have the website address in it.  She then came to us to tell us how impressed she is with what she witnessed and how can she learn more about FNE for her children?  It turns out that she lives in St. Catharines, who knows where this may lead in the future, another FNE group? 

Our FNE boys continue to amaze us and are amazing examples to encourage others to reach out to our Lord with love as they do.  As we traveled from church to church we marveled in the distinctive beauty of each one.  Of course, we did take the time to once again taste the world famous Gelato ice cream much to the joy of all present.

We returned to the seminary to begin to pack and get organized for the next day.  We then entered the chapel to pray and to allow for us to go to confession on last time before returning home with most of those wishing to go going for a second or even a third time!

We started off the session with Father Thomas starting to answer a few questions that lead to a flood of questions from the boys on a very wide range of topics.  Their interest, attention to detail, their great desire to grow in their faith and knowledge should never be underestimated. Even Father Thomas was surprised.  Father then started to hear confessions (with more than 20 boys in line) while the others knelt around the altar to give thanks to the Lord for so many different things that the Lord has done for them in their young age.  Their simple thank yours brought tears of joy to at least one or two fathers present to witness this amazing outpouring of love for our Lord Jesus Christ.

We needed to take a break for dinner with the seminarians.  Several of the brothers made it a point to come and eat dinner with our timber wolves and explorers.  There was much laughter as we ate our last dinner of the pilgrimage together while also posing for some fun group pictures.

Before we finished dinner, the timber wolves followed by the explorers went up together as timber wolves or explorers to publicly thank the seminary for hosting us a taking such good care of us.  Ben Taylor spoke on behalf of the Explorers and Clement Tsang on behalf of the Timber Wolves. Both spoke from their heart and did FNE proud!  We concluded our thanks with the respective Promise Songs much to the delight of all present.  Later we were told that no other pilgrimage group has impressed those present both that evening and during the week as our boys from our FNE family did on this Pilgrimage.  Parents you can be very proud of your boys.

After dinner, we finished packing up for our trip home before joining the seminarians for their last 20 minutes of Eucharistic Adoration before singing the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for special intentions for those sick in Canada and for an Italian timber wolf mother that we met last weekend that was in hospital because it looks like her cancer has aggressively returned.  She is the mother of 3 young children.  Please ask the Lord to intercede so that her life can be spared!  Thank you.  With two Priests now hearing confessions all confessions were heard before we dragged ourselves off to bed.

Last day of our Pilgrimage – Day 12

Mass at 6.00 a.m.  Up and dressed by 5.50 a.m.  After Mass breakfast and final clean up before boarding the bus for the airport.   Many goodbyes, handshakes and a few hugs as we left the seminary behind one last time for our trek to the airport.  Before boarding the bus, we made a quick side trip to the main chapel to give thanks and to ask for a safe trip home to our families.

Arrival at the airport went well with a good flow through security to the gate, on the plane for an on-time departure.  The flight while a long one at 9 hours and 30 minutes were well handled by our boys.  In fact, a member of the flight crew told me that our group was a delight to have on board and that our boys are very polite and considerate.  Good news indeed!   Flow through customs was easy as one look at our boys in their uniforms plus proper paperwork completed equated to a fast-paced exit with our baggage.  As we exited the customs hall parents and family members were waiting with posters and banners welcoming our FNE family members back home!  Many hugs and tears of joy shed as our boys were reunited with their families to return home to rest before returning to school and work the next day!  Our FNE Pilgrimage and camp with our Italian brothers exceeded our wildest expectations!

We have already started to talk about our next pilgrimage in 3 years, time…. To Israel and the Holy Land in 2020!

Thank you Lord for this Pilgrimage, for your many blessing, love, for our families and for our FNE family.  We love you Jesus!

 

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