Rome Pilgrimage 2007


Announcement - we will be returning to Rome for Easter of 2011 - April 14 to April 27 2011!

Leave for Rome
Orte Camp Journal
Camp Journal
Palm SundayJournal
Audience with the Pope
Holy Thursday Journal
Good Friday Journal
Papal Message
Easter Vigil Journal
Easter Papal Mass Journal
Papal Homily
Assisi Journal
Loreto Journal
Return to Toronto
Post Pilgrimage Reflections -NEW
Click here for the Photo Album (same one that is on the blog.)

Please note that the photos here are not print quality, but are just website viewing quality. 
If you want to print them out, it may be better to wait until the pilgrim's return.

Thursday March 29th- Starting the journey of a lifetime...

The pilgrimage started off at the Terminal One Chapel, in the presence of family and friends. The mass was a great success for starting their journey with many thanks to Father Tom, Lynx's choir friends and the leaders who made it happen. They are looking forward to an even better pilgrimage.



"Before" picture of our pilgrims (Stay tuned for the "After" picture):

Friday March 30th: Base Camp in AWESOME Italy

Breakfast on the flight, a turkey and cheese sandwich, on flaxseed bread was great. A smooth approach as the aircraft lined up with the runway generated lots of excitement especially as we made a firm but acceptable landing right on time at 12:04pm (which is 6:04am Toronto time). At long last we are here and our adventure begins.

Upon arrival, as we disembarked the aircraft we received VIP treatment with an "airport duty manager" was waiting for us to personally escort us through the baggage claim process (we only had to wait 40 minutes and not one bag was lost YAHOO...thank goodness). He then directed us to Italian customs. Customs clearance was a breeze, they saw us in our travelling uniforms and quickly moved us through by simply stamping our passports with a Welcome to Italia.

As we exited customs a representative from the FSE (our international association) escorted us to the train station right in the airport. After a brief wait we boarded a multi-stop train for our final destination known as Orte - a 2 hour, 10 minute train ride.

The weather in Rome was somewhat on the warm side, about 16C, partially overcast and very humid. Our sweaters became warm to wear and we enjoyed a feast of blood oranges, apples, sweet cakes and water for our journey aboard the train - thanks to our FSE host Viola - a nice treat.

The 2-hour train ride provided our boys and girls with time to rest and rejuvenate before the adventures with the Italians began. For those that stayed awake, the Italian countryside was breathtakingly beautiful with lush greenery and picturesque scenery. The realisation that we were in Europe was slowly beginning to set in.

On arrival at the train station, we unloaded our bags in 4 minutes...record time. Our FSE hosts awaited us and quickly loaded the gear and youth for the first of two shuttles to the camp. The Italian "National" camp known as Brownsea, a camp that is used for leader training to support better than 225 groups, that in turn support approximately 20,000 active members - WOW.

The view was truly awesome on the side of the mountain - foothills look down on a deep valley below.

We quickly got settled into our cosy quarters with more than enough bunk beds for all. We wasted no time in getting changed and refreshed as we looked forward to our first real Italian dinner, a pasta first course followed by an awesome salad (potatoes, olives, lettuce corn and more) and a KISHE like non previously experienced plus bread, butter, jam and drinks. When in Rome, do as the Romans do! The leaders enjoyed a fine glass of wine!

After cleanup we reviewed our plans for the Pilgrimage, prayed the evening Rosary together and fell into bed, very tired but very happy knowing that our adventure was off to a great start.

Saturday March 31st: Camp with our Italian Brothers and Sisters

The day dawned bright, sunny and for the beginning of the day, a little on the cool side, about 7C. We hoped the day would warm up as it went along.

By 8:30am, we finished breakfast and prepared ourselves for a hike through the massive property to the far reaches of camp, and as time would tell, we would not be disappointed!

Before we headed off on our hike, we gathered together with Akela True to start work on our Rome Pilgrimage handbooks to help our Timberwolves and Explorers to understand how to use it, and emphasize the extraordinary value this book will have for them in years to come! The boys and girls listened attentively and participated fully in the discussions and the filling out of various areas of the book.

The hike through camp was more than what we expected it to be. Some highlights included:

  • Viewing large areas of a very plush green field which had been dug up by large wild boars
  • Discovering the remains of a convent constructed in the 1500s
  • Discovering extensive life in a spring fed pond including 12 to 18 inch large lizards which the boys and girls were delighted with
  • Visiting small chapels spread throughout the property that is capable of housing up to 500 people
  • Discovering a huge cave (bomb shelter) with an altar and crucifix inside, we prayed the Rosary together in this historic and unique location that must've saved lives at one time.
  • Coming across a very tall observational tower which was later climbed by our brave Explorers, what an incredible view from above, we could see for miles!
  • Discovering several intricate and large structures, very well engineered and built by the Italian Explorers including an elaborate flag station that we would later use that day.

After lunch the big moment arrived, our Italian Timberwolf and Explorer brothers and sisters arrived. Upon first glimpse we noticed how discipline they are and how each unit (Troop, Patrol, Timberwolf den and Girl Ladybugs) walked quickly together in unison in single file, a great example for us to follow!

Our Italian brothers and sisters sure know how to sing, how to raise a sense of joy and sense a belonging within the group. Our Timberwolves and Explorers began to ask their leaders why we don't do the same. We will have to work hard and practise to embrace a similar approach when we get back to Canada, as the joy we experienced must be recreated at home within our movement.

Together, some 75 youth plus leaders were gathered together for opening ceremonies including raising the national flags of Italy and Canada followed by a renewal of youth promises and reciting the law of the other groups to hear and appreciate (in Italian and English). We noted that the promise, laws, motto, and pledge were in essence the same and that even the promise song had the same words and tune even though it was sung in Italian, what an excellent sign of solidarity.

We prayed The Lord's Prayer together in Italian and English at the same time and then our youth proudly sang O Canada with great pride and enthusiasm, it was fantastic!

Then the fun stuff began, an afternoon of games and physical challenges which all of our youth rose up to, despite the language barriers which seemed to disappear as we found a way to communicate together effectively!


The Explorers went off to play a game of Italian Rugby together in a way that they would never have guessed. Canadians vs. Italian Explorers ...we lost, not due to a lack of effort, but due to a better sense of teamwork, size and experience on the part of the Italian Explorers. As the game progressed we scored our fair share of points to maintain our sense of honour.

Next, off to the towers to climb, learn Morse code and then using flags (semaphores) send messages back and forth. Our Explorers quickly learned the code and successfully sent and received messages for Explorers located at the far side of the camp.

As the afternoon wore down the Explorers joined a new troop arriving to set up tents, to make a fire, cook one's own dinner and settle down for the night. It's obvious that we need to work harder with our youth to instil a better sense of teamwork , being organised and completing the work as assigned. Lots of lessons learned on this day to bring home to our Explorer group.

GIRL TIMBERWOLVES and their Italian counterparts known as "LadyBugs"

After examining their uniform similarities and differences, the girls quickly began to break down any language barriers that existed. Our girl Timberwolves loved the small beany type red hats the "Ladybugs" wore and wondered if they could switch to Ladybugs as well, just so that they could where a lady bug hat! Other than that they were surprised and excited that their uniforms were basically the same, down to similar badges and of course the Baussant. Eventually, uniform pieces were swapped and some of the sisters had created a whole new uniform of symbolic solidarity between groups, now that's what we call bonding!

True to their nature, the sisters enjoyed giggling, chatting, singing, running, giggling, playing games, oh, and , did we mention giggling? By the end of their brief time together addresses had been exchanged and the flower of friendship was blooming.

Akela True and her leaders gained much insight into the interesting activities and song games that are integral to the Italian program, and like their brother Timberwolves, plan to incorporated these newly learned ideas into their own program in Canada.


Our boys quickly realised that their brothers love physical activities, the more physical the game the better. At first our timber wolves held back until one or more of their Italian brothers out muscled them to either chase a ball or grab a ring away from them to score a point for their team.

Well this would not do, we could not let down our team (mixed Canadian and Italian) so they quickly stepped up to the challenge and gave it their all!
For four hours they ran, wrestled, fell, rolled on the ground, joined pile-ons if necessary and had a fantastic time. Our boys admired their Italian cousins as to the badges and stars earned while respecting the self-discipline, gathering calls and cheers embraced by each and every boy. We could really see the sense of friendship, family, and brotherhood (or in the case of the girls - sisterhood) lived by each member, another great model for us to embrace within our movement when we return to Canada! And much to everyone's surprise even Akela got into the games and got just as physical as all the others on the field!

By the end of the day, the boys came away happy and excited to be able to follow in the footsteps of their Italian brothers! The three fathers present to lend us a helping hand offered the following thoughts:

Gordon Chong - The boys definitely got the sense as to how their Italian brothers play differently, more intense and physical and how our boys responded, got in there and got right back up even after being knocked over.
The joy of seeing and experiencing nature in the beauty of the Italian countryside is so rewarding for all the participants, it is really preparing them for the Pilgrimage that they are about to launch on. The Italian boys work so well on their own, to be productive, to get results without direct adult supervision. We need to encourage our boys and girls to aspire to similar levels of performance.

Paul McGrory - This environment brings back many positive thoughts as the start of this Pilgrimage will bring a great sense of peace, joy, an increased sense of the beauty of nature, and being away from the negatives of the world. This very enriching experience, especially staying away from the news and electronic world is very good for them. A good pastoral experience, to help the boys prepare for the days yet to come!
New skills learned will help our boys teach those who remained in Canada new found relationship building and physical building projects. We enjoyed watching the Italian boys teach our Explorers a wide range of outdoor construction projects. We truly got the impression that the youth are so happy, to soak it all in, to enjoy! As fathers we so much enjoy being here, to watch our sons and the other boys grow to build an awesome foundation in their lives. Our Italian hosts are fantastic who reach out to do all that they can do. Our sons appear to be more at peace then what they have been in for a long time.

Pius Kim - The youth are interacting very well, lots of physical activities, our Italian hosts are doing a very good job! There are no real language barriers even at the adult level. My son is enjoying himself very much, as are all the others. We are starting to see more of our youth grow and mature. From an atmosphere and an organisational perspective it is coming along really well! The opening flag raising ceremony was very special and brought to the forefront our pride for our home country Canada!

Sunday April 1st (Camp)

The day dawned bright and sunny, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Our Timber Wolves and Explorers needed a little bit more encouragement to get out of bed to a hearty breakfast of eggs, bread, jam, juice and some leftovers from the night before. Once again the boys where ready for breakfast as the girls wandered out shortly thereafter... looks like too much fun the evening and day before eh!

By 10:00 am, a new group of Italian Timber Wolves and Explorers arrived all ready to go, this time with more girls then boys much to the delight of the girl Timber Wolves.

Our girl timber wolves even made more pen pals with new found friends with respective contact information exchanged followed by the bys in a soccer rematch while also looking forward to a rematch of other active games.

The Explorers camped out with their Italian brothers and quickly learned the art of teamwork since they wanted to eat. Work was completed on a drawbridge spanning a small creek, the bridge could actually be lowered and raised! Our Explorers felt a great sense of accomplishment as they learned how to lash, and secure boards to the planks... all without using a single nail! Their Italian brothers taught them many skills that they will be bringing back to their brothers in Canada!

The day's program drew to a wonderful close by celebrating Palm Sunday Mass outdoors with their Italian brothers and sisters! We were quite surprised to see that the Priest celebrating the Palm Sunday Mass is also a Timber Wolf Den leader who visited us at camp yesterday with a large group of Italian Timber Wolves.

Although this mass was in Italian, we undertook the readings in English while using our English mass printout so that we could all relate to the happenings in the mass, especially as it related to the Passion of Christ. We closed the day with peaceful evening Rosary prayers. All in all we had another fantastic, enjoyable, challenging and satisfying day!

Monday April 2nd: Let Our Pilgrimage begin!

Today we start our Pilgrimage. We are all so excited! And another beautiful and sunny day - thank you Lord!

We spotted more evidence in the field of visiting boars... way cool! The day started off with no manmade noise to be heard in the foothills of the Italian mountains... all we could hear were thousands of birds singing with great joy, as perhaps they might have sung for Saint Francis of Assisi!

The first bus load of 16 headed off to the train station at 10:00 am sharp with the last group departing the camp at Noon. We all arrived at the station at Orte with time to spare for our non-stop high-speed train to downtown Rome departing at 13:02 sharp (the train was actually running 5 minutes late!).
We organised the gear and put the battle plan in action as we had to load 40 people and all their baggage onto the train within a 2 to 3 minute window as the stop was so very brief. Well we did it and we used every available second to get all of the girls, boys, adults and gear on board.... Phew!


The Timber Wolves did an amazing job working together for the good of the team. Witnessing older boys assisting younger boys and girls without being asked was extremely touching and the sacrifice exemplified the essence of our movement and pilgrimage to discover and share in God's love.

Once at the train station the girls were transported to Santa Teresa de Gesu Covent where they would be staying. The rooms where warm and contemplative with 2 to 3 girls in each room. Hot water was appreciated as the much needed showering began. The girls enjoyed a tasty dinner, went for a walk around the neighbourhood, prayed together and retired to bed very tired and satisfied.


The train ride as a brief 47 minutes compared to the 2 hour train ride from the airport to Orte... but when we got there we had to transfer trains to a small out lying suburb or Rome called Aurelia. Much to our luck we ended up on track 2 at the Rome central station but needed to transfer to track 29 on the other side of the train station. We hustled ourselves to the connecting train, but due to problems with moving some of the heavier gear from one side of the station Grey Wolf , Manatee and 3 boys missed the connecting train. We had to wait one hour for the next one and there we reunited with the main group for our respective trips to either the Convent or the Seminary. Now it was 4:00 p. M. as we boarded our coach liner for our trip to our final destination.

Our bus pulled up at the huge seminary, as the boys looked on with awe at the massive structure (one of three belonging to the Legionnaire's of Christ) that awaited them. There was much excitement as the timber wolves and explorers entered the facility with many warm welcomes from the local community at large.

First thing was first... off to Dinner... and what a dinner it was, pasta, shish kabobs, juice, bread and fruit for desert. The boys ate more than their fill. A great meal was enjoyed by all in the main dining hall.

Then, we went outside to play a rousing game of soccer until about 7.30 p. M. before heading in for well appreciated showers, a change into dress clothes and preparing for Mass in the very large and grand chapel! Mass commenced at 8:15 p. M. just for our boys, their leaders, fathers and a few staff members... it was much enjoyed by all.

Then off to bed... and guess what parents... the boys could earn points if not a single word was uttered after the contest started (before changing into PJ's)... and all 19 boys did not utter a single word and by 9.30 p. M. fast asleep....

Tuesday April 3rd:

GIRL TIMBERWOLVES: Cupola at St Peter's and Mass at the Chapel of Divine Mercy

The girls awoke, began with a prayer and enjoyed the usual breakfast at the convent of bread, jam, cheese and hot chocolate. We arrived at the awe-inspiring St. Peter's square and were immediately taken aback by the size of the pillars and the realization that we were really here in Vatican City!

The line up to climb up to the Cupola at St. Peter's Basilica (the dome at the top) was relatively short (1.5 hours) given the amount of people waiting, circling the square. The climb up to the top of the cupola was long and took some endurance on the part of our girls, but we eventually made it.

The view from the top, looking inside of St. Peter's Basilica was incredible. Being so close to the artwork brought tears to the eyes of some of our girls and leaders. The climb further up to the top of the cupola was the icing on the cake as we witnessed the view of Rome and the Vatican Square itself while we enjoyed clear skies and great visibility!

After our descent from the cupola we enjoyed a fast lunch with many kinds of pizza and ice cream.

Mass at the Chapel of Divine Mercy was very special as the girls could really physically feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in that beautiful church. The Blessed Sacrament was adored before Mass and the children prayed fervently. Mass in Italian was also very special. Even though they could not understand the language, the girls still responded and prayed in English. The bus ride back to the convent was exciting even with the rain that we had to make our way through; this did not deter our girls in any way.

BOY TIMBERWOLVES & EXPLORERS: The Catacombs and the Basilica of St Peter's Outside the Wall

Wake up call at 6.30 a. M. sharp... and by 7.00 a. M. all of the timbers wolves and explorers in the hall neatly dressed, and ready to go. Just as Brother Michael made his approach to check up on them, he was very impressed with our boys' positive behaviour, helping each other out, being respectful, joyful and all of them exceptionally aware of their spiritual self and love for the Lord. He told us he has not seen this in a group of boys just arriving at a Pilgrimage such as this one!

The Catacombs

Morning prayers and then off to breakfast before boarding the bus for the Catacombs! Yes that's right the catacombs. When we arrived there, the number of people also wanting to get in was extra large... after a wait of about hour it was our turn to enter.

Upon entry, we learned that photography of any kind was no allowed (new since the last time)... so pictures will have to follow. The boys silently entered the catacombs to level 2 of 4 below surface level. The temperature remains the same down below all year round, no matter what the outside temperature. Some commented that they could sense the magnitude of what they are seeing (over 500,000 people buried there many of them children) and the sacrifices made by so many Christians, so that we could have the freedom to worship in today's world.

We learned that the Roman army did not like coming into the Catacombs as they feared death and that for many years the only space to celebrate a Mass without fearing for ones life would be here in the Catacombs.

We concluded our visit with a private mass in a chapel build over 1,000 years ago that was built over the tombs of two Pope's who elected to be buried there before St. Peter's became the single place for papal burials. We very much enjoyed mass and being able to once again receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

After leaving the Catacombs, we made an impromptu stop at a small church named Domine Quo Vadis, which means "God where are you going". Legend has it that St. Peter was leaving Rome one day, as he did not want to get killed. As he came to the spot of this church he saw Jesus walking past him back into Rome. When St. Peter asked him "Jesus where are you going", Jesus answered "I am going back to be crucified again" and at that point it is report that he said to Jesus, "No don't go, I will go!" Peter returned to Rome and was later crucified as his penalty for doing the work of the Lord... so he gave his very self...and was later crucified upside down!

Saint Peter's Outside the Wall Basilica

Today we made our first visit to one of the four major Basilicas' in Italy, St. Mary Major, Saint Peters, St. Paul and St. Johns. This church is awesome (even if flash photography is once again not allowed) and we still got some photo's.

When the boys first saw St. Paul, they almost stopped in their tracks with a sense of awe and majesty. What does it all mean! It was so cool, so large that it took us all a little time to take it all in.

We saw the tomb of St. Paul, took some time to view and pray to St. Paul to ask for his intercession with the Lord for special needs locked deep in our hearts, The pictures will tell the story better than words can describe. We returned to the seminary for lunch. I type this letter, as our boys meet more boys arriving form far and wide. They spent an afternoon of sports with new friends from all over the world.

The best has yet to come... stay tuned!

Wednesday April 4th: Audience with the Pope


This was the big day, our audience with the Pope! The girls arrived after the boys and joined them so that we formed one big group. The Papal audience was extremely exciting for our girls. Upon entering St. Peter's square we were ushered into a special area, it would prove to be an excellent location for photographs as less than 2 hours later Pope Benedict rode right past our seats in his Pope Mobile. Many of our youth were fortunate or blessed enough to capture Pope Benedict with their own cameras, which was very thrilling. What a wonderful feeling it was to be blessed by our Holy Father as a movement together!

After the Papal Audience, the girls boarded a bus for a 1.5 hour ride toNettuno, the home town of Maria Garetti. This saint was a young girl who was murdered by a young man at the young age of 12 after refusing his advances and maintaining that such behaviour was sinful. She died in 902 and was canonised in the 1980's by Pope John Paul II. Her story was poignant one and very meaningful to the girl timber wolves.

Once arriving in Nettuno we entered the Sanctuary of Grace in awe of the life and legacy that this young girl left. We said the rosary together and then went into the museum to learn more about her life.

Akela True wrote a petition in the book of intentions, asking that our girls be blessed with the grace to stay strong and pure in understanding that they are very special, are temples of God and must live as such according to the Catholic faith.

The tomb of St. Maria was in the basement of the Sanctuary of Grace. The children were in awe of how tiny she was according to the life-like stature on the tomb.

The girls were charged spiritually and emotionally after their visit to Nettuno and we know that they will never forget the story of this holy saint.

Before boarding the bus, the girls were thrilled at the opportunity to frolic on the beach and wade in the water of the Mediterranean Sea! The water was clear and warm and the girls had a lot of fun playing on the beach and collecting seashells. The trip back to Rome was quiet, as the girls were extremely tired after a busy day.


Another early start, 6:30 am, the boys were up, showered and ready to go by 7:10 am and anxious to get going as this would be the big day, the day that we would see and hear from our Pope - Pope Benedict the 16th!

After a good breakfast we hit the road for an 8.10 am departure to St. Peter's - our first visit to the Vatican. We soon learned the meaning of narrow streets (as the bus often squeezed by with only inches to spare) and true Roman rush hour traffic... with little regard for stop signs (which really only means slow down) along with the non use of painted lines... if you can squeeze in two lanes of traffic for a road designed for one... why not eh?

Our audience with Pope Benedict 16th would start at 10.30 am, we arrived at our remote parking spot only to walk another 20 minutes to the Vatican... so by 9.10 am we arrived and found ourselves good seats to view the day's events from.

Shortly after we arrived the girl Timber Wolves also joined us, our timber wolves and explorers looked really sharp in their uniforms with several positive remarks received from English speaking members of the public who joined us for this event.

At 10.30 am sharp the Swiss guards marched out of St. Peter's to announce the arrival of the Holy Father, the crowd jumped to it's feet with great joy and excitement once we saw the Pope Mobile come out carrying the Holy Father!

As our vibrant Pope stood firmly in the back of the pope mobile (an open vehicle that allowed us a great look) the crowd jumped to its feet and started to chant "Papa, Papa, we love you". We soon found ourselves calling out his name as his vehicle approached to make a pass right in front of us! Suddenly there he was, a short 10 to 12 feet away. He looked us right in the eye, and gave us his wave of welcome as he passed on by... O what joy, excitement and happiness we all felt to be part of the day's event with the Vicar of Christ.

Ah the joy of digital camera, we quickly compared who got what shot... we are happy with the wide ranges of images captured one of which has been posted to support this blog.

From there we listened to a reading from the Gospel and then the Holy Father gave a homily (in Italian) to explain the great importance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and of course Easter!

The Brothers and the Priest helped us understand what the Holy Father was saying with on the spot translations. The Pope greeted large groups by country and name - including us. When he called out our name, we made lots of noise! The Holy Father spoke in 6 different languages including of course English. By 12:15 the audience was completed and the Pope returned to his apartment. Upon his departure he gave us his Apostolic Blessing with particular emphasis for those family members not in Rome with us (yes that is truly you) and for children (such as our Timber Wolves and Explorers) and the sick!

We awaited the departure of the massive crowds before moving off to the Vatican area shops to spend our money on while the girls departed to continue their particular program.

"How did the shopping go?" you may ask. Let us say that our Timber Wolves and Explorers really went shopping, looking for gifts to bring home to loved ones. You will be pleased to know how touched we are by seeing the boys most often think of their loved ones before themselves!

By now it was almost 2:00 pm and we are really hungry. So we hiked up the street to find a spot to enjoy a great meal of pasta, pork, bread, salad and with great joy, Pepsi, for Akela / Grey Wolf... the first that he has seen in six days... argh!

After lunch we headed back to the Vatican and then through security once again to climb all the way up to the Cupola...all 548 steps or so. The main view from the top was truly breathtaking. Although a light rain had started... it stopped when we reached the top and restarted when we exited St. Peter's at the end of the day! By now it was 6:15 pm and time to return back to the Seminary for Mass and dinner...

Mass was held in the original seminary constructed for the Legionaries of Christ back in 1950 with one of our Explorers helping to serve - Daniel Choi. The boys gave thanks for a wonderful day and headed back to their home base for a dinner of soup and pizza. By 9.15 pm off to bed (well at least for the boys... we had things to do...)

Holy Thursday (April 5th): St Peter's Basilica...

GIRL TIMBERWOLVES: Castle of the Angels and St Peter's Basilica

The mornings visit to the Castle of the Angels, the large castle that the Pope used as a protective hideout in times of violence and turmoil was very exciting for our timber wolf girls most of which had never been in a "real life" castle before.

The adventure was incredible and the girls had difficulty understanding how something like this and all the other large buildings in Rome could have been built without today's technology. The girls enjoyed the narrow corridors, echoing halls and large rooms. They also commented on the interesting abstract art on display and the contrast of the Renaissance art on the walls and ceilings.

After lunch, the girls spent time visiting the inside of St. Peter's to admire the sights, to try to understand the meaning of each altar, statue, painting, all in awe and all very inspiring. The youth and leaders were amazed at the talent and breathless at the sight of La Pieta, Michelangelo's masterpiece of Mary holding a dead Jesus after being taken down from the cross.

BOY TIMBERWOLVES & EXPLORERS: Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica

Big plans and a very busy day. Up at the usual time of 6.30 and on the road by 8.15 am... and once again the boys did not disappoint us. All present, neatly dressed, beds made (yes Mothers out there your sons made their bed every day and cleaned up around their sleeping quarters too!), lined up in their teams and ready to go!

By 9.00 a. M., we arrived at St. Peter's to visit the tomb of Pope John Paul II only to find that St. Peter's was closed due to a Mass underway for invited guests... change of plan. Off to the Vatican Museum we hiked only to find extra ordinary long lines of people waiting to get in, the line stretched for many, many blocks... and the museum had not yet opened. We by passed this long line and awaited our entry at the group / guided tour entrance. While there, we listened to Brother Michael tell us what we would see (painting, sculptures, tapestry, and of course the Sistine Chapel - the highlight of the visit by far! We waited by better than 90 minutes before being allowed to enter and we would not be disappointed... it was truly breathtaking! (See some of the selected images attached). The beauty and history was like none other then any of us had ever seen, it was so staggering as what was offered for our viewing that our senses where overwhelmed at all levels. The boys were in awe especially as Brother Michael explained the meaning and message contained in many pieces of art, and in almost every case he fielded questions for their young minds eager to soak in as much information as possible!

At the midway point of the visit we arrived at an outside location used to explain the meaning of the Sistine Chapel, the centre of beauty and awe, and its message. We sat spell bound as Brother Michael explained the meaning of the last judgement and the look of either joy for those whose names are contained in the "Book of Life" or horror for those whose names are contained in the "Book of the Dammed". The "Book of the Dammed" is much larger than the "Book of Life" highlighting the fact that the road to heaven is narrow and steep while the road to hell is wide and easy! Yet we also know that the judge, our Lord Jesus Christ, is merciful to those who reach out to him to ask for forgiveness, his love and mercy especially through the sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist.

As we exited this awesome wonder we headed back to St. Peter's for a guided tour lead by Brother Michael. We all received our headsets so that we could better hear the message being shared given the vast crowds and the limited space to travel as St. Peter's was being set up for the Mass of the Last Supper to be held later on that evening.

The beauty of the key Catholic church was truly staggering, the beauty, size, history, and peace (once one can tune out the noise of the vast crowds present) that we could feel. The side altars all have a unique history, the tomb of St. Peters under the main Altar used by the Holy Father to celebrate Mass, the viewing of the uncorrupted remains of Pope Pius X and Pope John 23 among others was in itself a miracle to view, to see the spot where Peter was crucified upside down, the history of the central pillar in the centre of the square more than 3,000 years old, the location of the death of St. Paul, the paintings, and much, much more that we are unable to put into words was once again staggering.

Upon exiting late that afternoon we return to the Seminary just after 3.00 p. M. for a big lunch of pasta, and chicken legs... we ate everything in sight as we need to recharge our energy! Right after lunch an awesome game of soccer and then showers before our next activity.

Then we got into our uniforms for the Mass of the Last Supper at the main seminary with 500 brothers and priests plus invited guests such as ourselves. The Mass was very special, the singing in Latin was so very beautiful, the Mass celebration so full of ceremony never experienced by most of us on the Pilgrimage before. Upon conclusion of the Mass we all held candles as we processed out of the church to a side location to place Jesus in the altar of repose in which He will remain until Easter Sunday. It was a truly moving ceremony to see hundreds of people processes out and then to all kneel to silently adore Jesus in this alter of repose surrounded by flowers and beauty!

We then had a simple supper before returning to the seminary to view the movie The Passion of the Christ before making a brief visit to the alter of repose and then off to bed! Many of us shed tears as we better appreciated the suffering that our Lord went through so that our sins could be forgiven and the gates of heaven opened.

Good Friday (April 6th)

Today of all days was a very special one as we spent the morning in a retreat to reflect on key aspects of our faith; the boys with Brother Michael and the men with Father Nicola.

The group discussions generated many personal reflections and in the case of the Timber Wolves and Explorers many questions for Brother Michael to handle as it relates to the wonderful Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession). The men in particular reflected on the suffering of Christ and upon hearing and better appreciating the extent of pain suffered on the cross by our Lord Jesus Christ so that our sins can be forgiven and the gates of heaven opened brought tears to the eyes of at least this writer.

As the morning progressed our boys anxiously made their way to confession to seek the Lord's forgiveness for the times that we have fallen into sin. Upon leaving the Chapel, many our Timber Wolves and Explorers expressed a great sense of peace and joy, knowing that Jesus was there (through the Priest) to receive our sins and to happily forgive them so that together we could start anew and thereby strengthen our relationship with the Lord - thank you Jesus!

After a hearty breakfast we scrambled upon the bus for our first visit to theColiseum, the largest amphitheatre of the ancient world where many Christians were killed for holding true to their faith, to be true followers of Christ! The view was breathtaking; we stood in awe trying to better understand how such a structure built starting in 72 AD could have ever been completed without the modern construction tools that exist today!

Our unofficial guide, Brother Michael an awesome speaker and a local historian, filled us in on the Coliseum, the Roman Empire and its various leaders. He held the boys spellbound as he brought ancient history to life. We could almost hear the roaring crowd, see returning victorious armies, and hear the roar of the lions as they attacked defenceless Christians.

After a lengthy hike in and around the Coliseum, we headed off to St. Peter's in Chains Church to see the actual chains used to bind St. Peter our first Pope in the last years of his life. The boys gasped at the size and apparent weight of the chains that St. Peter had to wear and drag around during the last years of his life. The chains must have been very uncomfortable.

As the 3.00 pm timeline drew ever nearer, we moved quickly to St. John Lateran for Good Friday services, a service full of sombre prayers and ceremony as we participated with a multitude of bishops actively contemplating the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ for each and everyone of us; a death so painful and so cruel so that the gates of heaven could be opened for us! Here we are in Rome in one of the most beautiful churches in the world participating with many others from all parts of the world; it was truly a moving experience for us all.

As the ceremony concluded, we gathered together to make our trek back to the Coliseum to join tens of thousands of people to prepare for the evenings Way of the Cross with our beloved Pope Benedict the 16th. We would not be disappointed. An advance team of adults staked out a prime spot to view the actual stations, in this case the 9th station.

As we huddled together we observed many of our Italian brothers and sister Explorers from Italy serving the crowds of people by handing out candles to all participants including ourselves. As the sun started to set, the area was set ablaze with spot lights and high powered TV lights to prepare for the elaborate evening ceremonies. Then at 9:15 pm sharp the loud speakers blasted out beautiful music and singing as the evenings Stations of the Cross began in ways that we could never have imagined, it was awesome, especially as we listened to the soothing and loving clear and concise voice of our Holy Father Pope Benedict. The brothers and priests with us provided real time translations to small groups of boys thereby allowing us to better appreciate understand and follow the different stations as each one unfolded.

Suddenly, as the 8th station was announced we could see someone carrying a cross and standing right behind the cross bearer was non other than the Holy Father himself as the excitement and joy started to grow!

Click here for the Papal message at the Stations of the Cross.

When they stopped for the 10th station, the Holy Father stood deep in prayer right in front of us, so close that we could almost touch him, only some 6 to 8 feet away. It was awesome and yet felt too good to be true as the Lord's servant today's Peter; the leader of our church stood there and contemplated the 10th station with us. This truly will be a once in a life time experience for most of us, it was truly a gift and a joy to behold. One of the parents at home reported watching the stations and spotting several of our boys on international TV!

As the evening drew to a close we dragged our exhausted bodies through the exiting crowds back to the seminary to quickly prepare for bed and fall asleep.

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