By Louie Gombar
For the Umatuna Si Yu’os
“Andiamo! Andiamo!” Italian for “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
These were the most common words heard by the members of the Rome and Assisi Pilgrimage 2017 organized by Marie Lizama and Santa Teresita Catholic Church’s Kevin Delgado; our spiritual leader was Father Joe English, pastor of the Mangilao parish. The tour guides used it to rally group members to prevent straying.
For 15 days, starting Aug. 1st we trekked the unending cobblestone streets of Central Italy’s medieval towns, from Assisi, St. Francis’ birthplace, to Rome, the Eternal City. One of our leaders, Superior Court of Guam’s John Lizama, wore a Fitbit which recorded an incredible 87 miles of coverage, like traveling from Agaña to Andersen Air Force Base seven times. His rallying cry was “Heigh-ho!” from Snow White.
We spent one whole day in foggy London town to reconcile our itinerary. There is nothing more miserable than crossing a wind exposed bridge over the Thames being continuously pelted by needle-sharp droplets of ice-cold drizzle. Londoners, however, see it as a wonderful day for an outing.
London’s double-deck buses are a wonderful way to tour the city. A 30-minute subway ride takes you from gigantic Heathrow Airport to the heart of London. The buses drive by all of the iconic landmarks we only see in movies.
Early next morning, it was back to Heathrow for Alitalia flight AZ-201 to the Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, 19 miles west of Rome. It is Italy’s busiest airport and services over 40 million passengers a year. This was the beginning of our pilgrimage.
Italy is a fairy tale country with medieval castles on hilltops fringed by neat rows of olive trees and grape vines. Elsewhere, you find huge tracts of sunflowers used for the production of sunflower oil. They look like millions of prying orange eyes all waiting for the same answer. The land also hosts hundreds of tunnels that burrow under the Apennine Mountains which forms the backbone of the country.
Our first place of veneration was amazing – Assisi, an original medieval village overshadowed by the basilica of St. Francis and capped by the awesome Rocca Majorre fortress used for protection against the land grabbing mini-wars that plagued Italy during the Middle Ages.
Father English said our first Mass in an underground chapel built upon the ruins of the San Damiano Chapel where St. Francis received his divine messages from God. His remains rest in the actual sarcophagus within the chapel. We all laid our hands upon it and said prayers.
Close by is the basilica of St. Claire, St. Francis’ first follower. She was the founder of the Poor Clares. Her preserved body is on display behind the magnificent altar along with her weather-worn tunic and discolored wooden rosary.
Father English tried to celebrate Mass in every basilica we visited which was an impossible task since there were so numerous. With limited time, we visited the prominent ones: Basilica della Santa Casa in Loreto which enshrines the actual bricks from the Virgin Mother’s house in Jerusalem; the basilicas of Spello, Montefalco, Bevagna; and the grand cathedral called Il Duomo Di Orvieto, a gigantic gothic structure built upon a plateau over a thousand feet high.
Our pilgrimage eventually ended in Rome, the city that proudly claims to have more than 750 churches. Despite that, most Roman voyagers envision spending some time at the most famous of all monuments, the Coliseum. With respect, I stood on the very spot that witnessed the brutal murder of thousands of Christians and other unfortunate victims.
Every group, be it of any size, is only as good as the temperament and character of its members. Our pilgrimage was blessed by heaven. Besides the adults who were the most sharing and caring group of people I have ever voyaged with, there were six older teenagers who showed so much concern for the safety and welfare of the older travelers. Suffice to say, these young members were touched by the hands of God and were greatly responsible for making the pilgrimage as wonderful as it had become. Andiamo!