Dear Friends,

   Thanks for following our pilgrimage. Above all, we thank God for all the graces of the pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage is many things. Part retreat and part marathon. Part swirling activity and part, still dark church. The graces come when we can receive the day, and the visit, and the travel (and the meal) as gifts from the Lord. 

   Like the liturgy itself, a pilgrimage expresses and gathers up in a clearer view what is going on in everyday life. In a more condensed, dramatic way, we get to see how God who worked in Palestine is working in Pleasant Ridge, Port Huron and the other places that are more familiar to us.

   The seminarians had days when the blessings of the places seemed showered down and other days when nothing seemed to be going on and they responded as men of faith. It was an honor to accompany them as they continue their formation. Many of them will, in July, spend 30 days praying over the life of Jesus in silence as part of the Ignatian exercises. This has been designed so that they can more deeply hear the call of God, to hear more clearly the call of God to celibate priesthood or to where ever the Lord, in His love, is leading them.

   Thanks for your prayers and your support. We thought of you, talked about you and prayed for you.

Please keep us in your prayers,
— Father Trapp and the Sacred Heart pilgrims


Day 30

 Dear Friends,

   Well, today was our last full day “on site” as it were. I think technically we’ll still be on pilgrimage tomorrow, (Friday, June 4) but it will consist of plane rides and layovers in airports. An integral part of pilgrimage, perhaps, but none too exciting … at least when reading it on a blog. In any case, as it was our last day in Rome, the day was completely open; guys could go out and do whatever they felt drawn to and or had yet to visit.

   For me, the morning started by climbing the cupola, the climb to the top of the dome on St. Peter’s Basilica. Far and away the best view of the city. Plus, it’s always neat to be able to see into the gardens and other things that are not available to the public. You really feel as though you’re on top of the world from up there; everything is dwarfed by that dome. It was wonderful.

    I spent the afternoon poking around the city, waiting for the main event: Mass with the Holy Father followed by a Eucharistic procession in honor of Corpus Christi. We were informed that it would be taking place in the piazza outside St. John Lateran at 5 p.m., so most of us got there around 4 p.m. in order to get a decent view.  Unfortunately, we learned that the Mass wasn’t scheduled until 7 p.m. Then, on top of that, it started raining. 

   A few of us, therefore, sought refuge in the nearby church of Santa Croce, which houses a relic of the True Cross as well as the tomb of Antonietta Mea, or :Nennolina,” the youngest mystic recognized by the Church as a Servant of God. It was a great spot to pray, especially since Nennolina has a rather interesting tie to the Diocese of Lansing. A girl in the diocese was healed by interceding to Nennolina, one of the miracles that opened her cause for canonization.  I’m not sure what the Vatican officially decided, but it’s a great story and it puts in her a little touch of home for me. 

   As we noticed the rain picking up, we decided to stay in Santa Croce for Mass and maybe meet the procession somewhere down the line. This turned out to be a good idea, as when we left the church, we saw a mob trying to get into St. John’s. Apparently they moved the Mass inside and cancelled the procession due to the excessive amount of rain. It looked like an absolute madhouse trying to get in for Mass with the Holy Father; we were happy to avoid that crowd.  After a nice long dinner, it’s now time to pack up everything, as Msgr. Monforton will be saying Mass for us at 6 a.m. so that we can get to the airport on time.

   With these last words now, I want to express gratitude to all those to whom gratitude is due.  First, to Fr. Byrnes, Fr. Trapp, and Msgr. Monforton for being our “fearless leaders.” I really appreciated your knowledge and insight regarding the holy sites and situations that we encountered along the way … plus you had to put up with 14 1st theologians for a month — that’s some time off purgatory I’d bet. I would also like to thank all of you back home for all your support. Without you, this pilgrimage would literally be impossible; thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and encouragements. It always means a lot to have those strong ties to home. Thanks to Marylynn Hewitt for posting these entries that we’ve been sending out. With the various technical difficulties, especially in this last leg, it was much appreciated to need as little computer prowess as possible. Lastly, I’d like to thank my brothers and fellow pilgrims. You’re a great group of men and I’m honored to have spent such a sacred time with you. The future of the Church looks bright indeed.

 God Bless,
— Paul Erickson

(Editor’s note: Paul Erickson is from the Diocese of Lansing. His hometown is Saline.)

Day 29

Dear Friends,

   Today was very interesting. Not having Fr. Trapp around was certainly strange, but we remain in the very capable hands of Msgr. Monforton, who brought us to St. Peter’s Square early this morning. After a short exchange with a few of the Swiss Guard, we were taken to our seats for the general audience that the Holy Father holds every Wednesday. Our seats were spectacular; we were in the fourth row immediately to the Holy Father’s right. We were surrounded by a lively French-speaking community, and there was a lightness to the whole audience, which was much appreciated since the sun was bearing down on us for two hours before the audience began, then another two hours or so during the event itself. It was quite an experience to be so close to the Holy Father, especially being at St. Peter’s. Simply unforgettable.

  After the audience, we split up in a few directions, but everyone had only one goal: pranzo. A group of us went to a place called Mazzicone at the recommendation of Msgr. Monforton, who claimed that they made the best carbonara in town. I have to say, I think he’s right. Of course no meal is complete until desert, so we walked a few blocks to the Old Bridge for some wonderfully large scoops of gelato.

   We split up even further at this point, so I decided to act as Roman as possible and take a nice nap after all that food. After waking up, I headed out again in the hopes of attending Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s, a typical daily Mass that usually begins at 5 p.m. Well, at 5 p.m. an enormous procession began with roughly 40 bishops, at least two cardinals, and more servers than you could shake a stick at. All I could think was, “What in the world is going on?”

   It turns out that for important feast days, such as Corpus Christi, the bishops in town celebrate solemn vespers (chanted Evening Prayer) before Mass at the Altar of the Chair. It was all in Latin, which was a very beautiful demonstration of the universality of the Church for me. To my left was a couple who spoke German, to my right was a nun who spoke Italian, and in front of me were a few people who spoke French. However, in that moment, we all dropped our native languages and prayed communally in the language of the Church. It was a nice time of prayer for me, and I enjoyed it immensely. 

   It’s odd to think that tomorrow is our last full day over here. At times it feels like we’ve only just arrived, at others it seems as though we’ve been here forever. It’s been a trip of a lifetime, and I’m excited to see what happens next. Please continue to pray for us, and know that our prayers are certainly with you.

God Bless,
Paul Erickson

Day 27

Dear Friends,
   Our days are winding down.  Most of us were at St. Peter’s this morning for Mass at the altar where St. Gregory the Great is buried. We began about 8 a.m. and were able to begin while the sound level in the basilica was a low murmur. We offered the Mass remembering St. Justin – born in the town of Nablus, not too far from Taybeh, where we were at Mass a week ago Sunday. From there, Monsignor treated us to breakfast and we split up again, with many of us going out to St. Paul’s outside the walls.

   We took the subway and made the transfer at Stazione Termini, arriving at St. Paul’s in about 45 minutes. There we prayed at the tomb of St. Paul, admired the mosaics and visited the cloister. Those who wanted to spent some more time praying. A group took the subway back to the Stazione Termini station and visited Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the great basilicas of Rome. Eucharistic adoration was being held in the church and we were able to pray there a bit before going to the church of St. Alphonsus where the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is kept.

   We rode back to the college for pranzo and at four o’clock met Father Dan Gallagher for the tour of the Apostolic Palace. Father gave us a tour and now most are back at the college or shopping for gifts to bring to the papal audience for a the blessing tomorrow.

 Praying for you and your intentions,
— Father Trapp and the Sacred Heart pilgrims

Day 26

Dear Friends,

   After a good night’s sleep, most of us have recovered from the 2-4 hours of sleep we had the previous night. A group of us left the college at 8 a.m. for a tour of the city with our first stop at Piazza Navona and the great church of Sant’ Agnese overlooking the Fountain of the Four Rivers. The Piazza is built on the lines of the circus of the Emperor Domitian and at 8:30 a.m. was relatively quiet. We stopped and read about the church and square from Georgina Masson’s guidebook on Rome and then made our way to the church of San Luigi dei Francese, the French national parish in Rome, which was unfortunately, closed. We were able to enter San Agostino and admired the sublime Caravaggio painting of a visit of two Italian peasants to Our Lady and the Infant Christ at the house of Loreto. We prayed a bit at the tomb of Saint Monica for all mothers whose children have left the way of the Gospel, for all mothers and for other intentions.

   After our visit to San Agostino, we hit a local ATM and with our coffers replenished, visited the Pantheon. Following the Pantheon, we visited Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome’s only true Gothic church which has the mortal remains (some of them) of Saint Catherine of Siena and Beato Angelico. We prayed for all Dominicans and artists and moved out the back door and up the street to the church of Sant’ Ignazio, where St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Aloysius Gonzaga and St. John Berchmans are buried. We prayed for all Jesuits there, especially Fathers Muller and McDermott of the seminary.

   We then made our way over to the Gesu, the great church of the Jesuits built next to the house where St. Ignatius died. We went to the tomb of St. Ignatius and saw the relic of St. Francis Xavier, spoke about devotion to the Sacred Heart and prayed.

   From there, the men left with Monsignor Monforton for the walk to St. Peter’s square where the group met for the scavi tour. It’s a great tour, but I left the group for visits to a few of my favorite churches in Rome, including the church of the Twelve Apostles, where the remains of the apostles Philip and James (the less) are venerated. 

   The men met near the center of the old circus where St. Peter was martyred. From there, they entered the excavations under St. Peter’s basilica which took them past some of the funerarary monuments in the old Vatican hill cemetery to the place where St. Peter was buried – the golden cross several hundred feet above, on the top of the dome of the basilica, is above the main altar, which is above the place where St. Peter was buried. The men were much inspired by the place and then made there way back to the college for pranzo, or lunch.

Praying for you and your intentions,
— Father Dan Trapp and the Sacred Heart pilgrims

Day 25

Dear Friends,
   At 1:15 a.m. we pulled out of the parking lot of the Blue Bay hotel.  We drove through the night with Waheed at the wheel, making good time through the outlying suburbs of Tel Aviv.

   We survived the security check, with about half of us having to open our bags. At 5:15 we were off for a four-hour flight to Rome. We arrived and were driven to the North American College, our home for the week ahead.

   We were able to celebrate the Holy Trinity here at the college before heading to St Peter’s square for the Angelus and blessing.

More tomorrow,

— Father Dan Trapp and the Sacred Heart pilgrims

Day 24

Dear Friends,
   The day has been quiet and sunny. Monsignor offered Mass for us in one of the rooms and preached about the meaning of a pilgrimage.

   We then had two hours of adoration asking for healing in the Church from the wounds of abuse. 

   We split up for lunch with some staying here at the hotel and others going into town.

   We’ve enjoyed our stay. Many of the guests are observant Israelis. Many of the women dress in a way similar to styles of the 1930s – longer skirts with western-style(not Middle Eastern)hats. Many men wear the kipas and the kids run, are scolded, cry, are picked up, and shushed.

Praying for your intentions,
–Father Trapp and the Sacred Heart pilgrims