August 19, 2018

Why not join a pilgrimage to the heart of the Church?

St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Rome.

It has been said that after a trip to Rome you are never quite the same. For many Catholics here in Australia, travelling to the Eternal City can feel like visiting their second home or being reunited with a long-lost family member.

The history of the ancient city is intimately connected with Catholicism.  As the home of the Holy Father, and the epicentre of the Catholic Church, it is an important place of pilgrimage for many Australian Catholics.

Unfortunately the financial cost of travelling to Rome can make it seem like an out-of-reach dream for many Australian parishioners.

Rome Pilgrimages however are doing their best to make a trip to Rome— in many ways the heart of the Church—accessible for everyone. Their package deals give parishioners the opportunity to spend a week in Rome, touring all the major religious and cultural sites, accompanied by a chaplain and staying at Domus Australia, a guest house designed specifically with Australian pilgrims in mind. And it’s all at an affordable cost.

The Kensington Parish pilgrimage group who travelled to Rome together in October 2017 with Rome Pilgrimages. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

Rome Pilgrimages organise parish pilgrimage groups to Rome several times a year, priced at around $1,790 per person, with airfares excluded. This price includes seven nights twin share accommodation at Domus Australia, breakfast daily, three complimentary dinners, tour guides, and entry to all the major tourist sites. Single rooms can also be organised for an extra $770.

The pilgrimages are comprehensive, including all the places that you’d hope to visit during a week in Rome from St Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain and all the major basilicas.

A highlight of the week is seeing the Holy Father at the Angelus on a Sunday in St Peter’s Square.

There are also some exciting extras that many tourists with only a short stay in Rome may not get to see such as the Vatican gardens, where the popes have been known to take a stroll from time-to-time, and Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence, set high in the hills surrounding the majestic Lake Albano.

Pilgrims from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Kensington listen to the Pope’s Angelus address in St Peter’s Square. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

For many people a trip to Rome is a deeply spiritual experience and the unique tours offered by Rome Pilgrimages, provide people with the pastoral support of a Chaplain and also the opportunity to share the journey with fellow parishioners.

Parishioners from Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Kensington recently went on their own Rome Pilgrimages tour, and discovered for themselves the wonders of the Eternal City.

Long-time parishioner, Ross Martin, said that knowing the Assistant Priest from their parish was to be chaplain to the group was an  incentive for he and his wife Mary to join the tour. He also appreciated travelling with a parish group.

“We enjoyed the company of like-minded pilgrims. It was good to be in a Catholic group seeing all the marvellous heritage of the Church around Rome,” Mr Martin said.

Pope Francis delivering his Angelus address from the Papal Palace at the Vatican. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

Each pilgrimage has its own Tour Leader, a local Italian, who ensures everything runs smoothly and that the pilgrims are happy and looked-after. Tour Leader for the Kensington Parish pilgrimage to Rome, Francesca La Manna, has been showing groups the sites of the ancient city for ten years. She said that for tourists Rome is “one of the best places in the world”.

“I really like the fact that it’s an Eternal City so you can see monuments that are 2,000 years old. I love the fact that we have so many churches that are so interesting because inside you will find something special. That’s unique. That’s what I love. Also the narrow streets. I always tell people when they have free time to get lost in the city. Discover the narrow streets.”

Francesca said some people cry when they enter St Peter’s Basilica for the first time or St Paul’s Outside the Wall. “They get sentimental,” she said. Some people say to her, “This is too much!” as they are overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the ancient city.

Another Kensington parishioner, Marieann Duncan, said, “The experience of art and architecture dating back hundreds of years is awe-inspiring. The sculptures in particular are wonderful. We had a lovely Tour Leader to take us around. She was at all times pleasant and helpful.”

Tour Leader, Francesca La Manna, says she loves showing Aussie pilgrims the many wonderful sights around the Eternal City. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

“We were surprised to have a Tour Leader as well as local guides at each of the sites we visited,” Mr Martin commented. “This meant that we not only were getting to places at the right time and without any major concerns but also, had an expert to guide us around. Francesca made us feel we were being looked after.”

The pilgrims also appreciated staying at a hotel where their Australian tastes were catered for. “I found it to be a very pleasant experience, calm and clean with the sort of trimmings Australians expect – tea and coffee sachets and a kettle in the room, tissues in the bathroom, an iron and ironing board, a laundry room for guests to use or a laundry service if you wanted to use it. All in all the surroundings were comfortable and relaxing. The Chapel was beautiful,” Mrs Duncan said.

Eric D’Souza and his wife Sheela from the Dover Heights/ Rose Bay parish joined the Kensington pilgrimage group as a way of celebrating Eric’s 75th birthday. “I wanted to be at the Vatican and thank Our Lord for all the blessings I and my family have received all these years and I couldn’t think of any other better place to celebrate this special occasion,” Mr D’Souza said.

Many Rome Pilgrimages tours take pilgrims to the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, overlooking the majestic Lake Albano. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

“We enjoyed the company of all the pilgrims, who were very friendly . We found Domus Australia was excellent in terms of accommodation, food, and it’s convenience to transport. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to visit Rome.”

As Chaplain to the Kensington pilgrimage group, it was Fr Kimi Vunivesilevu’s  first trip to Rome.

“When I got here and met the group I thought this is a fantastic group,” Fr Vunivesilevu said. “The group gelled well together, especially those who didn’t know each other, those from other parishes.

“One of the blessings of this trip has been the tour guides, their knowledge of the place and they’re just so helpful.”

Fr Kimi Vunivesilevu celebrates Mass for the Kensington Parish pilgrimage group at the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. PHOTO: Catherine Sheehan

For Ms Janice Nicolas, who has been a parishioner at Kensington for 29 years, the highlight of the pilgrimage was attending Mass with the group at St Paul’s Outside the Wall.

“I felt deeply moved spiritually being in that sacred place and sharing the Eucharistic celebration with our group,” Ms Nicholas said.

“Another highlight was our final Mass celebrated by Fr Kimi at Domus Australia. Again, I felt spiritually connected to our group through the celebration of the Eucharist.”

“We shared more than a journey, ”Fr Vunivesilevu commented. “We share the same faith and the same fascination in what we saw and experienced over this past week,”.

“You realise how rich your faith is, that you’re part of the history of the Church. It’s bigger than who we are. There’s something about appreciating how universal the Church is.”

For more information about the different tours offered by Rome Pilgrimages go to www.romepilgrimages.com or phone 1800 753 959.

The Chapel at the Domus Australia guest house in Rome. PHOTO: Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney

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