As part of the Province’s celebration of the 800th Jubilee of the Order a number of the younger friars organised a pilgrimage to various places connected to the Order in Italy.
The group of 51, which included six of the brethren headed first to Rome. Rome itself of course is an incredible city and many of the group had never visited before. On the first day we visited Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls to go through the Jubilee Door of Mercy. Our next stop was to Santa Sabina for our first Mass together. After Mass Fr Vivian Boland gave us a most interesting tour of the basilica and convent. Santa Sabina was given to St. Dominic shortly after the Order was established. A special moment was the opportunity to pray in St. Dominic’s cell.
On the second day we visited the Vatican where Sr Emmanuela from the Missionaries of Divine Revelation gave us a tour of the Basilica. The Missionaries of Divine Revelation, wearing a distinctive green habit, were specifically founded to give guided tours of the Vatican and Rome. So many tours only focus on the historical detail the sisters feel called to give a more comprehensive spiritual input in addition to the normal historical tours of the various Holy Places. During the pilgrimage lunch times were generally free to explore more of the city and to get something to eat. In the afternoon we celebrated Mass in Santa Maria-Sopra-Minerva and visited Saint Catherine of Siena’s tomb.
The third day we started with Mass in San Clemente, the home of the Irish Dominicans’ in Rome. San Clemente is also a historical gem. Excavations under the 12th century basilica have revealed a 4th century basilica as well as first century Roman houses and a Mithraic temple. Fr. Thomas Mc Carthy, prior of the community, opened for us the amazing story of the excavations. On leaving San Clemnente we visited the basilicas of Santa Maria Magggiora and St. John Latern, taking in on the way a visit to the Holy Stairs. The rest of the afternoon was free to explore the city at our leisure and pace.
The fourth day we started to travel north towards Siena with a stop in Orvieto to see the Cathedral and have lunch. We then made our way to Montepulciano where we celebrated Mass in the church of St. Agnes and visited her tomb. Late in the evening we finally arrived in the beautiful city of Siena.
Early on the fifth day we began with a visit to the Dominican Church for Mass. This church was the place where St. Catherine came to pray and in which she became familiar with the Order. The relic of St. Catherine’s head is kept in this church. Later that morning we visited her family house. In the afternoon we continued our merry to Florence.
Our sixth day of pilgrimage was spent in Florence where we visited the convent of San Marco, which houses the iconic frescos of Fra. Angelico. The experience of visiting the cloister (now a museum) in a prayerful way shows how the spiritual is connected to the natural beauty of this world. It brought tears to many eyes to spend time contemplating the various depictions of Gospel events painted in the numerous cells. After lunch we celebrated Mass in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and in the evening we celebrated the birthdays of some of groups’ members.
Our pilgrimage reached its culmination when on the last day we visited Bologna and celebrated Mass at St. Dominic’s tomb. The General Chapter of the Order had concluded two days previously and our provincial, Fr. Gregory Carroll OP, had remained in Bolgna so that he could be with the group and travel with them back to Dublin. Fr. Gregory celebrated Mass at the tomb bringing this wonderful experience to a fitting conclusion.
As we left the final resting place of our Holy Father, all of the brethren realised that they must return home confident of spreading the Gospel faithful to the vision of St. Dominic.