With the Pallium Pilgrimage Group coming from several parts of the US, we  finally came together in one group Sunday afternoon.

Rome is a city with a population of 3.5 million people, and if you count all those living in the metropolitan area, it is around 5 million people!  Rome and the Vatican, with all of their churches and monuments is a living history of Western civilization.

The first stop of our pilgrimage was Tre Fontane, (Three Fountains) the traditional site where it is believed that St. Paul was martyred.  The tradition holds that three fountains sprung from the place where his head fell.  For centuries, the site has served as an active Cistercian Monastery.

I’m told that our beloved Little Sisters of Jesus also have their Mother House on the grounds somewhere.

There are numerous buildings on this site, including three churches.  One is a classic Cistercian church, very simply long, narrow, wood ceiling, quiet – and of course, very prayerful!  The other church was built over the springs, as a beautiful monument to the martyrdom of this great saint.  The picture to the left is one of the stained glass windows from that church.

Following this visit, we made a brief stop to get everyone checked in at the hotel, to get every one settled into the hotel and headed back out to one of my favorites of the four major basilicas of Rome, St. Paul Outside the Walls for Mass.

St. Paul Outside the Walls is home to an active Benedictine Monastery, but most famously is the burial place of St. Paul.  This basilica is also the titular church for an American, Cardinal James Harvey.

It is always such a privilege to visit the places where the saints lived, died and are buried, and to celebrate Mass in these churches and shrines.

Our group had Mass in the St. Benedict Chapel here at St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Next to St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Paul’s is by far my most favorite.  I love to make a prayerful visit to the tomb of this Great Evangelist and courageous saint.  I often seek his intercession for my own ministry as a successor to the Apostles.

Also inside this church are mosaics of every Pope from the history of the church – from St. Peter to our current Holy Father, Pope Francis.    I always leave there feeling inspired and accompanied by the presence of this amazing Saint.

Today, Monday, the group got quite a work out!  We spent the entire day on a walking tour of Rome – and those who wear fit bits tell me that we logged close to 8 miles.  I am so impressed with the tenacity of the members of this group (Team Pallium!) for hanging in there in excessive heat (well above 90) and marching on without complaint.  This is a true pilgrimage – in every sense of the word – and we are praying for all of you every step of the way.

I skipped the morning tour so that I could run some errands with my brother, Fr. Bernie.  The rest of the group saw the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and learned lots about the history of the Church and Rome.  I met them at one of my favorite locations in Rome for Mass, the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – where St. Catherine of Siena is buried.

I shared with them how St. Catherine ‘found me’ during my time as a student in Rome, when I spent a summer in Siena studying Italian, and discovered her great work The Dialogue.  On my way to the church this morning, I walked past the place where St. Catherine lived the last year or so of her life.  There is a plaque outside that building that says “St. Catherine, Apostle of Truth and Love.”  I was nearly brought to tears as I recalled my great love for her – and her obvious role in my life – and the realization that the episcopal motto I chose is Truth in Love.  Perhaps I did not choose that motto at all, but St. Catherine chose it for me!

I was quite moved to celebrate Mass in this church – pictured left – recalling God’s tremendous grace that has been at work in my life, priesthood, and now, episcopal ministry.  I made a holy hour here today, recalling the many visits I made to this church while a seminarian – seeking the intercession of St. Catherine.  I remember distinctly how often I was prayed for guidance – with uncertainty about the future – only to discover once again, how powerfully God provides – if only we place our lives in his hands, and take each step in faith.

Members of the Etienne family at the Capitoline Hill – Rome, during today’s walking tour.

I could not help but make the connection between St. Catherine’s great love for the Holy Father, whom she called ‘Sweet Christ On Earth,’ her constant prayer and fasting for the unity of the Church, and the reality that I have returned to Rome during my 25th anniversary as a priest, to receive the Pallium from Pope Francis – a celebration and religious article that symbolizes the unity between the Holy Father and each Archbishop (and thus the Church Universal) who wears the Pallium.  Once again, my heart is filled with prayers for all those who are represented in the Metropolitan See of Anchorage – which also includes the Dioceses of Fairbanks and Juneau.

After Mass, our group split up to discover the local ‘flavor’ of Rome for a lunch break.  We gathered once again at 3:0o to continue the walking tour, making our way to the Gesu Church (The Holy Name of Jesus), which is where St. Ignatius of Loyola lived in the early years after the founding of the Jesuits.  These rooms of his residence were masterfully restored several years ago, and a great place to visit when in Rome!  Ignatius of course is one more great saint of the Church – and it is a grace-filled privilege to pray where he lived as well as in the Church that to some degree is the heart of the Jesuit community.

From the Gesu, we made our way to the Cheese Nuova (The New Church) which was built before America was established as a nation!  Here, another great saint lived and died – St. Philip Neri.  St. Philip had a tremendous love for the poor of Rome, and founded a religious community known as the Oratorians.  He is buried here beneath an alter in a side chapel.

So, as you can see, we are ‘walking with the saints,’ enjoying the great ‘Communion of Saints,’ as we prepare for Thursday’s Mass with our Holy Father at St. Peter’s.  Tomorrow morning, we will tour St. Peter’s, including the excavations beneath, which will take us to view the very bones of St. Peter!

Please continue to pray for us, and know of our prayers for all of you!





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