Saturday, 18 August 2007

Faith Tourism

OVER the best part of the last week and a half, my family — along with my parents-in-law — spent our summer “holiday” in France and Italy.

It was not much by way of a typical holiday, I have to say. None of those long days lazing by the swimming pool with a cold bottle of beer in hand situations at all. Yes, there were still sight-seeing visits to the attractions, but not to the usual ones like theatres and shopping centers.

Due to the special request of my wife Cynthia, we decided that this year’s vacation was going to be a different one in every sense. First off, she wanted it to be with her mom and dad, whom she loves most dearly. Second, instead of the amusement parks, she wanted to take a pilgrimage of sorts to some of our faith’s most revered sites. On the year when she turns the age that most of us consider to be a turning point in our lives, she wanted to have time for reflection, rather than just relaxation.

So off we went; first stop — Paris, the City of Lights. Although known mainly for its romantic draw, Paris — unknown to me until now – is home to a good number of religiously significant destinations, among them the Church of the Sacred Heart in Montmartre and the Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Rue du Bac.

As a young boy growing up, the Sacred Heart School as well as the Asilo de la Medalla Milagrosa were familiar associations to me. Thus, actually visiting the places where these schools took their names from is really quite a fascinating experience.

Next, it was off to the mountains of the Pyrenees, to the small town of Lourdes where Our Lady appeared to a young French shepherd girl at the turn of the last century. I have to say that visiting the place was an experience quite like no other that I have ever had.

Nowhere have I ever been to before where I have seen so many people from so many countries, races and backgrounds than in that small town up in the French Alps.

Every country in the Christian world (and even many from those that are not) must have been represented there. There were so many people with all manners of disability, in crutches, walking canes, wheelchairs and even stretchers — all there in the fervent belief that they may yet be cured from the illnesses that afflict them.

After coming down from Lourdes, it was just a quick stop in Paris to recharge, and then we were off again, this time to the home of Catholicism — Rome.

Of course, no visit to the city would be complete without a stop at the Vatican.

The only drawback was that this time of the year, the pope was not around, preferring his summer home up in the hills of Castel Gandolfo to the simmering heat of the Italian capital. So we went up there too, to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father as he was delivering his usual Sunday message to the faithful.

The last stop in our Italian itinerary was to the little town of Lanciano, some three hours away from Rome. A small church there is home to what is acknowledged to be the first and greatest Eucharistic miracle the world has ever witnessed — that of the host and wine actually turning into flesh and blood during consecration in the Holy Mass. Documented by many scientists as actually being of human flesh and blood, the relics are still there for the faithful to behold — perfectly preserved all these years, though exposed to the elements, and free from artificial preservatives of any kind.
More next week.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, August 18, 2007 (

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