Bestselling author and Catholic media mogul Teresa Tomeo has recently launched a new pilgrimage program, with itineraries covering holy sites in Italy such as, Rome, Assisi, and Orvieto, with a special focus on Eucharistic miracles. Combining Church tradition with the best of Italian culture, Teresa’s latest pilgrimage trip is called Living La Dolce Fide: The Sweet Life of Faith.
Catholic Exchange sat down for an interview with Teresa to discuss the tradition of pilgrimages in the Church:
How does a pilgrimage differ from a regular trip or a vacation?
A pilgrimage is truly a journey versus a trip or a vacation. Pilgrims are embarking to the same destination, so to speak; an effort to draw closer to God by visiting powerful religious sights, praying at the tombs of great saints, and, something else very important that is often overlooked or under appreciated: growing in Christian fellowship as they’re traveling from one place to the next. My husband, Deacon Dom, and I have formed some of our most treasured friendships with fellow pilgrims who journeyed with us years ago. There is a special bond that develops when you have the same faith focus. There is something mystical taking place, reminding us of the early Church and the formation of Christian brothers and sisters. We also know of many other couples who have had the same experience in meeting those who would become life-long friends. It is so affirming to see these relationships develop and grow all starting out as strangers and ending up as spiritual family members. But most people don’t think about this other major advantage to a pilgrimage.
Why is Italy the ideal pilgrimage destination?
While I’ll admit I might be somewhat biased because of my Italian heritage, there are so many reasons Italy is at the top of the list for Catholics seeking to learn more about their faith and strengthen their relationship with God and the saints. It is the home of our Catholic Church and also home to major and stunningly beautiful basilicas, cathedrals, and other holy places. Italy also has so much natural as well as architectural beauty to offer as well. Whether you’re strolling through a quaint medieval village such as Assisi or Orvieto, or having a glass of wine while sitting in front of the jaw dropping Bernini fountains in Rome’s famous Piazza Navona, the beauty is everywhere-around every corner practically. I remember a close friend telling me years ago that she was struggling with her faith in college and decided to go on a pilgrimage to Italy. While in Florence she of course went to admire Michelangelo’s David. That changed everything. One look at that incredible sculpture, as she explained, and her faith was restored. Why? She realized that such beauty was only possible by a gift or talent directly given by God. I always tell our pilgrims, Italy is our sweet Lord, showing off and reminding us “lookie what I can do.” And you can’t stop looking at everything when you’re in Italy as again it encompases all of our senses and tugs deeply at the heart.
What are some of the graces to be gained from going on pilgrimage?
Pilgrimages have been part of the faith journey in the Church for centuries, not to mention the numerous references to pilgrimages to Jerusalem, for example in Scripture. It is part of our spiritual nature, this longing to journey toward God on pilgrimage. Graces abound in a deeper appreciation for our Catholic roots, a deeper knowledge of the witness of the saints, and a much deeper sense of awe and wonder regarding the magnificence of God’s creation. Our faith also teaches us that plenary indulgences can also be obtained on a pilgrimage through the effort of taking such a faith journey along with attending Mass at Catholic shrines, receiving the Eucharist, along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation which is available through priests who serve as our spiritual directors.
How can Catholics incorporate pilgrimages into their lives regardless of travel budget?
One of the reasons I began my Travel Italy Expert or T’s Italy mission, www.travelitalyexpert.com , was to help Catholics and others interested in Italy travel realize how it is not only much more affordable, but so much more meaningful as well as practical to go on an organized pilgrimage rather than a do it yourself trip. Our pilgrimages include hotels, most meals, effortless ground transportation, experienced and solidly Catholic guides, tours, along with many other special amenities. For example, our premier T’s Italy pilgrimage this November will take us to Orvieto, Assisi, the village of Viterbo where the first conclave took place, as well as Greccio where St. Francis established the first creche, and Roma – all of the above items mentioned are included for under $3,500 per person. That’s an unheard of price for more than a week in Italy. If a traveler attempts to do everything on their own, it is much more expensive not to mention labor intensive trying to figure out where to stay, pray, eat, and play so to speak. We also want our pilgrims to have some down time on their own but my husband and I provide many ideas and options so they’re not wandering the streets of Rome or Venice, which may sound romantic but can be daunting and a waste of time if you don’t have some insider tips.
Your pilgrimage includes a trip to the site of the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Can you tell us a bit more about that miracle?
To begin with, just standing outside and admiring the Italian Gothic Cathedral in Orvieto dedicated to Our Lady’s Assumption, is an experience in itself and a walk through the Bible and Catholic teaching as it depicts stories from the Old and New Testaments, and of course scenes from the life of our Blessed Mother. Then you move inside and learn about the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena. Bolsena is a lovely lakeside town not far from Orvieto. It is there where the miracle actually occurred. In 1263, a German priest, who was on pilgrimage, was struggling with his faith including having doubts about the Real Presence of Christ. During Mass the Eucharist bled on the corporal or small altar cloth. The priest brought the cloth to Orvieto where Pope Urban IV was residing at the time. It is now housed in a special chapel inside the Cathedral of Orvieto. And being this is the month of the feast of Corpus Christi, a major Eucharistic procession takes place each year in this Estruscan hilltop town overlooking the rolling hills of one of the prettiest regions of Italy.
What is the role of Eucharistic miracles in the Church?
It is the ultimate affirmation of Church teaching regarding the Eucharist being the Source and Summit of our faith. I believe it is the Lord’s way of reminding us that He never leaves us orphans as it says in the Gospel of St. John. He is ever present in His Body and Blood. It is His flesh and blood. These miracles have been examined thoroughly by the Church before being declared miraculous. And the churches that house these miracles provide detailed explanations of the examinations that took place.
Can you share a particular moment of inspiration that you have experienced while on pilgrimage? Did a certain saint or holy site speak to you in a special way?
In addition to feeling such a closeness to Christ at the site of Eucharistic miracles such as Orvieto, it’s the saints that alway surprise me. St. Catherine of Siena grabbed my attention to the point of bringing me to tears more than once, as she showed up at a time when I needed her most. I was doing a very challenging interview with a local NBC affiliate from my hometown of Detroit. They were there covering the canonization of John Paul the Second because he had visited Detroit many times and had a close connection to our strong Polish American population. I was there covering the event as well while at the same time leading a pilgrimage. It was actually on her feast day, April 29th. I was very concerned about the interview in terms of how the Church would be viewed regarding women and I was asking for her intercession all day leading up to the interview. At the last minute the interview location was moved from St. Peter’s Square to along the Tiber river down the street from St. Peter’s, I didn’t think much of it until I turned to face the reporter and right behind him was the very large and beautiful statue of St. Catherine that sits at the end of the Conciliazione, the avenue leading up to the Vatican. And there she was looking right at me, as if to say, “no worries sister, I’ve got your back and so does Jesus.” The interview went much better than expected and I think Santa Caterina had a lot to do with it. That experience, which is just one of many, is the type of experience that happens when we open ourselves up to the saints and our Lord, especially on pilgrimage.