by Father Brian Moras
ITALY, OCT 17, 2015: Eight of us Salesians from the Mumbai Province travelled to France and Italy for a two-week pilgrimage and tour of holy sites, which began on September 27.
Four of us had completed the 'Salesiana Course' which equipped us well for this pilgrimage. The highlights of the tour would be our visit to 'Lourdes and the places of Salesian Heritage in Turin and Rome'.
We spent our first day at Paris where we hopped on to the L'Open Tour Bus which is a "Hop on...Hop off..." bus service to see the places of interest in Paris.
The highlights of the day were our visit to some of the wonders of the world, namely the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum (which among other things, houses the painting of Mona Lisa by the Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci). Paris is a beautiful city which certainly leaves you spell bound.
The next day was spent with our Lady at Lourdes. This was a day of singular graces and blessings for each one of us.
We had the privilege of celebrating the English Holy Mass at the Grotto of Lourdes (this Mass has to be booked well in advance). The afternoon dip in the waters of the Miraculous Fountain left a deep impression on each of us.
Lourdes is a place filled with sanctity and helps one to quieten down and reflect on one's life.
The next day we left by train to Turin, Italy. We enjoyed the comfortable journey which gave us time to relax and take stock of our experiences thus far.
We were received at Turin by Father Nallayan Pancras, who would be our guide for the next three days.
Voldocco in Turin is the place where Don Bosco began his ministry as a priest. We were thrilled to see the humble Pinardi shed, the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, the waxed body of Don Bosco (which contains his bones) as also to move around the city of Turin.
We spent a day at Becchi - the birth place of Don Bosco. Colle Don Bosco is a huge Salesian Institution which caters to the pilgrims who come to visit Don Bosco at Becchi. It was an experience of going back to our roots. We spent much time praying at these places.
Next in line was our journey to Florence where we met Father Joseph Casti, who has been a Novice Master to most of us in the group. Father Adriano Bergolin, the Rector of the community, welcomed us warmly and made sure we spent our time fruitfully.
The next day we left for Venice. Remember the tale of 'The Merchant of Venice'?
Florence and Venice are two beautiful and architecturally rich cities.
We then headed to Rome. Here we met Father Chris Saldhana, who would be with us for the next few days.
Father Saldhana took us directly to our Generalate at the Pissana. Here, we met the Rector Major, his Vicar, our confrere - Father Ivo Coelho, and some of the members of the General Council.
We were lucky as the General Council was in session and the Councillors were present. We took some time understanding the Generalate and visiting the various departments that it houses. We spent some time at the Archives which houses the writings of Don Bosco (as also one of the chestnuts that he multiplied) and a lot of Salesian written heritage.
The visit to the Vatican and attending the audience of the Holy Father- Pope Francis were events which we were looking forward to.
True to his title, the Holy Father is a Holy man, in love with the Lord and his people - especially the poor and the sick. This we noticed as he moved around the huge crowd and greeted the people who had come for the Wednesday Audience.
The Holy Father once again made an appeal to people to pray for the alarming situation in the world and exhorted all to welcome the immigrants from the war torn areas of Syria and other places.
Our Salesians who work at the Vatican then took us to see the Vatican Museum - which houses the spiritual and temporal treasures of the Church.
Father Saldhana took us to see the Catacombs where the early Christian Martyrs were secretly buried due to the fear of the Romans who were persecuting the Church.
He then gave us a detailed tour of the city of Rome; he has an encyclopedic knowledge of things and this helped us in understanding Rome and the Roman Empire which once ruled much of Europe.
Another of the special moments was the visit of our Salesian confreres to the Generalate. We spent time chatting, sharing news and concluded with a Chinese buffet dinner.
We spent the final day at the Generalate meeting our confreres, taking stock of things and packing. The Rector Major hosted us for lunch and spent time with us.
His concluding message was "Be the Salesians, Don Bosco would want you to be." The General Councillor for Formation – Father Ivo Coelho, celebrated the concluding Eucharist for us, after which we had a great time of sharing.
As we left Rome on October 10, to return back to Mumbai, our hearts were filled with gratitude for all that the Lord had done to us for the past two weeks.
We were lucky to travel as a group of eight- helping and supporting each other.
We are eternally grateful to our Provincial, Father Godfrey D'Souza for sanctioning this tour. Our Economer, Father Elson Barretto took great pains to make all the arrangements for us. Father Saldhana planned the itinerary along with Father Barretto. May the good Lord bless these confreres, as also all those who helped us on our pilgrimage.