By: Mary & Joaquin “Pete” Lopez
Christ the Good Shepherd Church
Originally our pilgrimage to Italy was scheduled for September 2017, the month of our 50th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and the flooding at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church forced us to postpone the trip to January 2018. When we arrived in Rome, the weather was cold, rainy and windy, but it did not faze any of us. We were determined to move on with our pilgrimage, for God’s plan through the Holy Spirit was for it to be a trip never to be forgotten.
When we arrived in Rome, our tour bus to Assisi was waiting for us. We started the pilgrimage with a prayer. I asked God to open our eyes to see the beauty of the places we were going to visit, our ears to hear the Word and our heart to receive what was waiting for us, an experience of our lifetime.
Our spiritual walk included cities such Assisi, Orvieto, Siena, Florence and finally Rome. Touring through humble and quiet little cities with cobblestone and narrow streets and learning the lives of the saints and the love they had for God brought instant peace to our hearts. We learned of the miracles of the Eucharist and visited the Catacombs, Vatican Museum and Michelangelo’s “David.”
We visited and celebrated Holy Mass at beautiful basilicas. The most memorable places for us were Assisi, Florence and Rome. The Papal Audience, where we were all within arm’s reach of Pope Francis, was amazing. His message to us was for continued prayer and to pray for Him.
We were honored to have Mass in front of St. Peter’s Tomb at the Vatican, where Joaquin “Pete” and I received special blessings from Fr. James Burkart for celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary. There was not a dry eye in the whole chapel.
To hear my husband’s testimonial was an answer to my prayers. It was in God’s time, not mine.
When Pete and I married 50 years ago, our agreement was that he was to allow me to raise our children in the Catholic faith. Even though he has attended church with our children and I for 50 years, I have prayed that one day he would become Catholic; however, I never mentioned that to him, I just prayed to God that one day he would declare his desire for conversion to the Catholic faith. I was introduced to the power of prayer and intercession of St. Monica, so I prayed to her to intercede for me to our God for my petition of my husband’s conversion, and I also prayed that my son one day will return to the Catholic faith.
When Mary and I decided to go on this pilgrimage, we thought it would be a good way of celebrating our 50th anniversary, to give thanks to our God for getting us together more than 52 years before.
What was to transpire in Assisi was the furthest thing from my mind. After arriving in Assisi, we almost decided to go to our room and rest before dinner. Instead, we agreed we would walk up the hill to the St. Francis Basilica for a quick view.
After walking in and standing there admiring the massive structure, I looked around and did not see Mary anywhere! I was going to walk up to the altar and get a better view. Walking up on the righthand side of the church, I noticed there were stairs going down that took me to St. Francis’ tomb. I prayed there silently for our family and specifically for my grandchildren, knowing that life is going to be hard for them. There was a voice that was talking inside my head saying “Follow me, you know you want to do this.” Everywhere inside the Basilica, the thought stayed with me.
I wanted to let my wife Mary know, but I also wanted to announce it to all the pilgrims who were accompanying us. I felt this was a big event in my life! On the fourth day, while we were having a group sharing session in Florence, I declared that I wanted to pursue becoming a Catholic! During this time, I had some great support from all members of our group. I have at times felt like an outsider when attending church activities. This time was not like that. Thanks to everyone for their prayers and support.
To hear my husband’s testimonial was an answer to my prayers. It was in God’s time, not mine. Praise to God that one day very soon my husband will taste and see the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
While on our pilgrimage, I learned St. Monica was buried in Rome, but did not know where. I was determined to find her and give her thanks for her intercession. On a very rainy evening, my husband and I, along with three other pilgrims (Brenda and her husband, Mike, and our dear friend, Eloy) ventured out to find her. Finally, after walking 13 or so blocks to St. Augustine’s Basilica, we were able to kneel in front of her tomb and thank St. Monica.
This pilgrimage was very spiritual and amazing to both my husband and me. It is a pilgrimage never to be forgotten! We were so blessed to have Fr. James Burkart, Fr. Norbert Maduzia and seminarian Mark Hebert as our spiritual directors.
Our special thanks to Magnificat Travel and our trip escort, Alexis Darbonne, who was always there caring for each and every one of us. Our thanks to everyone who made it possible to make appointments and hold Holy Mass in such historic and biblical places. We love all of you. We all felt very safe and did not mind mother nature’s conditions.