The first stage has been exciting and spiritually uplifting with the opportunity to visit so many sacred sights in the cities of Venice, Padua, Milan, Siena, Assisi and Rome.
Whilst I have visited all of these cities before with the exception of Padua, taking it all in through the eyes of a pilgrim makes it even more special.
We have been blessed with fine weather with one or two quite hot days but this hasn't daunted the pilgrims.
There are too many highlights to record here but the very special ones are those that you would most likely not experience as a normal tourist.
These include visiting the original baptistery of the Duomo where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine. To have Bishop Bill with us and his deep knowledge of early Church history has added greatly to the experience.
Another was to visit the hermitage of St Francis of Assisi and the church of San Damiano and convent of St Clare in Assisi. My first visit to Assisi did not include these sites and they only deepened the powerful sense of peace that you experience in this beautiful town overlooking the majesty of the Umbrian countryside.
For those visiting Europe for the first time, which includes mot of our students and some of our teachers. this pilgrimage has been very special.
One of the standout experiences for us all has been the opportunity to celebrate Mass in so many of these beautiful Basilicas and Cathedrals. It has also been special for Bishop Bill and Fathers Greg, Peter and Camillus to celebrate the Eucharist with us and for Deacon James to proclaim the Gospel in each of these churches.
Bishop Bill has celebrated Mass in the crypt of San Marco Basilica in Venice, in a chapel of St Francis of Assisi's basilica, and in the Church of St Alfonsus Ligouri in Rome in which hangs the original icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, such an important part of the history of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Fr Greg has celebrated Mass at St Anthony's Basilica in Padua and Fr Peter in a chapel behind the main altar of the Duomo in Milan.
Recently ordained, Fr Camillus, had the privilege of celebrating Mass in the Basilica of St Dominic and St Catherine in Siena. Camillus has a deep devotion to St Catherine so this Mass, so early in his priesthood, was very special to him.
Deacon James, as well as proclaiming the Gospel in each of these Churches gave the homily in our Mass at St Francis' Basilica in Assisi and it was an outstanding homily. Another highlight of this Mass was our singing of Amazing Grace in three part harmonies. The acoustics were superb and the singing truly beautiful.
For me, having the opportunity to help supervise our students in these sacred spaces and to relate to them some of my knowledge of Church history, has been a real privilege. They are so taken by the beauty and specialness of our church's history.
Another beautiful experience for me is having this opportunity to get to better know the teachers who are part of the pilgrimage and who do so much to assist the students. I have always been proud of the staff of our schools but never more so than on this experience.
We look forward to the next stage of this pilgrimage, joining with millions of young people, and the not so young, from across the world in Kraków.