Day 4 – Padua & Milan
Many people know something of the saints, like a prayer to St Anthony is likely to help you find something that you’ve lost. This pilgrimage is giving us the opportunity to know so much more about these amazing people.
On Sunday morning we visited the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua (Padova). In Italy St Anthony is simply known as Il Santo (The Saint) as he is the only one to be canonised less than a year after his death in 1231. He turned his back on wealth to live in simplicity and dedicate his life to God. He was a great preacher and a Doctor of the Church.
The Basilica belongs to the Vatican so, as our tour guide Sal pointed out, “You’ll have one foot in Italy and one foot in the Vatican”. Every year 4.5 million people visit the church to venerate the relics of St Anthony – his incorrupt tongue, his jawbone and his vocal apparatus.
Pilgrims celebrated Mass together in a chapel of the Basilica. As always, this Mass was a moving experience with our pilgrimage chaplain, Fr Greg Barker, preaching about Martha and Mary.
“I can understand Martha. She is busy putting all the ducks in a row. Jesus challenges her on this. She is missing the eyes of faith. She needs to open up to a conversation with Jesus, just like we do. If we look at things through the eyes of faith we see and approach things differently.
“Our focus on the pilgrimage is to develop our relationship with Jesus. Our pilgrimage should leave us somehow different and transformed. Our daily reflection and prayer will help keep us focused and allow us to be transformed in his name,” said Fr Greg.
We departed Padua for Milan and our guides Salvatore and Silvio entertained us along the way with interesting information about the places we were driving through and life in Italy. For instance, we now know how to roll our Rs (Rialto becomes Rrrrrialto), how Italians feel about the UK leaving the European Union, Italian politics and that the older generation are referred to as ‘vintage’!
When we arrived in Milan we stopped a short walk away from the Duomo Di Milano (Milan Cathedral). Nothing can prepare you for seeing this majestic building for the first time up close. It is the third largest cathedral in the world. It left us, as Michael Turton commented, ‘gobsmacked’. We were taken by lift to the top of the cathedral and walked around the sides and eventually to the rooftop terrace. Everywhere you look there is a different sculpture; no two figures are the same and there are thousands of them. It’s a Gothic marble masterpiece. The view from the roof included clear glimpses of the Swiss Alps (which our guide Salvatore assured us rarely happens).
When we returned to the ground we entered the cathedral and again were amazed at the majesty. The stained glass windows depicting entire lives, the statues and sculptures, the crypts of the archbishops, the sheer scale of the place – it was almost too much to take in. We also went below ground to see and learn about the excavated remains of the original baptistery.
To finish off another very long day we were taken for a guided walking tour of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is in the same main square as the Duomo (which, by the way, means house of God). It is a beautiful building and is filled with, as you would expect in Milan, shops we humble pilgrims could only admire from the outside. And it’s not just the buildings that are beautiful in Italy – the locals are dressed to the nines even when riding their bikes!
There are cars, Vespas, bikes, buses, trams and people going everywhere on the roads, at the same time. I am still astounded that I haven’t seen an accident yet. But as Sal keeps telling us, people in Italy are good drivers until they get their licence and then they completely forget how to do it!
“I found touching the hand of the statue of St Anthony very moving. So many in need and in gratitude have touched that hand. It was warm to touch.”
Fr Greg Barker
“I felt there was a great calmness about St Anthony’s Basilica. I was drawn to the statues at the front of the cathedral. Inside there was a silent reverence among the people viewing the relics. The two- hundred-year-old magnolia tree, nourished in the soil of an ancient burial ground, was incredible. The peacefulness reminded me of Assisi.”
“My first big challenge of the pilgrimage was going to the top of the Duomo. I’m afraid of heights so I had jelly legs and sweaty palms. I’m so proud that I did it.”
“The exterior of the cathedral was majestic but once you went through the Holy Door the whole ambience changed. Wherever you looked, your eyes were drawn upwards. You’re drawn into the serenity of the Duomo, repeatedly raising your eyes to the Lord. It is a triumph for the architect.”
OBSERVATIONS: Looking forward
“I’m most looking forward to visiting Auschwitz to experience the history of what happened to the Jews. You can learn about it at school and watch movies, but being in the place they were will make a massive difference to understanding that time.”
Blog Day 5
On Monday we returned to Milan for Mass in the Capella Delle Sante Messe chapel of the Duomo. Fr Peter Street presided at the Mass, with music and singing from our pilgrim choir (with accompaniment, in Italian, from our guides Sal and Silvio).
Fr Peter described Jesus’ death as the ultimate act of mercy.
“We have all responded to the call of Jesus by coming on this pilgrimage. How are we going to let the mercy of the Father change us? We must be open to this,” said Fr Peter.
Recalling a recent family tragedy, Fr Peter shared words of wisdom from his grandmother who said that to face it they must all “love harder”.
It has been lovely to see the clergy of our diocese celebrate the Eucharist in these ancient and beautiful places. You can’t help but feel their joy in being able to share their faith with the pilgrims in settings that have such deep meaning and atmosphere.
After some free time, pilgrims returned to the buses to travel to the medieval city of Siena in Tuscany.
Upon arrival in Siena we travelled to the Basilica of St Dominic that contains the relics of St Catherine. This was special to me as one of our daughters is Sienna and her confirmation name is Catherine. She had recently told her class about the head and thumb of Catherine being in Siena and her body in Rome.
It was wonderful to be in this place. It wasn’t majestic like some of the cathedrals we have visited so far, but it was authentic in every sense.
We then travelled through Siena to the Piazza del Campo where we had dinner. It was amazing to be in this world-renowned square enjoying food and a drink together. We were all so excited to be there and the camaraderie that has been building since we left was really on show as we took photos and enjoyed each other’s company. On the way back to the bus we were so loud it’s a wonder the locals didn’t start cursing at us in Italian.
The service stations in Italy serve amazing food, especially by Australian service station standards. You can purchase freshly prepared pasta, risotto, salads and baked olive bread, just to name a few.
What’s not to love about a place that serves cake for breakfast?
OBSERVATIONS: Looking forward
“I’m looking forward to Siena because of the beautiful scenery in the Tuscan region, the many villages we’ll see along the way. It’s really just a quaint little village so it will be great to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and just relax. There is a peacefulness there.”
“My Dad’s parents were born in Italy so Siena feels like a home away from home for me. Somehow, the craziness just makes sense to me, for example, the cars and scooters and bikes going everywhere at the same time.”