Italian Association pilgrims visit Rome and Sorrento

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The Italian Association’s annual programme includes a Christmas Dinner Dance; a November Mass for the Dead in Italian in Glasgow, theatre visits to Pitlochry in December and June each year – stopping for their afternoon tea along the way; an Italian Film night; the Carnivale Masked Ball on Shrove Tuesday…. a May Procession and  October Devotions. Time too to raise funds for the Mukuro Street Children in Kenya and for Mary’s Meals – and a pilgrimage!

Pilgrims at the tombs of St Benedict and St Scholastica in Montecassino Abbey

Mgr Aldo is their chaplain – supporting them with a monthly Mass in Italian and travelling with them wherever they go. A more experienced Italian guide would be hard to find – offering daily Mass and engaging like a native with hotel staff and bus drivers – sorting out problems before they got out of hand. As a Chaplain to the Papal Household he was welcomed like royalty – and the rest of the group along with him.

In their bi-annual cycle of pilgrimages – this year should have taken them to Rome and Assisi – but in a bold change to tradition – they were off to Rome, Benedictine Abbey at Montecassino, Sorrento, the Shrine of St Andrew at Amalfi and Capri.

In Rome they settled in a small hotel in the Borgo Pio – within sight of the gates of Vatican City at the Porto Sant’ Anna.

That meant that they could be early birds at the Vatican the next morning – 8am Mass in St Peter’s – just as the doors open. The vast basilica was empty – the morning light reflecting off the polish floor. The Mass was celebrated in the crypt – surrounded by the Tombs of the Popes – and, close by, the tomb of Bonnie Prince Charlie, his father and uncle.

Mass with Mgr Aldo in the crypt – near the tombs of the Popes

Next stop was the Tivoli Gardens – famed for its extraordinary system of fountains; fifty-one fountains, 398 spouts, 364 water jets, 64 waterfalls, and 220 basins, fed by 875 meters of canals, channels and cascades, and all working entirely by the force of gravity, without pumps.

Next it was a quick visit to St Mary Major on the way home.

Sitting down to an evening meal in the heart of the city was the perfect end to an exhausting day!

Next morning they were awakened to the now customary ALARM call for breakfast – and then Mass at the Divine Mercy Church of Sancto Spirito before squeezing into St Peter’s Square for the weekly Papal Audience.It wasn’t long before Pope Francis passed through the crowds,  and they found ourselves in the perfect spot for a close up!

The Pope’s message was summarised in about a dozen languages – including Arabic.

They wisest pilgrims took shelter from the growing heat in the shade of the obelisk in the centre of the square. For the remainder of the day the pilgrims had free time to explore the piazza’s, churches, shops – fuelled by pizza, cold beer and ice cream.

Three days in Rome had flown past – and soon they were on they way to Sorrento – but stopping along the way at the Benedictine Abbey at Montecassino – perched almost 2000ft above the valley below. A dramatic hairpin climb – with breathtaking views at every turn.

The abbey was founded by Saint Benedict himself around 529 A.D. It was ravaged by Lombards in the sixth century, pillaged by Saracens in the ninth, knocked clown by an earthquake in the fourteenth, sacked by French troops in the eighteenth, and reduced to rubble by Allied bombs and shells in the twentieth century.

Almost immediately, funds started to be gathered for its rebuilding and – in 1964 – Pope Paul VI rededicated the monastery to peace and European unity and formally declared the abbey’s founder, St Benedict, as the patron saint of Europe.

Mgr Aldo celebrated a Mass for Peace at an altar in sacristy of the monastery – followed by an excellent guided tour which included the tombs of St Benedict and his twin sister St Scholastica.

Arriving in Sorrento – just beyond Naples – there was a first sight of Vesuvius. Conveniently for the camera sit ported a beautifully positioned adiabatic cloud – creating the illusion of an eruption!

Their hosts for the next four nights were the Oblates Sisters of the Baby Jesus – Brazilian nuns who run a Residenza – a guest house in a beautiful building set aloft on the dramatic coast.

The sight of the Mediterranean – the capes and bays – and the quickly setting sun – another perfect end to a perfect day.

A new day and our coach set of on the 1730 bends along the infamous road to Amalfi.

Plans to visit the mountain top village of Ravello – with even more sharp hairpins ahead – were swapped for a cruise which allow us to appreciate the scale of the rugged coastline – with Ravello high above the homes of stars from Sophie Lauren to Beyonce, from Rodger Moore to Rudolf Nureyev…

Back to dry land – and the Cathedral of St Andrew – with the relics of the apostle taken there by its Bishop after the sacking of Constantinople in 1208. The 62 steps leading up to the front door proved too much for some of the pilgrims – but for those who managed it – the visit to Shrine with the relics revealed a beautiful setting – worthy of the first disciple.

The final day took us to the ruins of Pompei. For those familiar with Hadrian’s Wall and Scotland’s Roman landscape – or even the Forum in Rome – this was like a virtual reality experience – so much had been preserved for 1600 years until to 20 feet of volcanic ash.

Charity banquet at La Culla, Sorrento