On their extraordinary two-week European journey this summer from Paris to Normandy to Rome to Austria, the 71 students and 18 chaperones on Jesuit’s Magis Pilgrimage did it all.
They visited phenomenal sights and historic locales, experienced powerful and reflective occasions, and grew in their brotherhood and faith.
In the end, they achieved the objective of pilgrimage: transformation.
“The biggest thing I have taken from the pilgrimage is how much is required of us, and how much is right in front of us, to show us we need to change the way we live our lives,” Oscar Lopez ’20 said. “It was inspiring and very humbling.”
It began in Paris, where their connector from Frankfurt landed on June 22, a day after departing Tampa. Traveling in nine groups of about 10 per group – eight students, a chaperone, and a young alumni chaperone – with each group named after a saint, the pilgrims’ experience in the historic city included a river cruise down the Seine; visits to the Arc de Triomphe and The Louvre; a day trip to Chartres and Versailles; and daily Mass in the churches, cathedrals, and basilicas of Paris.
“France is historically known as ‘the eldest daughter of the Church,’ and in Paris we got a clear sense of this from our visits to the sacred sites scattered throughout the city,” said Fr. Randy Gibbens, S.J., chaperone of the St. Louis IX group. “We stood in front of Notre Dame de Paris, visited the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, and looked out over the city from the steps of the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur from atop Montmartre.
“We also visited Eglise Saint Joseph des Carmes, where 191 men and women were martyred at the hands of the French Revolution for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the new state-sponsored church.”
Said Lopez: “They would tell us about these incredible stained-glass windows, in chapels and basilicas, about the people who had dedicated their entire lives to creating them. Generations dedicated to the love of God, the love of God I want to have.”
They departed Paris on June 26 for the medieval towns of Lisieux and Bayeux, in the Normandy region, and the second stage of the pilgrimage. Among many things, they saw the Bayeux Tapestry, an amazing 224-foot, 11th-century tapestry depicting the 1066 Norman invasion of England, and visited Omaha and Utah beaches, two of the sites of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France 75 years ago, on June 6, 1944 – D-Day.
“The Norman countryside and the town of Bayeux provided a break from the intense itinerary of Paris,” said Mike Scicchitano ’01, Jesuit’s Assistant Disciplinarian and chaperone of the St. Joseph group. “More importantly, though, students encountered sacrifice through visits to the American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, and Utah Beach. This was arguably the most intense and emotional day of the pilgrimage – the bus rides were somber and focused, and in small groups and adoration later in the evening, it was easy to see the emotional impact on the students.”
Added Lopez: “The D-Day memorial was incredible. Reading about the people who lost their lives. Mothers, families – one day their sons were home and a short time later they were lost. Very eye opening, to how blessed I am, to know that I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to be sent off to war next week.”
This stage of the pilgrimage also included a 5-mile, 2.5-hour barefoot hike through the tidal marsh to reach the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy (pictured on the homepage of the Jesuit website). There, the pilgrims explored the historic island and its medieval abbey, and celebrated Mass at Saint-Pierre Church. (Click here for an extraordinary video of Mont Saint-Michel).
On June 29, the pilgrimage split into two travel groups and departed France for Rome. The three days in Rome were filled with remarkable occasions, including Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and Angelus with Pope Francis.
“It was amazing seeing so many people in unity,” Lopez said. “There was no tension, only unity. Everyone was focused on what was important.”
There also were guided tours of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, and a visit to the Colosseum and Forum
“Rome took us to the heart of the great encounter between the earliest Christian missionaries and the Roman Empire,” Fr. Gibbens said. “We visited the tomb of St. Peter and prayed our way up the Scala Sancta, marble steps relocated from Jerusalem and believed to be the steps that Jesus Christ himself climbed on his way to trial before Pontius Pilate. From the very beginning, the Church has been about the great task of carrying the cross of Jesus.”
The final stage of the pilgrimage brought everyone to Gaming, Austria, which has been a popular final destination for recent Jesuit pilgrimages to Europe, including the summer of 2018’s Marian Pilgrimage.
In the breathtaking foothills of the Alps, the pilgrims took a few days of rest, calm, and joy to begin the process of reflecting on all that had happened.
“Gaming was a wonderful place to take a deep breath after so much travel and to pray about how God has been at work in the heart of each pilgrim,” Fr. Gibbens said. “Given the particular gifts and talents that I have been given, how might I most whole-heartedly answer the call of Christ? What sacrifices do I need to make to be faithful to the Gospel?”
Fifteen days after their departure, the pilgrims returned to Tampa, greeted by hundreds of loved ones at the airport after the experience of a lifetime.
“While traveling abroad on a pilgrimage like this, students are faced with many experiences that stretch them and test their openness to growth,” Scicchitano said. “Learning to communicate without fluency in the local language, adapting to local customs, navigating huge foreign cities using public transportation, trying new foods, and being away from the comforts of home for two weeks.
“By themselves, these experiences are valuable. However, within the context of this pilgrimage and its focus on sacrifice, along with daily Mass, small groups, and the itinerary, they provided opportunities for students to deepen their faith and encounter God.”
Said Lopez: “We were all gifted this opportunity. I brought back a desire to have a positive impact on people’s lives. As a senior, I look forward to fulfilling that role, helping other students and teachers.”
Please view photo slideshows below from the first week (top) and second week (bottom) of the 2019 Magis Pilgrimage: