By Sally Gracie
Bill Wehmeyer says that he doubts “anyone came back the same person” now that he and other parishioners of St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church on Burgar Street have returned from their Italian pilgrimage. Bill’s wife, Julie Wehmeyer, and Nancy Stitt, both of Twisp, Nancy Kirner, Sarah Salmon and Colleen Henry of Winthrop, and Marjorie Kessler from Mazama also went on the 12-day tour.
Their tour guide was their priest at St. Genevieve’s, Father M.J. Nicks. Father Nicks studied for six years in Rome, and the group benefited from his familiarity with the city as well as his spiritual guidance.
Unlike typical tourists in Rome, these travelers set spiritual growth as their goal. Julie explained how different this trip was from an earlier visit she and Bill had made to Italy when art, shopping and food were highlights of their tour. This time they traveled for “a faith-filled participation in Catholicism,” she said.
The group stayed in a 300-year-old building, once a seminary. The rooms were simply furnished but – situated just three blocks from the Vatican – their hotel’s location was ideal.
Only occasionally taking public transportation or a cab, they walked almost everywhere. In keeping with their spiritual journey, their daily destinations were generally basilicas and churches, but as they walked, they couldn’t miss the secular landmarks – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum or the Forum.
Arranging ahead of their arrival for the use of a side chapel or main altar, Father Nicks said mass for the group every day in a different church, including at St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s is one of the most important Christian sites in the world with the tomb of St. Peter beneath it. Following each mass, Julie, Bill, Nancy and the others generally spent an hour of quiet contemplation at the church.
During her visit to Rome, Nancy found Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s and the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major particularly moving to her. Nancy was the single member of the group to climb the Holy Stairs (La Scala Santa). Tradition says that these steps are relics, the actual steps from the palace of Pontius Pilate that Jesus climbed. Walking up the 28 steps is not allowed, and the serious pilgrim must crawl or climb on her knees, reciting a separate prayer for each step.
The group was of course awed by the Sistine Chapel. They also stood among the masses in the rain at St. Peter’s to hear Pope Francis address the gathered faithful.
Two day-trips from Rome were to Assisi and Florence. They attended an English mass at Gonzaga-in-Florence and visited the Basilica of St. Francis and the saint’s tomb in Assisi.
The Twisp pilgrims had nothing but good things to say about the food in Italy. Despite feasting most evenings, nearly every member of the group walked off at least a couple of pounds during their visit.
“A pilgrimage is a little different for each person,” one traveler said. And it is a “response to their own spiritual needs.”
Neither the Wehmeyers or Nancy have traveled to the Holy Land, but, after this trip, a pilgrimage to Jerusalem will be on their bucket lists.