Pilgrims Share Personal Memories of Exceptional Trip

screenshot028Great memories are exactly what little Denny and I encountered during our October, 2016 pilgrimage to Italy. My son continues to reminisce about the 12 days we shared together. It was our first European journey as international travelers and it is something we both will cherish in our hearts for the rest of our lives. What did we experience on our trip? You name it. New family, new friends and a new faith perspective.

Father Elias [Rafaj] had told me to get ready because “you will be walking on holy ground.” And he wasn’t kidding. One of the highlights of the trip was celebrating the Divine Liturgy at the Crypt of Saint Nicholas in the Basilica of San Nicola in Bari. Saint Nicholas has always been my wife’s favorite saint. Believe it or not, the day of the Liturgy fell on the very day of our wedding anniversary.

Archbishop William graciously allowed me to remember +Patty in the service. Wow, that was simply awesome. From St. Benedict’s Abbey in Montecassino to the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Assisi, to our audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and yes — even to sharing “Chicken McNuggets” with my son Denny in Venice, Italy — our holy journey can only be described in one word, and that is fulfillment. — Deacon Dennis Prestash

screenshot029For me, this experience was multi-faceted. As a non-Catholic with limited knowledge of Byzantine Catholicism, the pilgrimage was as much spiritual as it was informative. Each service celebrated and each awe-inspiring location further deepened my connection with the group as well as with my own faith. I was thoroughly impressed with the inclusiveness that was felt amongst the pilgrimage group as well as the patience of a few of the fellow pilgrims for answering my ongoing questions related to the hierarchy and structure of the Byzantine Catholic Church, its history, its meanings and the structure of the masses [liturgies]. The trip afforded all of us opportunities and experiences that we will no doubt remember for a lifetime. I developed a greater understanding and appreciation of the Byzantine Catholic faith, deepened my relationship with family and friends and added new friends to my life. Visiting Assisi was the pinnacle location for me on this trip.

From the Basilicas of Saint Francis and Saint Claire to San Damiano to the picturesque views and charming streets, I felt a deep connection to Assisi. I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to experience a pilgrimage to do so. The benefits from the experience are worthwhile and everlasting. — Josh Hatfield

screenshot030My father was fortunate to visit Rome and Assisi in the 1960s. So, from the time that I was young, I heard my father talk about the special experience he had in Assisi, of St. Francis, and of St. Clare. As I got older and visited Italy on my own, my father would tell me that he wanted me to go to Assisi. However, Assisi never seemed to be a convenient stop on my prior trips. My father died last year. And, of course, I miss him greatly.

When this pilgrimage was announced and Assisi was on the itinerary, I was overjoyed. My father was right. Assisi is a very special place. The history of St. Francis. The history of St. Clare. The cross of St. Damian. The cloistered nuns of the Poor Clares. And, the peacefulness that simply and wonderfully fills you. There was no doubt, what I felt. My father was with me in Assisi. — Cathy Chromulak

The Best Trip Ever

by Denny Prestash Jr.

screenshot031One of the best times of life was when I served with my Dad and the Archbishop in the Divine Liturgy while I was in Italy. It was also pretty cool to watch Archbishop William and Father Andrew speak in all of the churches, especially when we were in Rome at St. Peter’s. I think St. Peter’s Basilica was the biggest church I have ever been in during my entire life.

You could have fit one hundred and fifty of our Byzantine Churches in the main hall of St. Peter’s. I also really enjoyed the coliseum and seeing all of the ancient artifacts. I liked going to the hotels because when you opened the window you could see for miles and miles. I felt like we were in a movie. When we arrived in Venice I was so excited because you could not drive your car to your destination. You actually had to get around by a boat taxi. It was the first time a boat took me to a restaurant for dinner. We really had good meals in Italy and we always had a great time with my new friends I met on the trip. Everyone was so nice.

The food was homemade and they served lots and lots of pasta. But my favorite part of our pilgrimage was when we visited Pope Francis. It felt like I was dreaming because we were about ten feet away from the Holy Father. All of the people received a blessing from him. After seeing Papa, (That’s what they call him in Rome) I felt like I was million times stronger. I have to say overall the best moment in Rome had to be spending time with my Dad, seeing the ancient cities and praying together. That was awesome and unforgettable. I really hope we can go back again someday so we could do it all over again. Glory to Jesus Christ!

screenshot032I feel so lucky to have been part of this trip. We not only got to visit and tour these architecturally breathtaking locations, but also got to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in these historic places. When our first service in the crypt of Saint Nicholas at the Basilica in Bari began and the singing of the cantor filled the room, I couldn’t help but be moved by the experience. One of the reasons I wanted to go on the trip is because my grandmother’s parents came to America from Italy.

I wanted to see where that side of my family comes from. While we were taking a tour of the old part of Bari, we saw a group of women sitting around chatting and making homemade pasta. There was another woman in her kitchen stirring a huge pot of tomato sauce. I could smell bread baking. These are all things I think of when I think of my grandmother. I lost my grandmother two years ago, but she was with me on every step of this trip. — Heather Hatfield

screenshot033What a wonderful and uplifting experience! Of course, the highlight of the trip was the Papal audience. Although we had rain, we were so close to the Holy Father that we could almost touch him – thanks to arrangements made by Archbishop William. We also had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Sandri inside the Vatican and go to the necropolis beneath the Vatican.

It was wonderful meeting the other pilgrims, who I am sure deepened their faith through this experience. Extra special was watching all this through the eyes of our youngest pilgrim and altar server Dennis Prestash, Jr. I will forever remember cantoring throughout this pilgrimage in all these holy places. — Mary Caryl Planiczki