The Catholic Pilgrim in Europe – Part 1 of 4

This summer, with quiet time after my graduation, preparing for University, I am taking time to reflect on my recent tour to Europe, specifically looking at the various dimensions of Catholicism within the various parts of Europe visited. These reflections will come out in a four-part post series.

It has been over four months since I, along with some colleagues from Chaminade College School and two teachers boarded a flight to Barcelona, Spain where from there, we toured Barcelona, south of France and central Italy. While we spent much time walking along the boardwalk of Barcelona’s beaches, riding a merry go round in Florence, visiting Fragonance Perfumeries in Côte d’Azur, what resonated with me the most were the Catholic Churches and architecture in the place we visited and I will speak about this aspect in this blog post. There were so many aspects to the trip, and that I will write about in the near future.

Catholicism has been around for nearly two-thousand years. The Catholic Church has faced persecution, scandals, oppression by various governments (even today). Yet, we have stood firm in faith and never has Catholicism died. Being in Europe proved this in me as we went from Spain, France and finally to Italy. Catholicism has had a mark in all these countries, evident by its presence of numerous Churches, monuments and art. 

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Top of the Passion facade of Sagrada Familia

In Spain, it was the Basilica of Sagrada Familia, the “unfinished Church” that I first learned of Barcelona. Little did I know that years later, I would find myself viewing the facade of this Basilica. It was a magnificent Basilica. We did not step into its interior, but even its exterior was a lot to take in. Looking through the lens of the secular world, it is an iconic symbol of Barcelona. Through the lens of the Catholic world, Sagrada Familia is rich in symbolism – it is a summative history of our salvation, as we go through symbols of the Old Testament, to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, and finally, to symbols from the liturgy and sacraments. 

While on the bus ride from Spain to France, I used the time to upload my pictures I took while in Barcelona and transfer them to my hard drive. I then came across the picture of the Passion Facade of Gaudi’s famous Basilica of Sagrada Familia. I then immediately started writing this reflection, with the aid of my Bible beside me, reflecting and comparing Jesus Christ  and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that I just completed reading in English class. 

In France, I remember Avignon very well. Even though the doors of the Cathedral of Avignon were closed by the afternoon we got there, standing in the Cathedral square was an amazing experience. Then facing the Papal Palaces, I took a look at the grounds surrounding it and I thought of the Popes who have once walked those grounds. Avignon was once “the Vatican”, as Popes were exiled there in the years (1309 to 1376). 

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In the Cathedral Square of Avignon

In France, I remember Avignon very well. Even though the doors of the Cathedral of Avignon were closed by the afternoon we got there, standing in the Cathedral square was an amazing experience. Then facing the Papal Palaces, I took a look at the grounds surrounding it and I thought of the Popes who have once walked those grounds. Avignon was once “the Vatican”, as Popes were exiled there in the years 1309 to 1376. 

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The doors of the Basilica Saint-Pierre d’Avignon

I said to some, if you really want to see castles from medieval times, visit Avignon. You’ll see many castles. The Papal Palaces were actually castles (you can see part of it in the picture to the right of the Cathedral). Again, the presence of Catholicism is very evident in Avignon by its presence of churches in such a small town. I remember walking by the Basílica Saint-Pierre d’Avignon and could not help but look at the beautifully carved doors.

I said to some, if you really want to see castles from medieval times, visit Avignon. You’ll see many castles. The Papal Palaces were actually castles (you can see part of it in the picture to the right of the Cathedral). Again, the presence of Catholicism is very evident in Avignon by its presence of churches in such a small town. I remember walking by the Basílica Saint-Pierre d’Avignon and could not help but look at the beautifully carved doors. Catholicism inspired not only the building of churches but also the art, and lifestyle of the city. You can see crosses and depictions of the Blessed Virgin Mary throughout the streets.

After spending some days in France, we headed on to Italy. As we went through Florence, Assisi, Rome, Sorrento and Capri, Churches were everywhere – in the city and rural areas. However, throughout the tour, the two regions that captivated me were Assisi and Rome. 

(To be continued.)

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About Vincent Pham

Known as The Catholic Man by many of his friends, Vincent is a student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Christianity and Culture. Vincent is an alumni of Chaminade College School in Toronto (Class of 2019). He has a great love for all things Catholic, especially Catholic liturgy.
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