This is a continuation and the conclusion of The Catholic Pilgrim in Europe four-part series, where I recount the most significant moments during my March Break Europe tour, with other travellers from Chaminade College School. Part 1 can be found here. Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 can be found here.
The last part of our school’s Europe tour were to Sorrento and Capri in southern Italy, about 3 -4 hour by on land vehicle from the city of Rome. I honestly have never heard of Sorrento and Capri prior to signing up for the Europe tour, so it was a place of surprise for me.
Sorrento had a much quieter atmosphere compared to Rome. While Rome has very tall structures that had what I’d say a “rigid” sense, Sorrento had very lively buildings in bright colours. A special feature of Sorrento are their lemons. Their lemons are huuuugggggge, and everywhere you go, you see lemons, even lemon soap, lemon towels… all sorts of lemon merchandise. Catholicism is very much present there, as I passed by the Seminary and their Cathedral. Most notable for me was the presence of a statue in hermit-like clothing depicted in sculptures and images throughout Sorrento. I found the answer when I randomly stepped into a church, and was surprised to see how grand it was. The mysterious saintly figure again appeared, but very prominently in the church. I later found out once I got home, did some research that the church I stepped in was the Shrine to St. Antoninus of Sorrento, and abbot, and hermit. He was a figure who seemed to be very dear to the Catholics of the area.
That church was no where near the scale of St. Peter’s Basilica, but it was very unique. I approached the altar, and two sides walls had, encased behind glass small “cubby holes” of which I believe to be relics of saints. This is honestly now surprise to me because churches in Italy often have many relics for veneration by the public. Atop the main crucifix depicted saints, with St. Antoninus of Sorrento in the centre. When I stepped in, there was group of people, probably a part of a choir practicing some Italian hymns (I am assuming they were singing Italian hymns).
I saw two stairs on the two sides near the sanctuary. They were not just any set of stairs, they were decorated, similar to those of the Confessio of St. Peter’s Basilica. I knew there could be something “big” down there, so I went down and stepped into a Chapel filled with light. There, in the centre of all activity was a statue of St. Antoninus of Sorrento atop an altar (ad orientem). I noticed below the statue was a grate, with a lighted candle. Having looked at some altars of this type, I knew this altar had some major relic inside, likely of St. Antoninus and my research confirmed those assumptions. The surrounding walls had ex votos of all sizes in the classic Italian style, in shapes of hearts and various symbols, thanking St. Antoninus for a specific grace. I knelt down in front of the high altar at kneeler provided and I loved the silence and solemnity. It was only myself inside the crypt chapel.
That night in Sorrento, myself and some colleagues went down the hill down to the beach below. The experience of walking along the beach this time was different than that in Barcelona or Nice. There were not many people present at the beach since the water was a little cold and the sun was setting. The quietness, and the sound of the waters is something you do not get the experience much in Toronto. Some of the guys were playing volleyball. I sat near the waters, and just sat there, taking in the moment. After a while, I stood up and started walking in my pair of flip-flops and stepped into the waters for a bit, just up to my ankles. It was cold, so I did not stand in the water for long. Then, I just began casually walking along the coast, letting my feet dry in the sand. I started singing, “Hôm nào dưới nắng reo vui, mình tôi rong chơi trên bãi biển…” (translation: “One happy day under the sun, I was alone casually walking on the beach…”) from Dấu Chân (Footprints) a Vietnamese song, based on the popular poem Footprints, with music accompaniment by the late Bishop Joseph Thống Vũ. I only knew of the song two days after he passed away when it circulated widely on Facebook. While I’ve sung it in front of crowds before, many emotions went through me as I sung It alone on the beach and the sun slowing setting.
We headed to the island of Capri the next day and I found Capri to be very interesting. I knew absolutely nothing about Capri prior to the trip so everything was surprise. Capri was very lively. It’s a small town but full of life. It was Sunday, the Lord’s Day and I was trying to find a church for Mass. We had an hour of free time, so I headed to the Cathedral of St. Stephen (Santo Stefano), which is smaller than that of St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica, but it was still gorgeous. I tried to look for a sign with Mass times, but unfortunately, I came right after they had Mass and the next one would be an hour later – by then, I would be back with the group heading back for Rome. I did not know what to do, since we did not have chance for Mass the previous week either since were travelling from place to place. Then, I thought of asking for Holy Communion. I went to the back of the Sacristy (I still do not know how I found the courage to even do that). I found the sacristan and he knew minimal english. He lead me to an old priest, vested for the next Mass in an hour. He did not know much english either, and I could not explain to him using dialogue, so I used hand gestures. The sacristan translated as much he could for the old priest. At first, the priest shook his head, “No”. I said, “Grazie” and began leaving the sacristy area. At the door of the sacristy, the priest called me back, and gestured me to go to the sanctuary and wait for him. I did not know what was going to happen. The priest went to the tabernacle, took a ciboria out and began saying prayers in Italian. I knew a little Latin to understand that what was taking place was the Rite of Holy Communion Outside of Mass. I said all the prayers in English while he said most of the prayers in Italian. When he came to me with the host, I knelt down to receive the Eucharist as the priest said, “Corpus Christi,” and I replied, “Amen.” I continued to kneel down in prayer until the priest said a short prayer and offered the final blessing in Italian. I stood up, and said the only Italian sentence I knew, “Grazie Padre”. The priest smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
I walked out the Cathedral while some parishioners seemed puzzled at what just happened. Then, I realized I was wearing a sweater saying, “Thiếu Nhi Thánh Thể Việt Nam – Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement”. I wondered if the priest changed his mind because of that – I will never know why he changed mind that quickly. Either way, I was very happy as I believed everything happened out of God’s providence. Since then, I believe that something in me has changed in the way I receive Holy Communion – seem to have developed a much conscientious mindset now. We may take the act of receiving Holy Communion for granted because we do so each week sometimes out of routine. Yet, that should not be so, because the one whom we receive each week in the Eucharist is truly Jesus Christ who is true God and true Man.
The ride back to Rome was of mixed emotions because it was the last piece of travelling within Europe we would be doing before heading back to Canada the next day. I cherished every moment on the bus, sleeping at times, but most of all, just looking outside through the window at the scenery, or pulling out the Breviary to do the Liturgy of the Hours.
The next day, everyone woke up at 5:00am to get our suitcases and head to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino airport. We had a stop in Amsterdam and then it was an 8-hour flight back to Toronto on KLM Dutch Airline.
I remember looking out while the plane was on the East coast of Canada. The sky was clear of clouds, so I could actually look down and see the snow-covered land. It was beautiful to see how wide our country was. At 4:00pm EST, I did Evening Prayer of the day and remember praying for the Church in Canada.
Even after almost a whole day of travelling, it was only past 5:00pm when I arrived in Toronto. My dad was waiting for me at the airport. That ended a packed 12-Day Tour and Pilgrimage in Europe.
There is a lot that I left out from this four-part series post, because there our group did so much within twelve days. My legs were sore by the ninth day of the tour, but it was all worth it. While I learned a lot of the different cultures I encountered, I was very much attracted to the presence of Catholicism in these areas. It proved to me the universality of the Catholic Church, and even so, we all profess the same faith in the Creed. It was a profound experience visiting the most prominent places of Catholicism, and even to the lesser known churches. I certainly want to go back on a tour to Europe because I learned, I have a lot discovery and learning to do in Europe.
I would like to thank Mr. Veiga and Mr. Di Rezze for your tireless efforts in organizing the trip almost two years in advance. I also send a special thanks to Ms. Claudia Mura, our tour guide throughout the whole duration of the trip – your expertise, care and concern made this a very memorable and smooth trip! I also extend my gratitude to Explorica Canada who gave us great service.
A thank you also goes out to those who have journeyed with me physically and virtually throughout my days in Europe. I was very blessed to go on this trip with an amazing group of guys of my now, alma mater Chaminade College School. You guys made this trip a lot of fun. It was a chance for me to get to know each of you guys better and for me to share my joys of Catholicism with everyone of you, especially when visiting the holiest of places of our faith. To those who journeyed virtually with me, it means a lot of to me: putting up with Skype calls at awkward times, dealing with my rants about Rome, etc. The assistance such as tips and lending of guide books were very helpful as well. Most of all thank you for your prayers and mental support. Being outside of Canada without my parents was a little worrisome, but my physical and virtual companions have allowed me to not be homesick at all. To all… thank you.
Now, World Youth Day 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal? Let’s see!