While Pope Francis celebrated his first Holy Week and Easter as the new Bishop of Rome, local pilgrims Kiara and Jay Mack and their children, and Bob and Anne Trunzo and their children experienced a faith boost.

Planned before the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the friends learned of their nearly identical vacations through a casual conversation between Anne and Kiara after Christmas.

“The Macks have been dear friends of ours for many years, so it was exciting to think that our families might share something really special together,” said Anne. “Later, it was a thrill to learn that we were to be in Rome for our new pope’s first Easter. It was also a first for our family to be in Rome.”

Bob and Anne, members of St. Mary’s Visitation Parish, Elm Grove, traveled with their daughter, Christine, a nurse in Chicago, and son, Danny, a junior at Brookfield Academy, and stayed for a week. Their son, Jack, is a student from Notre Dame who is studying in London. He traveled to Rome in time for the Triduum.

“My highlight was climbing the Scola Sancta during the Triduum,” Jack said. “It was a beautiful act of penance to climb the 28 stairs on my knees and was a tremendous way to begin our pilgrimage on Holy Thursday.”
On Good Friday, Jack and his family visited many of the ancient Roman remains, and walked into the historic Forum.

“We could see where orators like Caesar, Marc Antony and Cicero spoke,” he said. “In a city that oozes history, standing in the shadow of the Colosseum and watching the Stations of the Cross was moving and gave me such a different perspective on faith – even if the entire service was in Italian.”

Faith is common denominator

Christine noticed that faith connected the crowds in St. Peter’s Square.  

“On our first day in Rome, we had the opportunity to see the Scavi, where St. Peter is buried under the Basilica. The Scavi closed when Holy Week celebrations began,” she explained. “We learned later in the week that Pope Francis visited the Scavi to pay his respects to St. Peter’s burial place. We also toured the Vatican museum, most importantly, we saw the Sistine Chapel.”

The family toured many churches, including St. Sebastian’s catacombs, and visited the ruins of Pompeii. While all of their experiences were unique, the most memorable event was the opportunity to participate in Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican. Efforts by Cardinal James M. Harvey and Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki made this possible.

“We had the opportunity to join the Mack family at dinner with Cardinal Harvey and Fr. Jacob Strand, who is studying in Rome. After a fabulous Italian dinner and great conversation, Cardinal Harvey pulled 10 golden (colored) tickets out of his coat pocket and invited us to sit up near the altar and to participate in Easter Sunday Mass at the Vatican,” Christine said.

“As a family, we were absolutely shocked and so grateful to be given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What a blessing to have experienced Easter Mass at the Vatican, sitting so close to the cardinals and Pope Francis.”

Crowds celebrate faith

Calling the experience “electric,” Anne was impressed with the crowds, but especially with the younger people from around the world, waving national and collegiate flags and celebrating their faith.

“It was such a hopeful feeling, that so many young people around the world are so energized by their commitment to the church,” she said. “On Easter Sunday, all you could see for what seemed like miles were people there to share in the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. It was jaw dropping.”

While they did not meet Pope Francis, Anne arranged for a tour of the Vatican Museum early one morning. While there, the tour guide indicated there was Mass for the Vatican employees and the Holy Father would arrive to greet the staff.

“The guide was so excited that she took us with her to St. Peter’s, and we had a chance to see Pope Francis greet the Vatican staff,” exclaimed Anne, adding, “I think that the faithful are really energized by Pope Francis. He seems like a very warm person who is smiling a lot.”

According to Jack, the food in Rome was fantastic, but the company even better when they met with Cardinal Harvey, Fr. Strand and the Mack family at a restaurant named Abruzzi for dinner.

“They are famous for their carbonara and status as a popular hangout for North American clergy,” he said. “The conversation was so easy and light. Cardinal Harvey was a wonderful person to talk to. He had amazing stories of his many years in Rome and had some great insights into the faith and our pilgrimage. Danny, who is being confirmed next month, was quizzed as to why he is taking Peter as his confirmation name by the cardinal; and he did a great job answering.”

Family enjoys faith-sharing time

The 10 days in Rome offered Kiara and Jay Mack, members of St. Charles Parish, Hartland, time to share their faith with their children, Liz and John, as they discussed faith over meals and on walks.

Kiara said the highlight of the trip was the Easter Sunday Mass when Archbishop Listecki and Cardinal Harvey arranged for the two families and Catherine Bresnahan, a UW-Madison student studying in Rome, to attend the 10:15 a.m. outdoor Mass with seats close to the altar.

The Easter Sunday forecast called for a 90 percent chance of rain, but when the families awoke to church bells ringing at 7 a.m., it was sunny and remained so all day.

“After the noon Urbi et Orbi blessing, Cardinal Harvey took us all out for a four-hour Italian Easter feast at a restaurant near the Vatican,” said Kiara. “On Holy Saturday morning Fr. Jacob Strand gave us a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with Jerry and Steve Buting from St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield.”

While in Rome, the family toured the San Callistus catacombs on the Appian Way, St. John Lateran Basilica, and attended the Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross) with the Holy Father on Good Friday night at the Colosseum.

Kiara witnessed curiosity from the Roman crowds about Pope Francis and whenever the Holy Father was present, the crowds shouted, “Viva Papa!”

“His focus on service to others with love and humility, care for the poor and love for Jesus Christ are hallmarks of the church and it’s wonderful to hear people and the media talking about the church again in this way,” she said. “He is witnessing the truth, beauty and goodness of the church that we all love.”

Trip reinforces faith

The trip to Rome reinforced their faith in the Catholic Church, said Kiara, and particularly special was the opportunity to share liturgical celebrations, dinners and tours with Catholics from around the world. Additionally, Cardinal Harvey ushered the family through a tour of the Vatican, bypassing the massive crowds at the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Being with people in love with Jesus Christ brings out the best in everyone. We were inspired by the presence of so many seminarians, priests and nuns in Rome who were reverent and on fire with their faith,” said Kiara.

After Rome, the Macks visited Assisi and Florence, stopped for a break along the autostrade (Italian highway), and realized they were at the base of the town of Orvieto where, nearby, a Eucharistic miracle occurred.

“We took the opportunity to tour the Orvieto Cathedral and see the corporal that held the Blood of Christ during a consecration in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263,” she said. “At the time that Jay, Liz and I were touring the cathedral, our son John befriended a local Italian boy from Orvieto to play one-on-one basketball together for the hour that we were there. Everyone was happy that we had stopped in Orvieto.”