St. Peter's Basilica at Night (and Ponte Sant Angelo over the Tiber)

St. Peter’s Basilica at Night (and Ponte Sant Angelo over the Tiber)

Travel Journal Day One, May 7, 2015: Leaving Bismarck, North Dakota through Chicago to Rome.

I have to admit I never really thought that I needed to see Italy or Rome or the Vatican to deepen my faith. After a 2010 visit, I came home and told my bride Patti that I was wrong about that.

In 2010, I took my then 14-year-old daughter, Teresa, and two of her friends on a pilgrimage to Italy. I came back from that trip and gave talks and wrote articles about the Shroud of the Turin. I never imagined going back five years later. But last year, when I heard that Pope Francis was planning a trip to see the Shroud of Turin in northern Italy, I wanted to go again and share the experience with more of our family.

And so today, May 7, 2015, Patti and I are bringing six of our ten kids on a pilgrimage over the next nine days to see Rome, Vatican City, Pisa, Turin (where the Shroud of Turin has been since the sixteenth century) and finally Milan to go to the World’s Fair.

The Armstrong family has a long tradition of eschewing pre-arranged tours and striking out on our own when traveling. Through the miracle of the internet and sites like Expedia, Rail Europe, Wimdu and others, we have pieced together what I hope will be another one of our “trips-of-a-lifetime.”

We are leaving on a Thursday afternoon and will arrive Friday morning in Rome. Italy has wonderful, old, marvelously-decorated churches that date back to the beginning of Christianity itself. Every year, these Catholic places attract millions of people who come to them. They snap pictures of everything from frescoes to sculptures to paintings to bejeweled treasures. People line up and pay big money to see it all. The insides of the cathedrals, basilicas and churches also house priceless works of art, magnificent stained glass and sculptures that people marvel at when they go inside and see them.

The real sadness for Italy, and all of Europe for that matter, is that people will line up and pay money to see these treasures. And yet when it comes time for the sacraments, the true priceless treasures of the Catholic faith, no one is lining up and pushing their way in to get a seat at the Masses offered either daily or Sunday in the Catholic churches throughout Italy.

We will have the next few days to explore Rome and Vatican City before we head north to Pisa on Monday. I hadn’t planned on stopping in Pisa, but our 13-year-old son, Isaac, wanted to see the Leaning Tower, so how could we say no? More tomorrow from Rome, the Eternal City!

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