After months of fevered anticipation, 11 pilgrims from Castlerigg Manor and another 10 young people from around the diocese set off on an unforgettable journey to Rome. This was to not only witness and celebrate the canonisation of our TWO Holy fathers, but to take in the sights, tastes and atmosphere of all Italy had to offer. We touched down at Ciampino airport, travelled on what I might add to be one of Italy’s greatest amenities, the railway, to where we were staying in the ancient and beautiful town of Palestrina. On arriving we were greeted and welcomed so wonderfully by the brothers of the Franciscan order that the 1390 miles distance between us and home felt much smaller. After meeting all the friars, some of whom had come from all corners of the earth to share in their remarkable religious community. We were fully immersed into the Italian culture as they shared with us various local and homemade delicacies.  We ate in the gardens of the friary, listening and sharing stories with an added bonus of a breathtaking view over the whole of Rome. We ended out first day in true Castlerigg style, with a hike up to a hidden village at the top of Palestrina, where we explored the old and beautiful streets, before ending our day with pizza and pasta. Buon Appetito!

Waking for our first full day in Rome, there was an unexpected buzz in the air considering it was 6am; everyone was excited and eager to absorb every experience. As we strolled up to St. Peters square, we could see preparations beginning to take place, the streets were paved with fellow pilgrims; it took no time at all for us to bump into other friends from other northern dioceses, some of whom had slept on the streets for the night. Even outside the basilica, there was a sense of awe at being at the heart of the Catholic Church where millions and millions of other Catholics have stood united in prayer and celebration. We spent the majority of the morning taking in the sights such as Michelangelo’s Pietà, imagining generations of popes gliding around the exquisite halls and eating ice-cream served by the lovely nuns at the top of the dome. As the afternoon drew in, we were lucky enough to have a guided tour of the English College by Lancaster’s very own seminarian, Daniel Etienne, where we were struck by the names of various Lancaster Martyrs covering the walls of the halls. We ended our afternoon by throwing coins in Trevi Fountain (confirming our return to Roma), eating countless tubs of ‘gelato’ and trying to spot one another in a sea of ‘I love papa Francesco t-shirts’. Overall, a perfect day.

Finally, the much anticipated day had arrived; hundreds of thousands of people travelled into St. Peter’s square to witness for the first time in history the canonization of two Popes at the same event. Both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, who played vital roles in renewing and updating the Church, would have been overjoyed to witness the great turn out and euphoric atmosphere that overtook the crowds in the square. People young and old, from all villages, towns and nations stood and knelt as brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Mass, sharing the sign of peace in sincere jubilation. It was truly a day to remember.  Even though many of the pilgrims spoke little of the Italian language, the loving embrace between Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict, lifted the hearts of all and paved the way to what was a beautiful ceremony. After escaping the crowds, we took to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, for some quiet prayer time. This church is home to part of the real crib of Jesus Christ, in typical Mary style it is at the heart of the building. During our time here it was easy to understand why Pope Francis is drawn to this magnificent place of prayer. Our day concluded in further celebrations back at the monastery, in which the friars had organized a party for ourselves and the young people in their parish, all of whom battled through the language barrier to welcome and get to know each of us; pizza and popes are definitely a universal language!

Consequently, as we sat on a dusty pavement waiting to say goodbye to Rome, the joy of the past three days washed over each of us. The city was a truly magical place, the rock upon which all Catholics can freely express their faith and unite as one family. With many people maintaining that faith is diminishing and we are gradually becoming a more secular society, they have clearly not seen or experienced such an event. The words of John Paul II come to mind, ‘The future starts today, not tomorrow’. Rome is but a city, although the people we met and the experiences we shared, make me proud to be a Catholic. I speak for myself and others who partook in the pilgrimage, a pilgrimage that showed that the faith and future of the Church is as strong now as it ever was.

—Hannah, Wrea Green.