ROME — Pilgrims from the Diocese of Charlotte and the Archdiocese of Atlanta were blessed to have several priests accompany them to Italy for the 10-day ad limina pilgrimage, May 2-12.
Father Christopher Roux, rector/pastor of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Charlotte, Father John Eckert, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Grace Church in Greensboro, and Father Michael Silloway, parochial vicar of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, were with them every step of the way.
Here they share some of their reflections on their experiences as ad limina pilgrims and priests.
Pictured: Father Christopher Roux and Father John Eckert in the Tomb of St. Peter. Photo by SueAnn Howell.
"To be with Benedict XVI on Wednesday and then the first pope (at the Tomb of St. Peter), I don't think we could have had more beautiful experiences as pilgrims than to do those two things," said Father Christopher Roux, who served as spiritual advisor for the approximately 40 pilgrims.
"To see the tomb of the first pope and also see the current pope, and to think of all the many popes who make up the continuous line of faith that has nurtured this world and will continue to nurture it, and to think of all the attempts to destroy the Church by all those who have tried to destroy the Church...Where are they and where are we?"
"It just shows that the Rock (St. Peter)...that Jesus picked the right guy," he joked.
"It was an amazing experience to be at the place that is the heart of the Vatican. To be right there, near the bones of the prince of the Apostles, St. Peter...I'll put it this way, it was an amazing experience," said Father John Eckert.
Father Michael Silloway also shared his enthusiasm about accompanying the pilgrims. "It fills me with a lot of joy and hope (to see the pilgrims on their journey)," he said.
"Being at a cathedral parish myself, where there is a lot of secularism, a lot of people doubting their faith and not knowing their faith, you see the struggle in people. As a priest, you try to minister and try to explain and preach and teach, and even in conversations with people, not just in homilies – you try desperately. Sometimes you wonder if it is having an impact on people.
"What helps about coming here, you can see it happen in people, things click for the first time, it's the moment where they are being evangelized by the architecture, the art, the stories of the saints, their own personal encounters in prayer...
"These stories in the Bible aren't just ancient tales, they are truth, and Jesus is speaking to me through the lived faith that is memorialized in these buildings and the true stories of the martyrs and the saints that have gone before us.
"So when they (pilgrims) walk into St. Peter's and they see the magnanimity of it, they're blown away. They say 'I've seen that on EWTN, I've seen pictures of the pope here' – there's something so Catholic about it, it roots their whole experience in something real and concrete.
"For me to see that, it's uplifting, it's like, 'Thank you, Lord! Thank you for working in people. For your Holy Spirit nudging hearts and bringing them so they can have this experience.'
"It encourages me to want to do something like this every year."
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer