Saipan pilgrims from took a group photo at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. About 50 pilgrims from Saipan travelled to Rome for the meeting with Pope Francis to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Neo Catechumenal Way on May 5, 2018

Saipan Pilgrims Travelled to Rome for the 50th Anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way

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By: Julie Anne Loong

If you ask any of the pilgrims who participated early this month in the pilgrimage to Rome, to describe it in one word, they would reply with, “Beautiful.” In fact, it was more than beautiful. It was perfect.

On April 26, 2018, Bishop Ryan Jimenez bestowed a send- off blessing on 50 pilgrims from the parishes of Nuestra Señora Bethen De Los Remedios and San Vicente de Ferrer, including the parish priest Father Jason Granado, who travelled with them to participate in the meeting with Pope Francis and the initiators and international team of the Way, Kiko Arguello, Father Mario Pezzi, and Maria Ascension Romero, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Neocatechumenal Way in Italy.

These brothers and sisters joined over 200 more from communities in Guam, Palau, and Hawaii.

The pilgrimage officially began on the early morning of Sunday, April 29. The pilgrims embarked on roughly 48 hours of travel time including layovers and actual flight time; however, upon arrival at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy the joy and excitement on everyone’s faces were evident. Despite the bags under their eyes and obvious jet lag, they were all smiling.

About 150,000 people in communities around the world gathered on May 5 in the University of Tor Vergata, in the outskirts of Rome to give thanks to God for opening the Way. The flags of over 130 countries waved in the air under the perfectly blue sky.

Spending a week in Rome is an obvious bucket list goal, but being there during that time served a different purpose. It was to simply, as Pope Francis said in his speech, “Go!” It was to leave comfort zones by becoming a part of the mission and to go to announce the good news of the love of God to everyone.

Saipan youths from Santa Remedios and San Vicente were chosen to bring up the offertory gifts during the Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on May 6, 2018 at the Vatican.

“Go. The mission demands that we leave. But in life, there is a strong temptation to remain, not to take risks, to be content with having the situation under control. It is easier to stay at home, surrounded by those who love us, but it is not Jesus’ way. He sends us out: ‘Go’. He does not use half measures. He does not authorize reduced transfers or reimbursed trips, but he says to His disciples, to all his disciples one word only: ‘Go!’. Go: a powerful call that resonates in every corner of Christian life; a clear invitation always to be outbound, pilgrims in the world in the search for the brother who still does not know the joy of God’s love.”

Pope Francis also sent out 34 new missio ad gentes, communities consisting of a priest and three to five families with children, to various countries as well as 25 communities to parishes in the Diocese of Rome.

At the end of the meeting, Kiko led the assembly in singing the Te Deum in order to give praise to God.

The architecture of the buildings dating back to as early as the 11th century were a drastic change from the fruiting mango trees and tin roofs back home.

The pilgrims were given the opportunity to see the incorrupt bodies and tombs of numerous saints and former popes, world-famous buildings and art pieces created by Renaissance artists.

During a 10am mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, four youth from Saipan (Julius Reyes, Trinity Camacho, Leveque Iguel, and Margo Quitugua) had the grace of being selected to bring up the water, ciborium, and chalice during the offertory. They were given blessings by the cardinal who presided the mass along a mixture of more than 20 other archbishops, priests, and cardinals, and were seated on the farthest front pew below the Chair of St. Peter with hundreds of parishioners behind them.

The tomb of Saint Francis Assisi, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, St. Paul’s Basilica, and The Basilica of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem where a fragment of the true cross of Jesus Christ and other holy relics are on display were a few of the main destinations visited during their stay in Italy.

They returned almost two weeks later, carrying happiness and unforgettable experiences.

“We thank all our benefactors and brothers who continuously supported us and helped us go on this pilgrimage through generous donations and prayers. Most of all, we thank God for yet another year of the Neocatechumenal Way, another year of miracles, for the pilgrimage, and for the countless blessings he has given us through it.”

(Julie is a parishioner of Santa Remedios, Tanapag)

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