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Holy Stairs in Rome to re-open on April 11

Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs in RomeThe Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs….housing the marble steps that Jesus climbed, leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem on His way to trial.

The frescoes and paintings on the walls had been dirtied through centuries of use, and were in need of restoration.

Beginning early last year, the Sanctuary was closed to allow the restoration to take place.

 

They are now restored to their formal glory, and the Sanctuary will be open starting April 11, 2019.

The steps themselves were covered with wood with slots in them so that pilgrims could view the steps as they climbed to the top (usually on their knees).

They are now un-covered…and for the next month pilgrims can climb up the actual steps without the wood covering.

You can read more at Catholic News Service (CNS)

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The Oberammergau Passion Play is only a year away, better sign up now

 

If you are planning to attend the world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play, you had better make your arrangements sooner rather than later.  Tickets went on sale beginning March 6, 2019 (Ash Wednesday) and they sell out quickly.

Crucifixion scene from the Oberammergau Passion PlayEvery 10 years, the small town of Oberammergau, in Bavaria, is transformed as the village performs the scene of the Passion of Our Lord. Almost all the residents of the town (about 2200) are involved in the production and performance of this play, and roles are often handed down from generation to generation.  And, starting on Ash Wednesday 2019, as established by tradition, the men have begun growing their beards and letting their hair grow longer in preparation (only those playing Roman soldiers and stage hands are exempt from this requirement).

The Oberammergau Passion Play next occurs May 16th thru October 4th of 2020. There are only so many performances available, and tickets are selling out quickly.

If you wish to attend, you can make your own arrangements and buy your own tickets, or book with many of the tour companies offering pilgrimages to the play.  Some of these tours are just a few days long, but many others combine various locations as well as Oberammergau.  If you book with a group we suggest it be a Catholic group since they will have a different perspective than a Protestant or secular group.

One itinerary we find particularly interesting is combining the Holy Land with Oberammergau.  You will travel to the Holy Land and see where it all began, from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion, and then on to Germany to visit the Ettal Monastery, the healing shrine of Altotting, Munich and then the highlight of the trip:  witnessing the passion Play.  This itinerary, offered by Select International Tours, has eleven departures scheduled in 2020…..and, in addition to the itinerary we mentioned,  some of them include a Danube River cruise or other extensions as well.

But it is very important to sign up right away.  There are a limited number of seats and a limited number of performances, so once they are gone, they are gone until 2030.

You can check out the Official Oberammergau Passion Play website here.

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Fake News: U.S. & Canadian citizens traveling to Europe do not need a visa

Recently some new reports stated that, starting in 2021, U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling to Europe would require a visa.  Before you panic, please note that this is not the case:

For U.S. citizens traveling to Europe in 2021 and beyond, the will simply have to complete an online application and pay a small fee through the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS), a pre-screening program that aims to protect European Union (EU) borders.  Americans and other non-EU travelers can still travel to Europe without a visa for up to 90 days as long as they complete their form in the ETIAS before travel

ETIAS costs about $9.00 U.S. and you can do it in less than ten minutes, according to a fact sheet issued by the European Commission in July.  It calls  the ETIAS “a necessary and small procedural step for all visa-exempt travelers” that would help them “avoid bureaucracy and delays when presenting themselves at the border.”

The ETIAS will be required for any of the territories in the Schengen area of Europe — 26 countries that are part of the E.U. It is valid for three years, (or less if a passport expires before then).  Do not confuse the Schengen countries with the European Union…not all countries are in the E.U.

The Schengen countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland,  Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,  Switzerland.

This is a far less difficult and certainly less expensive than applying for a visa.

You can find out more information on their official website here (external link).  You will also find a list of the 61 countries whose residents will need to get the ETIAS authorization.

 

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Free streaming of fantastic new series this lent “Genesis to Jesus”

Want to deepen your faith this Lent?

Instead of “giving up something for Lent”, why not add something to your spiritual life?  Millions of viewers around the world have watched the Journey Through Scripture video Bible studies. The St. Paul Center’s latest video Bible study, “Genesis to Jesus” is the perfect way to do that.

Based on the covenantal theology of world-renowned scholar Scott Hahn and produced to the highest quality by Matthew Leonard, Genesis to Jesus makes the story of the Bible brilliantly clear and vibrantly alive.

Genesis to Jesus presents the whole sweep of salvation history, and helps you make sense of the Bible, literally, from Genesis to Jesus. By the end of Lent, you’ll understand the importance of Easter as the eighth day of creation in light of God’s unified plan for our salvation.

And, beginning Ash Wednesday (March 6), you can watch Genesis to Jesus for free!

Over the course of twelve episodes, discover the people and places that are most central to salvation history and point us to Jesus Christ.

You can find a preview of the series here.

Sign up to stream this new study free!!

You can also order the  complete Genesis to Jesus pack for individuals includes the participant workbook, A Father Who Keeps His Promises, and the Genesis to Jesus DVD set.

Sign up now to make the most of this Lent! Make sure to order your participant workbook as well to get it in time.

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Update on the body of computer geek Venerable Carlo Acutis

 

For those who are unfamiliar with him, Carlo Acutis was a young man who loved working with computers and loved the Eucharist…so much so that he compiled a list of all the Eucharistic Miracles in the world.

He died at the young age of 15, and having been declared Venerable, is now on the path to sainthood.

His body was dis-interred as part of the Canonization process, and taken to a secure location for identification.  There are no reports at this time as to it being incorrupt as was reported by some.

Once the medical exams have been completed on his body, on April 5-6, 2019, it will be moved to the Santuario della Spogliazione, which is located in the The Church of Saint Mary Major in Assisi.

We assume his tomb will be open to the public, but do not have confirmation of that yet.

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Heart of Saint John Vianney on tour in U.S. 2019

Saint John Vianney is the Patron Saint of Priests.  Spending up 10 16 hours a day in the confessional and accomplishing what seemed impossible in a town that had long ago fallen away from the faith, he was an inspiration for all and known for his holiness.

After his death his heart was found incorrupt and kept on display at his shrine in Ars, France.

The Shrine of Ars has entrusted to the Knights of Columbus the major relic of St. Jean Vianney’s incorrupt heart for a national tour in the U.S., from November 2018 through early June 2019.

We have the schedule of dates and locations posted on our calendar through December of 2018; however, there are many more locations to be posted later, so we encourage you to check the Knights of Columbus website here.

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My loving tribute to Our Lady of Guadalupe

 

I am a person who does not like crowds, so you would think that attending the Feast Day celebrations of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City on December 12 would be something I would avoid at all costs.  After all, well over one million (some estimates say 5 million) people pack the shrine on the Feast Day.  And yet I have always relished the times that I have been blessed to attend.

Join me as I reminisce about my first visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. On the evening prior to the Feast Day, those of us in our tour group who were more adventuresome decided to taxi to the Basilica. Traditionally many famous Mexican singers, performers and high ranking politicians show up for the festivities that start around 10:00 p.m. This lovely tribute goes on deep into the night and the love songs (Las Mananitas”) sung to Our Lady and the devotion the locals show for her is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.  These are memories I’ll hold deep in my heart forever.

On the Feast Day itself (December 12th) we excitedly boarded our tour bus to take us to the Basilica.   But what a surprise was waiting for us!  Buses were restricted from getting too close to the shrine and we had to be dropped off quite a few blocks from there.  At this point we walked the rest of the way….something that turned out to be a blessing.  As usual, God’s plans are better than ours.

The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.
The Feast Day is a family event..here a man brings his young child to the Basilica.

As we walked along with throngs of others all headed in the same direction, we experienced a real feeling of pilgrimage; unity with our fellow Catholics.  Those alongside us were mostly Mexican pilgrims, both individuals and whole families, carrying placards of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Many had walked for miles, and sometimes for days, to get here.  We passed young people rousing themselves from sleep as they had camped out overnight.  These heartwarming images help you to appreciate how universal and vibrant our Catholic Faith is.

There is more to the Shrine than just the Basilica that contains the miraculous Tilma of Juan Diego, although that is certainly the high point.  I think many of us were surprised that the grounds encompass both the new and old Basilica (now leaning as if it will fall any moment).   You can also see the room where Saint Juan Diego lived out the rest of his life after the apparitions and his simple grave.

Upon entering the grounds where the Basilica is located, we were presented with a kaleidoscope of sights.  We were greeted by descendants of those original Aztecs dancing in the ancient dress as would have been worn at the pagan festivals prior to the apparitions to Juan Diego. The dancers reverently process in to the Basilica symbolizing the shift from the old pagan religion to the new religion of Christianity that they now so enthusiastically embrace.  The colorful dancers add a festive atmosphere to the Celebration of the feast day.

Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mount Tepeyac overlooks the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

But what moved me the most was that in the midst of it all was the Monastery built atop the Hill of Tepeyac.  This is where Juan Diego first encountered Our Lady!  The climb is steep, but unlike the time of the apparitions, there are now stairs to make the climb relatively easy (remember you are at a high altitude, so go easy if you have breathing problems).

Even the youngest get to join in the dances.
Even the youngest get to join in the dances.

It might seem more like a carnival than a religious event….. because the Mexican people do not pigeon-hole their faith in to just one hour on Sundays.  It is a part of their daily life.

One of the native dancers
One of the native dancers outside the Basilica.

Faith, culture and daily life all come together in this magical land, and nowhere is that more evident than here on December 12th each year.

If you can’t make it to the Shrine on that date, try to find some of the many festivals nearby celebrating this Patroness of the Americas.  Or maybe you can catch some of the action on one of the Spanish-language TV networks (don’t even need to speak Spanish to enjoy the celebration)  or perhaps one of the Catholic TV networks such as EWTN.

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Facing a long airport layover? Ever wondered how to access the VIP lounges?

Interest in using an airport lounge?

 

Most of us have been there:  whiling away the hours in an airport while waiting for your flight to be called, sitting in those uncomfortable seats, watching endless news on the overhead TV screens……..while a few lucky ones are in one of the VIP  lounges that offer plush seating, coffee, wine, food….even showers in some cases.

Here’s a comment we received:  “A few years back, we decided to cash in some of our frequent flier miles for a couple of first class tickets from LAX to Paris.  One of the advantages that came with those tickets was access to the Air France lounge.  Leaving LAX we got to relax, have a glass of wine, some great snacks and then board at our leisure.  The morning we flew back, the lounge had fresh orange juice, delicious buttery croissants (this was France, after all) and fresh brewed coffee.  A great way to start the long flight home (quite a bit longer due to the prevailing westerly winds), and we did not have to pay for breakfast at our hotel.”

So how can you take advantage of that?  Well, obviously if you have a first class (and sometimes business class) ticket, it comes along with the extra cost.  For the rest of us, there are a couple of options.

 

1.  In many cases you can purchase a short time pass directly at the airline’s lounge.  It depends upon the airline, and its policy of course, and there is no guarantee that you can get it that particular day and time.

2.  Some airlines offer access for an annual fee. If you fly regularly, it may be worth looking into a membership with a particular airline.  Usually for a fixed annual fee, you will receive a certain amount of passes per year. After you’ve used the passes, you can purchase more, or often receive a discount on booking future visits. Some of the high-end VIP airport lounges may only be accessible to premium class passengers, some still are available for cash access.  And, you are usually limited to that airline’s club….not any others.

3.  Some credit cards have arranged for you to pay with miles to access their clubs…..but it is an expensive way to use those hard-earned miles.

4. You can try our newest advertiser, Lounge Buddy.  They have an app that is easy to use without an annual fee, the costs to access are often lower, and there’s usually a wider choice of lounges available to the ‘casual’ flyer.

Lounge Buddy works by providing details of every available lounge in an airport, and how to access them. Lounge Buddy offers genuine reviews by real customers, details of all facilities, and photographs. For example, if you need fast wi-fi, find which VIP airport lounge offers the best by browsing them on Lounge Buddy. Likewise, if you’re interested in a drink and some snacks, but don’t want to pay the high price of the airport concessions, use Lounge Buddy to discover which lounges offer complimentary drinks and snacks.

Find out more about Lounge Buddy here.  They also offer reviews of hundreds of lounges around the world…(not all of them are worth the money), where they are located in the airport, and what services are offered.

If you purchase via them, The Catholic travel guide may earn a commission – although the cost to you WILL NOT increase. But commissions like this help support our website.

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Top 5 European train routes that are faster by train than plane

 

We often think of flying being a faster way to travel from city to city in Europe, but often that is not the case.

When you consider time spent in the long check-in lines at the airport (along with having to be there about two hours early) versus most trains requiring you to be there only 30 minutes prior to departure,  there is a great time savings there.

Then there is the fact that most train stations are in the heart of the city,  while most airports are a bus or cab drive away, train travel comes out not only faster but also cheaper than plane travel.

Consider the following infographic:

 

Infographic courtesy GoEuro….your source for train and bus tickets in Europe.

 

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Budget airline Primera Air goes under leaving passengers stranded

 
 
Primera AirAs of October 1, they have ceased operations.  Primera air offered discount airfares from Stanstead, England to several cities including New York (Newark’s Liberty Airport), Boston, Washington DC and Toronto starting at a little under $200 each way.

Those already in their booked locations will have to arrange their own transportation back home.

The discount airline offered fares under $200 for Newark to U.K. flights but was unable to compete with several other discount carriers.

Those who purchased using credit cards should contact their credit card issuers for possible refunds.

If you purchased travel insurance (we always recommend that you do)……you may be able to get a refund from the issuer.  Squaremouth is what we recommend to compare policies.

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