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Cardinal Sarah celebrates Mass at the 2021 Medjugorje Youth Festival

Youth Festival in Medjugorje 2021 crowd
The huge numbers at the Mass for the 2021 Youth Festival

Every year in August, Medjugorje hosts a youth festival which draws over 50,000 young people from around the world.  This year’s event was no exception, drawing probably a record number.  It should be noted that the apparitions of the Blessed Mother reported here have not yet been officially approved by the Church, the Church has approved Medjugorje as a pilgrimage destination.  Priests are encouraged to accompany pilgrims to provide spiritual guidance.

 

Cardinal Sarah celebrate Mass in Medjugorje
Cardinal Sarah in Medjugorje

Evidence of this was made clear by the main celebrant of the Mass here:  Cardinal Robert Sarah (pronounced sar-ahh).  Noted as one of the potential candidates for the Chair of Saint Peter, it is certainly a sign that the shrine of  Medjugorje has achieved some acceptance by the Church, even though the apparitions themselves have yet to be approved.

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What’s it like to travel during a pandemic?

We borrowed this post from Select International Tours….a company with a solid financial history and reputation for outstanding Catholic pilgrimages.

Is it safe to travel? How are airlines and airports ensuring the health of their customers? What are the different state and country requirements for arrival – is there testing or quarantine involved?

These are all questions I recently asked myself (and Google) before I armed myself with many masks and bottles of hand sanitizer and embarked on my first domestic and international trips during the COVID-19 pandemic. Travel of course looks very different right now, and our own health and comfort levels should be carefully considered before booking a trip. However there have been many changes to airline and airport protocols during the pandemic to enhance the health and safety of travelers, some of which will likely be maintained even after COVID-19’s peak has passed. Ultimately my domestic trip from Washington, D.C. to Florida, and my move abroad to Rwanda both went smoothly and allowed me to compare what different airlines, airports, and destinations are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Prior to Travel

Booking flights was a bit more challenging than usual because there are less options due to reduced airline service. The usual flight I take to Florida was temporarily suspended, so I booked a United Airlines flight out of Washington Dulles Airport. We’ve learned this year that things can change very quickly – whether it’s flight schedules or incoming passenger requirements – so it is important to have a plan in place to accommodate these changes. Booking through a travel company like Select International can take the stress out of this process since they work with so many airlines and are always familiar with the most up-to-date policies of each.

I was sure to check baggage requirements far in advance. United Airlines still allowed one carry-on and one personal item, however, I flew Turkish Air to Rwanda and they only allowed a personal item in the cabin to avoid congestion in the plane’s aisle, and so they checked my usual carry-on for free.

I also looked up entry requirements for Florida and Rwanda. Florida had none, but Rwanda, like many popular destinations including Israel/the Holy Land, required a negative COVID-19 test within 3-5 days of departure (as well as an online form to be filled). I’d heard many different stories about testing requirements and the timing of receiving results that it was difficult for me to identify a clinic that could promise the quick turnaround required for travel. I ultimately received a recommended list of clinics from the D.C. Department of Public Health and had to pay out of pocket for an expedited test. This was a very difficult and frustrating pre-departure step that might have been avoided had I booked through a travel company!

At the Airport

Checking In

For my domestic flights, I was grateful to be able to check-in online prior to arrival in order to avoid the crowded check-in/bag-drop area. For my international flight, because Rwanda required certain documents, I had to go to the desk to get my boarding pass and check my bags. Social distancing was observed while waiting in line to check-in, but because the desks are so close together, it got very crowded when I was working with the ticketing agent. I had to show a variety of documents (negative COVID-19 test, completed Government of Rwanda form) to the ticket agent, so it was good that I had printed out everything ahead of time. I would recommend arriving at the airport early because every country has different entry requirements and so the check-in process takes a long time for everyone – I flew through Istanbul to Rwanda, and because Istanbul is a hub, each of my fellow travelers’ end destinations were different and required varied check-in procedures.

TSA

 

Passengers in the check-in line maintained social distance.

 

I experienced TSA both with and without Precheck and was pleasantly surprised with both. Passengers respected social distancing while waiting in line, although not so much when placing/removing their items from the conveyer belt – but I figured that might be the case! However, Precheck had the large advantage of not having to remove my shoes or electronics, which significantly sped up the whole process and reduced the number of bins I had to touch. If you have TSA Precheck, be sure to let your travel company know so they can indicate that with the airline when they purchase your ticket!

Gates and Lounges

The airports were definitely less crowded than normal, but of course, the gate areas were a bit busy. Many people tried to distance by sitting in gates that didn’t have any scheduled flights – this was easier in the bigger airports and in the evenings when less flights were scheduled. I checked out the Turkish Air lounge in Dulles to see if it was less crowded (I assumed they might be limiting the number of entrants).  The main area of the lounge was actually quite crowded, but thankfully I found a back room that many others hadn’t discovered yet.

Flights

Boarding

Airlines are trying to board as efficiently as possible, which for United meant telling customers to ignore the boarding groups on their boarding passes and to listen for their row to be called. This created confusion because the screens still said the boarding groups, so what resulted was a bunch of people crowded around the boarding door – the exact opposite of what they were aiming for! My international flights seemed a bit more health-conscious: Turkish Air took everyone’s temperature before boarding and gave us all a hygiene kit containing masks, hand sanitizer, and antiseptic wipes (United also gave one antiseptic wipe when boarding). Despite these differences, it’s clear that all airlines are working hard to protect passengers and staff, and this is clearly a very new world that we are all learning to adapt to!

In-flight

 

In-flight hygiene kits are a new addition on some airlines.

 

Flight attendants constantly reminded us to keep our masks on unless we were eating. Passengers on my international flights followed this rule much better than those on my domestic flights. Each flight gave us snack bags (domestic) or meal bags (international) with no other options for food or drink. The United snack bags contained water and biscuits, and the Turkish meals included a sandwich, dessert, water, and juice. Both airlines also provided more antiseptic wipes with the food, and Turkish continually passed out additional water bottles throughout the flight. I decided to wait to eat until the people around me had finished so that we didn’t all have our masks off at the same time. As for other amenities, we were given individually wrapped headphones on all of the flights, and the international flights provided individually wrapped blankets, but no pillows. Neither airline seemed to be restricting middle seats; about half of my flights were almost completely booked, and half were at about 50% capacity – it seemed to just depend on the demand for each flight and the size of the plane.

Deplaning, Luggage, and Immigration

All flights were deplaned orderly by rows. One of my United flights gate-checked all rolling bags because of the small plane, which led to a lot of congestion on the air bridge to retrieve our luggage. For international travel, every country will have different health and immigration rules, but I imagine some will be similar to my experience in Rwanda. Immediately on arrival a health official took my temperature and pulled up the form I had submitted prior to travel. He confirmed that I had not been experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, and then I was able to pass through to immigration. Everyone socially distanced in the Kigali airport for immigration and luggage pick-up.

My Takeaways

Overall my recent flying experiences went very smoothly. Because of my own precautions – lots of hand sanitizer and continual mask-wearing – I felt safe on these flights (and thankfully I can now confirm that I remained healthy after)! My main tips for anyone traveling would be:

  • Check updated airline rules and procedures – many have changed their luggage policies, and all have specific mask guidelines. It’s also helpful to get a sense of the meal service (or lack thereof) so you can plan ahead.
  • Bring a surplus of masks and hand sanitizer – although airlines provide some items, it’s best to bring your own to be safe.
  • To the extent possible, avoid congested areas of the airports – you can do this by checking-in online, using TSA pre-check, and potentially by obtaining lounge access.

As vaccines roll-out and travel begins to increase again, many countries are opening back up with specific entry guidelines in place to keep their citizens and visitors safe. However, no two countries are the same. For example, starting in April, Israel/the Holy Land will begin welcoming visitors who have received a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of departure and who have obtained comprehensive health travel insurance; which while similar to the requirements I encountered for Rwanda, are not identical. Therefore, choosing to book your upcoming travel with a tour company like Select International is a great option to reduce the stress of figuring out each country’s and airline’s requirements and to ensure you have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable trip!

(Please note that these trips were taken between September-November 2020; the details provided are accurate of my experiences during that time, however airline and airport policies may have since changed).

About the Author

Gracie Rosenbach is an international development professional who is passionate about travel and loves experiencing the beauty of Catholicism all over the world. Working in international food policy by day and sharing stories of the Universal Church on her Instagram and blog by night, Gracie hopes that her experiences meeting new people and visiting Catholic sites around the globe will inspire your wanderlust and help you to grow deeper in your faith

 

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2021 proclaimed a Holy Year in Santiago de Compostela

The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, site of the tomb of Saint James (often referred to as Saint Jacob in Spain). has proclaimed the year 2021 a Holy Year at the shrine.   The last time the Holy Year was celebrated here was in 2010……it will not occur here again  until 2027.

A Holy Year is proclaimed when the 25th of July (Commemoration of the Martyrdom of Saint James) falls on a Sunday, which happens to occur in 2021.  This originated in 1122 with Pope Callixtus II, and was later confirmed by Pope Alexander III through the Bull “Regis aeterni” from 1179, granting it perpetuity.

On December 31, 2020, according to the rite…after the reading of the pope’s message… Archbishop Julián Barrio knocked on the door three times with a hammer and the door was opened.

According to tradition, pilgrims who walk to Santiago de Compostela during a Holy Year and Pass through the Holy Door of the Santiago Cathedral are granted a plenary indulgence.  To gain this indulgence you must not only walk through the Holy Door in Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral to the Apostle’s tomb, but also confess your sins, pray for the Pope, attend Mass, and take communion.

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Free Eye-Opening conference Sunday to support Christians in the Holy Land

You know how passionate we are about supporting Christian families in the Holy Land, who suffer persecution and are, sad to say, a minority in the land of Jesus’ birth.

Please join a FREE 90-minute online conference called Renew Hope for the Holy Land on Sunday, November 15, 2020, at 7 PM EST to learn about our Christian brothers and sister living in the Holy Land.

Registration for this event is FREE and during it, you will hear from Christians who are living in the Holy Land right now as well as Jeff Cavins, Gus Lloyd, Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio and many other prominent speakers, evangelists, and authors.

This will be an eye-opening introduction to the situation our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land face every day and will end with a time to ask questions. Learn more at https://selecttogive.org/hope/

Again, registration is free, visit https://selecttogive.org/hope/ to learn more and register for FREE.

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Hopeless? Turn to Saint Philomena

One of the most popular saints among Catholics is Saint Philomena, patroness of impossible causes.  As Saint John Vianney said: “To Saint Philomena God refuses nothing.”   Or as Pope Gregory XVI said:  “Whatever you ask from her, she will obtain for you”.

Her shrine in Italy at Mugnano de Cardinale, Avellino, is a short distance from Naples.  Churches around the world will honor her on her Feast Day August 11th.

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Confused about the Great Pardon of Assisi?

August 1 & 2 are the dates to obtain a plenary indulgence through the Great Pardon of Assisi. 

If you are confused about how to obtain the Great Pardon of Assisi, you are not alone.

Various websites have various versions:  Some say the great pardon of Assisi cannot be obtained at just any parish church, but must be at a Franciscan church, while others say it can be any Catholic church.  We have confirmed that you can receive the Great Pardon of Assisi at any Catholic church in the world.   Originally it was confined to those who could actually visit Assisi or any other Franciscan church, but in many cases this is not possible, and so it was later changed to include any Catholic church.(subject to the usual conditions, of course).

 

To learn about the Great Pardon of Assisi, check out our page here.

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Pope Francis declares Mission San Buenaventura a Basilica

The Mission’s website reads:

“With all praise and glory to God, Pope Francis has elevated Mission San Buenaventura to the status of a Minor Basilica, the first basilica in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Archbishop Jose Gomez was notified of this status by a communication from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Our parish, now titled Mission Basilica San Buenaventura, is the sevneth minor basilica in Alta California and numbers 88th in the United States.”

“We are most grateful to His Holiness, Pope Francis for this honor and to Archbishop Jose Gomez for his unwavering support for this petition. Bishop Robert Barron who also supported this petition, was installed as Episcopal Vicar for the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region in 2015 at our Mission. The formal date for the celebration of this milestone for the people of God in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and all people of good will in the City of San Buenaventura and the County of Ventura is pending.”

Here is the official website for the Mission San Buenventura Basilica

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Ban on cruising in U.S. waters extended

The Centers for Disease Control had banned cruising in U.S. waters through July 24, 2020. For those cruise ports that are in U.S.waters, that meant no cruises departing from the U.S. whatsoever.  That would also apply, of course, to Transatlantic crossings docking in the U.S.

Under the new extension, cruising will not resume until October 1 at the earliest.  We suspect that even this date is highly likely to change.

The Canadian government has also come down hard:  it is banning all large cruise ships that carry more than 100 people until Oct 31, 2020.  Again we suspect that will not be the last we hear.

The Miami Herald reports that since June 23, some 1,000 cruise ship crew members have developed either confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus while living aboard mostly empty ships waiting off the U.S. coast.  Click here for the video from the Miami Herald  (external link).

Although this is a disappointment for passengers, it is an absolute tragedy for many crew members.  These men and women are often from impoverished countries and rely on earnings to help support their families back home.  While quarantined  in port, they are not receiving any pay…and in many cases they are not able to return to their home countries.  It is a nightmare scenario.

We would hope there might be some way to help these crew members….and we would like to hear from you if you have any information or are aware of any organized efforts to help them financially.  We’d be happy to post it on our site.  Of course, your prayers should come first.

Find out about cruises for Catholics on our cruise page.

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Youth Festival in Medjugorje is NOT CANCELLED

The International Prayer Encounter of the Youth -(Youth Festival) is an annual event held in Medjugorje  each year that attracts upwards of 100,000 young people.  Scheduled for August 1-6, it was cancelled and now is back on.

The theme of this year’s prayer encounter is “Come, and you will see“ (John 1, 39).

It will be much different from the Youth Festivals of the past due, of course, to the Covid-19 epidemic.  ….Many programs of the international spiritual retreats have been cancelled

Most of the program from Medjugorje is being now sent to the world via electronic media so that people can tune in from wherever they might be.  This year’s Youth Festival will be live streamed online. Depending on the development of virus, all gatherings would be according to the instructions of the institutions in charge.

Let us continue to be united in the same spirit in the school of Our Lady and let us rejoice that we would be connected together in Medjugorje, both in our hearts and in our spirit.

There will be challenges, especially regarding visitors from the U.S.A.  Certain restrictions by the European Union are limiting…and almost forbidding…entrance to the E.U.  See our blog post here.

There are some loopholes, so if you are traveling with a group check to see what arrangements have been made.

You can visit the official website for the Youth Festival here.

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European Travel Ban hits U.S. travelers hard

Effective July 1, all non-essential travel from the U.S.A. to the European Union’s 27 member states has been banned.  There are only a few exceptions, and these will probably not apply to you.

Note that the ban is based on residency……not citizenship. Someone arriving from the U.S., who is a citizen or resident in the EU–or in one of the countries listed below, can enter.

Also banned are residents of Brazil, Russia and India.

 

 

The following 27 countries are members of the European Union:

Austria
Belgium
Bulgaria
Croatia
Cyprus
Czechia
Denmark
Estonia
Finland
France
Germany
Greece
Hungary
Ireland
Italy
Latvia
Lithuania
Luxembourg
Malta
Netherlands
Poland
Portugal
Romania
Slovakia
Slovenia
Spain
Sweden

 

Residents of the following countries that are not members of the E.U. are allowed entry:

Algeria
Australia
Canada
Georgia
Japan
Montenegro
Morocco
New Zealand
Rwanda
Serbia
South Korea
Thailand
Tunisia
Uruguay
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)

Just to add to the confusion, each country will determine its own specific way of enforcing the ban.  It is not known how long this ban will be in effect, but obviously it will spoil most travel plans for the summer and probably in to the fall.

And, as usual, everything keeps changing, so we will do our best to keep you updated.