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15 Days—3 Countries–One Big Lesson!

As the Marketing Manager for Select International Tours and Cruises, I can often be found behind a desk, in the digital world. I get to watch more than one-hundred pilgrimage trips a year, and occasionally, I get to travel. Our company President encourages all of our staff to experience pilgrimage, and this past October, I traveled for 15 days, to meet three of our pilgrimage groups in France, Austria, and Italy. Along the way, I learned that while every pilgrimage is unique, there is something familiar in all of them that binds all pilgrims of all times together.


I arrived in Paris early. I dropped my bags at the hotel and walked out into a brisk October morning. My first destination stood in the distance atop butte Montmartre, the tallest point in Paris’ city limits. With a baguette and espresso in hand, I wound my way through 7 kilometers of streets and alleyways toward the butte.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
Sacre Coeur Basilica

Sacré-Cœur, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, is an astounding building. It’s a relatively new minor Basilica, having been consecrated in 1919. However, there has been perpetual Adoration of the Holy Eucharist above the Altar there since 1885. Sacré-Cœur is the second most visited location in Paris, which was apparent as I climbed the seemingly endless stairs to the Basilica with hundreds of other tourists. A funicular—a tram of sorts—takes many others to the top, and that was where I was meeting Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio and his group of pilgrims. Sacré-Cœur is a beautiful site, and a popular stop on many pilgrimages to France, but our destination lay behind the immense Basilica.


Saint-Pierre Church in Paris
Saint pierre Church

The Saint-Pierre church began in 1133 and was consecrated in 1147, although rumors of Marian devotion at its location go as far back as 200s with the first chapel being erected in 475 to commemorate the location of the martyrdom of Saint-Denis from which the place now takes its name: Montmartre, the Mount of the Martyr. Our group celebrated Mass there before exploring Sacré-Cœur.

The juxtaposition of my ascent up the 270 steps, from the street to the Basilica—with hundreds of travelers snapping selfies—to the quiet and reverent group of pilgrims preparing to celebrate Mass at Saint-Pierre was dramatic. It immediately reminded me of how different a pilgrimage is from a vacation.


I spent the next few days with the group, first exploring Paris and then taking the bullet train to Toulouse where we celebrated Mass at the Jacobin Convent, where the relics of Saint Thomas Aquinas are housed.

The Jacobin Conent in Toulouse: Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass
The Jacobin Conent in Toulouse: Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass

The Jacobin Convent in Toulouse has a history that is far too long to recount in this post. But it is important to note that the local government now owns the church and it functions as a museum. However, they still allow groups to celebrate Mass there. If that sounds confusing, you should have seen the visitors’ faces when Father John, Father Casey, and Deacon John began the Mass.

The acoustics of the room made every word, every prayer, and every response swirl around you. It was difficult to tell where the sound originated, and it struck awe in everyone in the room. People who had come to a museum were observing a Mass that spoke vividly to the mysteries of the Faith, and many stood there, mouths agape, at the beauty of it all.

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Whatever Happened to Purgatory?

Been to any Catholic funerals in the last few years?  I’ll bet you heard the Priest or Deacon say things like “in a better place now” or “he is with his beloved now” or some such soothing comments.  Although these comments may bring some comfort to the mourners, they do not reflect true Catholic teaching.

It has been….and continues to be….  a belief in purgatory as a necessary process along the road to heaven. The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Purgatory, 1031, states:

"Purgatory" by Peter Paul Rubens
“Purgatory” by Peter Paul Rubens (1634-1636)

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:
As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.

Although not pleasant ( I certainly don’t look forward to it), purgatory is a place of purification or temporary punishment in which the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven.  At least if I make it that far I know I am on the right track!

The leaders of the Church bemoan the lack of catechesis these days, and yet often when they have the chance, they fail to take advantage of the occasion.  Is it any wonder that the laity is so ignorant of Church teaching?

Did you know there are Purgatory Museums and Shrines?

We know of two……do know of any others?  If so, please let us know.

There is a purgatory museum in Rome

And…a Shrine to the Holy Souls in Purgatory in Berwyn, Illinois.


After coming up with the title, which I thought would be snappy and original, I discovered this article by Father Dwight Longenecker had the same title and was written much more eloquently than my poor effort.

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Funeral of Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVIAll eyes of the Catholic world will be on Rome this week, as we mourn the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Of course the word mourn is not necessarily the right word, since as Catholic Christians we believe that he has simply passed on to eternal life.

For those who have seen him in person, as we have…..it is an experience hard to describe.  He looked at you as if you were the only person there in a crowd of thousands!  And his profound teachings have helped many to grow in their faith.  He will lie in state in Saint Peter’s Basilica according to the following schedule (all times are local):

Monday January 2nd and Tuesday January 3rd from   9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.  (09:00-19:00)

Wednesday January 4th from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm (07:00-19:00)

Funeral Mass will be held Thursday January 5th at 9:30 am (09:30) in Saint Peters Square

No tickets are required for admission to any of these events.

Original tomb of Pope John Paul II
Original tomb of Pope John Paul II…now vacant.

His interment will follow.   Per his wishes, he will be interred in the grotto of Saint Peters (known as the Necropolis) in the same tomb where Pope John Paul II’s body was laid before being moved to its current resting place in the Chapel of Saint Sebastian (the second chapel on the right as you enter the Basilica).  The tomb where Benedict XVI will be laid is less that 100 feet from the tomb of Saint Peter.


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Have you heard of New York Encounter?

Now in its 15th year, New York Encounter is an annual three-day cultural event in the heart of New York City, offering opportunities for education, dialogue, and friendship.

The New York Encounter strives to witness to the new life and knowledge generated by the faith, following Pope Benedict XVI’s claim thatthe intelligence of faith has to become the intelligence of reality.” In pursuit of this goal—and according to St. Paul’s suggestion to “test everything and retain what is good”—the Encounter aims to discover, affirm, and offer to everyone truly human expressions of the desire for truth, beauty, and justice. The Encounter, thus, becomes a meeting point for people of different beliefs, traditions, and cultures striving for reciprocal understanding, mutual building, and true friendship.

The theme this year is: “Who Am I That You Care for Me?”

Among the highlights will be Sunday February 19 with Mass offered for Pope Francis’ intentions for peace, celebrated by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston.


You can find more information about New York Encounter here.

All New York Encounter events are free and open to everyone.


The main events will also be live-streamed via YouTube and available, free of charge, on the Encounter website

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Italian-American Tradition: The Seven Fish Dinner

Origins of the Seven Fish Dinner in Italy:

We all have the mental image…mostly true…of the Italian love of cuisine.  At Christmas time there is an old Catholic tradition throughout Italy of not eating dairy or meat on the eve of some holidays, and naturally this includes Christmas Eve.

In Italy, the celebration on the 24th often includes placing the baby Jesus in a nativity scene at home and then off to church for midnight Mass. Traditionally, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is served in the early hours of the morning, after midnight Mass. Then it’s time for dessert, which may include biscotti, panforte, pandoro and panettone. Different parts of Italy tend to favor different dishes, so you won’t find the same menu items in Rome that you find in Naples.

The Seven Fish Dinner comes to the United States:

During the peak years of Italian immigration into the United States, most immigrants came from Southern Italy, where seafood is abundant and an important part of the diet. And, of course, most of these immigrants were Catholic.  No one seems to know exactly why the number seven became associated with this meal (it is apparently something added after their arrival in the U.S.) but the number seven  is a symbol that’s repeated many times throughout the Bible; and, of course, there are seven sacraments and seven deadly sins.

This holiday dinner varies by region. What you find on the plate in one city may not be the same in the next. Typical “fishes” include baccalà (salt cod), frutti di mare (shellfish), capitone (eel), calamari (squid), scungilli (conch meat) and vongole (clams). Fried vegetables are also a popular accompaniment to the fish; expect fried artichokes, pickled vegetables, fried squash blossoms, and other treats.

For many Italian-Americans the feast would include dishes such as baccalà (fried salted codfish) with a spicy caper-flecked sauce and grilled or fried eel (capitone). Other items might include calamari, linguine with anchovies, seafood salad, and shrimp.

If you’re not up to all this cooking, many major U.S. Cities have restaurants offering the seven fish dinner….and not just on the East Coast cities where many Italian immigrants landed, but just about all over….we even found some pretty good ones in Dallas, Texas!  Here is one that sounds like something we would like to try.

So check around…or just try to make up your own assortment of dishes……we don’t think there are any strict rules to the seven fish dinner……and be sure to get to some good Italian vino to add to the occasion.

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From Bucket List to Life Decision: A Pilgrim’s Story

Select International ToursThe following article is posted with permission by Select International tours:

As you might imagine, we hear a lot of stories from pilgrims. Every so often, one stands out. When Elizabeth emailed us, her story stood out; WAY out.


Elizabeth on the Sea of Galilee

Elizabeth on the Sea of Galilee

I recently went on a pilgrimage with Jason Evert to the Holy Lands through Select International. While there, God called me to come back to work with His people…I have a flexible schedule starting in October and would love to be there for a few months.”

Elizabeth was so moved by her visit to Bethlehem that she wanted to return there to volunteer with our charity, Select to Give, for a few months! She had heard the call to serve the poor and marginalized children of the Holy Land while on pilgrimage. You just can’t ignore how amazing a story that is.

Even as a young child, the Catholic Faith was a major anchor point in her family. Her Grandmother had the family over often for Holy Family Club. Club meetings were filled with rosary making, crafts, and coloring. The common theme in all the activities were the stories and teaching of Jesus, the Blessed Mother, and the Saints. The family marked the liturgical year with gatherings. Eating together every Sunday during Advent, on feast days, and during Holy Days of obligation.

Another anchor point in Elizabeth’s family was service. Her mother, a Special Education Teacher, taught her the value of serving the less fortunate. Elizabeth was sure that she was on a path to serve people with special needs too until she faced a severe illness with crippling pain. As she lay in bed waiting for doctors to heal her unknown condition, she was moved by the care she received and decided that she wanted to help kids like her, who were scared, sick, and hurting. So she decided to become a children’s ICU nurse. God had something different in mind.

Elizabeth was offered an opportunity to be an adult ICU nurse. She quickly found that the people she was caring for were also scared, sick, and hurting. She knew that she was there to help, but more importantly, she knew that God had placed her there to share His love for the suffering. So she allowed her faith to guide her and prayed for and with the patients and their families. “I am there to help them heal or to help them come home,” she said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Elizabeth was again called in a direction she hadn’t anticipated. The nursing shortage was significant and she was specially prepared to help. She had the needed skills, but she was also free to move without any firm ties to a particular place. She offered up the stability of a normal job to God and became a traveling ICU nurse. One assignment took her to New Orleans, where she stumbled upon Jason Evert’s Podcast.

During an episode, she heard Jason mention that he was taking a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. “The Holy Land was number one on my bucket list,” Elizabeth remembers. Her job as a traveling ICU nurse allowed her flexibility in scheduling and the funds to take the trip, so she said, “Yes.”

It seems like everyone who travels to the Holy Land has a significant personal experience. For Elizabeth, it was a homecoming. “As a traveler, you make every place your home. Going there, I felt loved, seen, and known.” She felt so much peace in Galilee, but the calling to serve came in Bethlehem.

Elizabeth in the Church of the Nativity

Elizabeth in the Church of the Nativity

Elizabeth visited the Church of the Nativity and stood in line to touch the spot where Our Lord was born. Then in that small little place inside of a massive church, she distinctly heard God say, “Happy birthday, Elizabeth. Welcome home.” But God wasn’t done talking. The group spent more time touring and all throughout the day, Elizabeth felt called to “come home” to Bethlehem.

“Okay God; if this is what you want, give me a way.” She prayed.

The last activity of her pilgrimage day in Bethlehem was a Sharing the Bread meal with a local Christian family. This program, run by our Select to Give 501(c)(3) charity, gives pilgrims a chance to share a meal in the home of a Christian family from Bethlehem.  As Elizabeth’s group was preparing to go to this special dinner, a representative of Select to Give was telling them about all of the programs that the charity supports, including the Hogar Nino Dios home for severely disabled children. During the presentation, he mentioned that anyone could volunteer to help.

Here was a chance to use all the skills and all the blessings that God had given her. It was like all the plans she had over the years–the ones that God always seemed to laugh at–were finally lining up. The opportunity would satisfy her desire to help the special needs community like her mother. It would capitalize on the skills she had learned as an ICU nurse. It would require the depth of faith that her Grandmother had fostered in her youth. And the job she took in the world’s time of need allowed her the freedom to take a long volunteer assignment without the challenges most people would face. Perhaps God had her ideas in mind all along.

Alright, Lord. If this is your way, let’s do this.” She prayed. Then she typed out an email to Select to Give, offering to volunteer for three months in Bethlehem.

When you meet Elizabeth, you quickly realize that her willingness to serve is built into the fabric of her being. She truly loves to help. “There is a joy I get [working] with the disabled community…Mom always says they are God’s little pieces of Heaven.’ They give me more than I could ever give them.”  But what stands out most is her ability to trust God with major life decisions, especially when there are far more questions than answers. She has learned that God will always provide when He calls her to serve.

Select International Tours is excited and honored to help Elizabeth to serve in Bethlehem beginning this month (December 2022) and will cover Elizabeth’s roundtrip airfare for her volunteer stay in Bethlehem. There will be other expenses, including food and lodging. Elizabeth has set up a GoFundMe page and is accepting donations. If you are moved by her story and would like to help, please consider giving by clicking HERE.

We are so excited to follow Elizabeth’s story over the next few months. Please watch our social media accounts and blog for updates. We know that God has amazing things for her in Bethlehem and beyond. Please join us in praying for Elizabeth and the work that she is doing in the Holy Land.

After this, I don’t know where I’m going.” She tells me. But somehow, we’re sure God has big plans for her life. And while she cannot see the future, she knows who is in control. “When I just give it to Him, my life is abundantly blessed more and more.”

Are you ready to see what God has in store for you on a pilgrimage?


Editor’s Note:  Although Select International does advertise on our site, this is not a paid-for ad, but a great testimony that we wanted to share with our readers.
Select International does tremendous work not only in organizing pilgrimages but in helping give back to the people living in the Holy Land through their charitable organization Select to Give.
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Book Review: ” A Catholic Pilgrimage through American History” by Kevin Schmiesing

A Catholic pilgrimage through American History by Kevin Schmiesing

Most history books dwell on the Protestant history of the U.S. from the Pilgrims arriving at Plymouth Rock to the founding fathers, almost all of whom were Protestant.  But there is a rich Catholic history as well, and when you finished this “pilgrimage” you will see how much there is that you may not have known.

We found it to be an interesting and well-written addition to our library…better written than this review, perhaps.  As previously stated, it is a history book….not necessarily a guide book in the traditional sense….but the wealth of information contained in the 288 pages of this book will help you appreciate the significance of of the sites that you visit…whether in person or as an armchair traveler. For example, to visit Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City is an awesome experience, but it becomes even more meaningful when you read the fascinating history contained in Kevin Schmiesing’s book.

The author has been meticulous  in his research, citing hundreds of sources for the book.

Well written and packed with information, we could not find much to room for improvement.  We were rather surprised that the author paid so little attention to Texas (other than two places mentioned):  after all, what many consider the oldest Cathedral in the U.S. is San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, completed in 1731  (Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine in Saint Augustine, Florida claims to be the first, but was not was completed until 1793). And there are 4 Spanish Missions still in San Antonio (all are active Parishes) as well as two national shrines that would have made a useful addition to the book.  You can find out more about the Catholic sites in San Antonio on our web page here.

Other than that small criticism…and we realize that the author could not possibly cover every Catholic site…we find the book to be enjoyable and informative, packed with interesting information about the rich Catholic history of the United States.

About the Book:

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Ave Maria Press (April 8, 2022)
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1646800907
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1646800902

About the author:

Kevin Schmiesing lectures on Church history for Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati, Ohio, and serves as director of research at the Freedom and Virtue Institute. He served as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty from 1999 to 2020.

Schmiesing is co-host of the podcast Catholic History Trek on Spotify and YouTube and has contributed to Catholic World Report and Crisis magazine. He is the author of Merchants and Ministers and Within the Market Strife and editor of One and Indivisible, Catholicism and Historical Narrative, and The Spirit Matters.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville and a doctorate in United States history from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kevin Schmiesing and his wife, Anne, have seven children and live near Dayton, Ohio.



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Do you know the tradition of the “Christmas Nail”?

One of the best things about Advent and Christmas is discovering the many varied traditions that families have passed down through the generations.  When you travel….whether locally or abroad….you will often find traditions that have endured for centuries.

SAtory of the Christmas NailOne of these traditions is the “Christmas nail”.   Supposedly resembling the nails used to attach Jesus to the cross, it is a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas….that the birth of Christ was subsequently followed by His crucifixion and then His resurrection.

It is fitting that the nail is placed on a tree….since He was crucified by hanging Him on a tree.

Many families put the Christmas nail near the center of the tree, to remind them that Christ should be at the center of their lives.  It is a great way to bring Christ back in to Christmas.

Get one for your family and start a new tradition.

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Book Review: “Our Lady’s Miracles, A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America” by Marion Amberg

Mary's Miracles A Traveler's guide to the Catholic Church in America by Marion AmbergYou’re reading this on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or some perhaps even a cell phone.  We hope you get the information you are looking for.  But sometimes it’s nice to have something in your hand that does not require internet access…such as the book we recommend here. Yes…people still do read guide books!  In fact, so do we.

“Mary’s Miracles, A Catholic’s guide to Catholic  America”, by Marion Amberg, is probably the most comprehensive guide we have ever seen dedicated to the many Catholic shrines devoted to the Blessed Mother in the U.S.A.  In fact, although we pride ourselves on covering almost all the Shrines here in the U.S.A., we have to admit that this book covers some of which we were not aware (we will be adding them soon!).

Broken down by geographic regions (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Mountain West, Southwest, Pacific West) it provides a history, description and photos of some of the most interesting places for Catholics to visit.

This, in itself, would make this a must-have book for Catholics (whether armchair travelers or those actually hitting the road).

But in addition to that valuable information, what sets this apart even further from other guide books is that after most description of a shrine or church, is a section called “Signs and Wonders”.  Here the author details certain events that related to that particular shrine.

Mary’s Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America is available from OSV Publsihing (osvcatholicbookstore.com) and online booksellers and at Catholic bookstores and gift shops.

About Marion Amberg:

Marion Amberg is an award-winning journalist and book author specializing in Faith Travel.

She has written for more than 100 publications, ranging from Catholic Digest to Family Motor Coaching to Texas Highways. She has also authored two books and is working on her third.

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A priest died…and I was not sorry

His name was Father Alan.  I had known him since 1998 and traveled with him on several occasions.  He was  a former U.S. Air Force chaplain..he had to take a medical discharge due to an illness and had been denied the compensation he deserved.  He led pilgrimage groups to such diverse places as Mexico, Ireland, Spain and Medjugorje.  He had Parkinsons Disease, but it had not progressed so far that he was not able to perform his Priestly duties and lead pilgrimage groups.

A few pilgrims complained…he was unable to take showers easily and so his body odor became a distraction.  Of course, they probably did not realize the cause.  It was a sacrifice for him to lead pilgrimage groups, but he never refused if asked.  And many of us benefited greatly from his spiritual advice.

As time went on, he could no longer keep up his daily routine, as the disease had taken its’ toll.  I believe he spent his last few months in a nursing home….I am ashamed to say, I did not bother to find out.

I lost track of Father, as can easily happen in this busy world of ours.  I wish I had not, but nothing I can do about that now.  Finally, after the fact, I found out that he had died in 2016.  Then….something odd I suppose…I was happy for him.  As Christians we know that we are pilgrims on a journey….yet how few people in this world feel that way.  Even those who profess to be Christians can sometimes have this inordinate fear of death.

And yet, I could not bring myself to feel sorry for Father Alan.  He would probably spend some time in purgatory, as we all do (I wish more priests would point this out at funerals….(most of them use the “he/she is in a better place line), but he was going to take his last pilgrimage and was definitely headed for heaven……where his sufferings would be over.

So, it was almost with a sense of gladness that I learned of his death.  Hard to explain…especially non-believers, but there it is.

I guess what brought it to mind was All Souls Day…and the references to praying for the dead.  Father Alan is in my prayer intentions….but I also ask for his intercession when I pray the rosary, because something tells me he has cleared the hurdle called purgatory and is now in heaven with the saints.

You will find his obituary here…along with a few tributes from the many people whose lives he touched and enriched.