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Not all churches are closed…Our Lady of La Leche Shrine remains open

The famous Mission of Nombre de Dios…..the first shrine in the United States dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, under devotion to Our Lady of La Leche (Our Lady of the Milk) goes back to a 4th Century Grotto in Jerusalem.

The devotion spread in the middle ages, particularly after the Crusaders came back from the Holy Land. The wife of a nobleman, expected to die during the birth of her child, was reportedly spared due to the intercession of Our Lady of La Leche. More particularly she was given the title “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery”.

The devotion became widespread throughout Europe and then brought to the “New World” by the Spanish explorers, who founded the city of Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565,

It was here that the first Mass was celebrated on U.S. soil.

The Shrine and Mission grounds and the Historic Chapel here in Saint Augustine, Florida are remaining open during the coronavirus epidemic. there will be no public Masses, but their priests are available to hear confessions by appointment. You can contact them at [email protected]

The Shrine will be open from 12:00pm – 4:00pm daily.

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The Oberammergau Passion Play CANCELLED for 2020..postponed to 2022

For only the second time since its first performance in 1634, the Oberammergau Passion Play, scheduled for 2020, has been cancelled.

Only two days ago we posted the news that the district administration of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (where Oberammergau is located) had prohibited the opening performance of the play originally planned for May 16, 2020. This was due to the current extremely troubling situation caused by the corona pandemic.

The officials postponed the opening to May 21, just 5 days later.

Now we’ve received word that the play has been totally cancelled by the local government and moved to 2022.

We find this ironic, since the play had its origins in 1632, when local villagers promised to put on the play if God would spare them from the plague that was currently ravaging the area. The village was spared, and the play has been performed every 10 years since then  (with the exception of 1940, when the play was cancelled due to World War II).  Unfortunately we have to add another exception: the year 2020.

 

This will undoubtedly be a blow to many travel companies, and a great disappointment to those who planned to attend.  We need to pray for those who work for these travel companies as they scramble to help people re-book or get refunds.  There is a great description of this effort on Select International Tours home page.

 

 

 

 

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Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes to be closed for an indefinite period

On March 17, 2020, it was announced that for the first time in its history, that  the sanctuary of Lourdes will be closed for an indefinite period. 

Procession of the sick in LourdesNo public Masses will be offered in the sanctuary due to national measures announced by French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron on the evening of March 16.

Such a move is truly historic, but certainly not un-expected.  We remain optimistic that the Coronavirus will be contained in France and elsewhere and that by late summer Lourdes….and most other shrines….will once again be open to visitors.

You can check our page on Lourdes for updates to the situation.

 

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Be careful where you buy your Oberammergau Passion Play tickets

The Oberammergau Passion Play is held every 10 years in Oberammergau, Germany and is one of the most popular travel destinations in 2020.  Tickets include not only admission to the play but lodging as well.  In addition, there are many tour operators that provide tickets plus transportation and lodging, meals, etc.

However, there are some who plan to go on their own and buy tickets.  If that is you….then be sure you buy direct from the source….or you may end paying much more and not even getting the seating you have requested.

The official website of the Oberammergau Passion Play has put out this warning:   We have been and are currently being informed by affected consumers about the offer of tickets for the 2020 Passion Play via the ticket provider Viagogo.

A large number of tickets for the 2020 Passion Play are offered via the Viagogo ticket platform. Please note that Viagogo is a ticket provider in the secondary use market, i.e. Viagogo is not an official ticket provider. The prices offered are not original prices! Depending on the category, the original prices are between EUR 30 and EUR 180. Viagogo sometimes charges a multiple of these original ticket prices.

Please also note that Viagogo does not specify seats or at least categories currently. Especially the distance from the stage is not indicated. Even if you buy an expensive ticket, it is therefore still possible that you will end up sitting in the cheapest category for EUR 30 original price.

We were able to enjoin Viagogo successfully from advertising the tickets with misleading statements such as “sold out”. However, Viagogo continues to offer the tickets.

Editor’s note:  As of March 10, 2020 Viagogo still offers tickets…at substantially higher cost than through the official Passion Play website.

You can simply check the official Oberammergau Passion Play website to see if tickets are still available for your needs.

And, if you wish to travel in a group, we recommend one of the many group tours offered through Select International Tours.  You can be assured that you will be dealing with a company with experience as well as an excellent reputation.

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Should the coronavirus affect your travel plans?

Well, we have been here before….whether a disease like SARS, terrorist acts, or whatever, people begin to question whether it is safe to travel.  With coronavirus in the news, the question is being asked again.

Although the disease is serious and we do not want to downplay its effects, we should point out that the flu…which we don’t often take seriously, is responsible for many cases of illness and death each year.

For example, in the U.S., with a population of 237 million, the Centers for Disease Control, estimates that up to 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died.  The percentages are similar in the U.K. and most other European countries.

Compare that to the Corona virus:  As of March 8, 2020, 107,000 cases have been reported worldwide out of a population of about 7 billion (in 103 countries, not just the U.S.) , and 3,660 people have died.

The media loves stories like this, of course:  “if it smells, it sells”.  But let’s step back and take a closer look.  Much has been made over the outbreak in Italy, but there is more to the storyItaly was one of the first countries to react to the crisis and started screening people early on, so naturally the number of reported cases is higher than some other European countries.

Most fatalities from the corona virus are from the elderly population, especially those with underlying health conditions.

Something not reported, is the fact that countries such as Italy are (sadly) old, dying countries.  Visit Italy and you will find beautiful churches and shrines, great restaurants…..but what you won’t find is many children.  In fact, if you travel to Italy with small children,  the locals are often thrilled to see them…because they see so few.  They simply do not have enough births to even stay at current population levels and will eventually face a “demographic winter”.  There is a much larger proportion of elderly people in Italy than in countries such as the U.S., and therefore, more deaths per thousand cases.

You can find an interesting article on the coming demographic winter in Italy here (written several years ago…but it has not gotten any better).

Meantime, Israel has taken even more drastic steps that will effectively shut down tourism for the next few weeks.  In what must be considered as the most stringent requirements by any country to date, those already there will have to leave, and those coming in must show that they have a place to self-quarntine upon arrival…an almost impossible task.

In the U.S., the story is a bit different.  Again, using Italy as a comparison, the U.S. has a much younger population, those in the U.S. can expect much better results in treating patients.  Travel, of course, does not simply mean out of the country:  you could travel to another part of the country you live and find different restrictions in place…or none at all!

Some Dioceses in the U.S. have suspended all Masses through the end of March….an almost surreal situation that many of us would never have thought possible….almost like living in one of those horrible 1950’s sci-fi movies!

Using the U.S. as a comparison again, although there are some good health care facilities in cities such as Rome, many other cities  (there is a North/South healthcare gap in Italy, with the southern half of the country being far behind what you will find in the north).  Overall health care in Italy is not always up to U.S. standards.  We are not picking on Italy, but those are just facts.

Italy has taken some unusual precautions, such as closing off the catacombs in Rome temporarily (air circulation is limited, so that is a good idea).  They have practically shut down Milan, where the outbreak is most severe, which will do much to slow the spread of the disease:  these are prudent steps and should be seen as good news.  But you won’t hear that on the news…they will just report the number of cases and the fact that people are stockpiling food.  Great fodder for the news media to drum up circulation.

All Rome churches were officially closed on March 12.  Pope Francis publicly decried the action of closing the churches, saying that over-reaction was not the way to handle the situation.  Now as of March 13, all churches in Rome have been re-opened, but there are few masses being celebrated.  

There is at least one place in Rome not opened, but perhaps should be, and that is Castel Sant’ Angelowhere an angel appeared to a Pope and stopped a plague. 

On March 15th Pope Francis prayed in  The Church of San Marcello al Corso, in front of a miraculous crucifix which was credited with stopping a plague in the 16th century

At this point in time, we do not recommend traveling to Italy.  Cities such as Rome are basically locked down despite the fact that some churches have re-opened, so even if you travel there and are not exposed to the coronavirus, there is a strong possibility that you will not get to visit some of your “must see” places in cities such as Rome, Florence or Venice.

Here is a video recorded on Sunday March 15 from Rome.

 

 

So do I cancel my plans or go ahead?

Photo courtesy MarketWatch

We have had to change our advice over the past several weeks.  Originally we stated that if you had not changed your travel plans due to concerns over the flu, we saw no reason to cancel your trip over concerns about the coronavirus….but we have now changed our thinking.

We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here.  The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact.  Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive.  In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off.  And stringent protection measures in many countries will help to slow down….and, eventually, stop the spread of the disease.

With so many cities basically closed, if you travel this spring it will probably not be the experience you were hoping for.  It is not just concern about catching the corona virus, but also the fact that so many of the sites you wish to visit are likely not to be open.

Our thinking is that you should consider not traveling in the spring and early summer, but if possible make plans to travel in late summer or the fall.  By then, we expect the situation in most countries to be much better.  And you pick up some bargain prices as well.

Are we all going to die?

Is the corona virus dangerous?  You bet.

Are you going to catch it?  Not very likely.

If you catch it are you likely to die?  No, most people so far recover completely.  In fact, it is likely that many people have had it and just thought it was a bad cold or flu…we will never know.

At this point everything is still in flux:

The U.S. suspended all travel from 26 European countries to the US for 30 days, beginning March 13 at midnight.  The ban restricts foreign nationals from entering the United States if they had been in, or traveled through, the Schengen Area — 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, and Switzerland — within the past 14 days.  On March 13, Great Britain was added to the list.
U.S. citizens are not affected by this rule.

With widespread cancellations, tour operators and cruise lines are scrambling to keep up to date.

The State Department and CDC have recommended that U.S. citizens, especially older adults and those with underlying health conditions, not travel by cruise ship. No wonder stocks in cruise ships lines dropped!

This is unfolding on a daily basis:  For example, Royal Caribbean Cruises is now allowing guests on Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara, and Silversea to cancel up to 48-hours before a sailing with a full future cruise credit refund.

 

As we pointed out, this might be a chance to pick up some bargain prices as tour companies and cruise lines react to the slowing demand.  If the tour company cancels the trip you will get your money  back, and if all is well by then, you will have a great trip at a great price.

We expect…and of course we are not experts….that the coronavirus will be slowed down as summer gets here.  The increased sunshine (UV rays kill viruses…in fact, they are often used in hospitals for just that) means that more people are outdoors and there is less close contact.  Viruses on surfaces exposed to sunlight do not survive.  In fact, we would not be surprised to see it peak in late July and by fall people will be booking those trips that they put off.

Your best bet is to stay up to date if you have already booked….and who knows, the coronavirus may peak in the next few months and this will all be in the past….at least that is what we think will happen.

 

What about travel insurance?

If the tour company or cruise line cancels, then you should be able to get a full refund.  But if you really want to cancel without a valid reason, it is probably going to cost you.  If you have already signed up for a trip, and are within the cancellation period, you are not likely to receive a full refund if you wish to cancel. Tour companies have to prepay hotels, buses, buy plane tickets, etc. and they cannot recoup the cost if you cancel your trip.

In some instances, people add “cancel for any reason” to their travel insurance policy.  This means you can decide not to go without a medical or other covered reason….but the premiums are quite a bit higher.

And even then, there are conditions.  In the case of the Corona virus, it is a “known event” and therefore subject to certain restrictions, so you will not get a refund unless you took out the policy before it became a known event (January 22, 2020).  These same restrictions cover hurricanes, once they are named, they become a “known event” and cancel for any reason does not apply

You can learn more about the Corona Virus and check various insurance plans here to find the one best for you.

We would love to hear your comments on the coronavirus and whether it has had any bearing on your travel plans for this year.

 

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Catholic Shrine Chapel torn down by local government of El Escorial in Spain

The Shrine chapel at the apparition site in Prado Nuevo, Spain has been demolished by the local government of Madrid (El Escorial).  Prado Nuevo is the site of the alleged apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a local woman, Luz Amparo under the appearance of Our Lady of Sorrows.  She requested that a shrine be built here.

We don’t know the reason for this action, but it seems that it is very drastic since the Bishop had long-ago approved the building of the chapel and it had existed there for quite a few years with no problems, so there is bound to be more to the story.

You can read more about the reported apparitions and the shrine here.

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Novena to Our Lady of Good Success starts January 24

Before you begin the Novena, here is a bit of background:

Between 1594 and 1634, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a cloistered Conceptionist sister in Quito, Ecuador named Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres. Our Lady appeared to her asking that she wished to be known under the title of Nuestra Senora del Buen Suceso which in English translates to Our Lady of Good Success.

She spoke to Mother Mariana about the future times that were to come for the Catholic Church particularly during the 20th Century. Our Blessed Mother described for her the grave crisis that would take place then in the Church and also society in general. In fact, the gravity of this crisis was conveyed so distinctly that it caused this poor sister to die from the effects of watching what was to happen to the Church in the future.

Statue of Our Lady of Good Success
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7885470

You can read more about the apparitions and the statue that was begun by a local artist but then miraculously finished by the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel, along with Saint Francis on our page devoted to the conceptionist Monastery in Quito, Ecuador.  On that page is an especially interesting story written by a mother who traveled there…don’t miss it!

You can find out more about the Novena here   (external link….this window will remain open).

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My cruise was cancelled….Why can’t I get a refund?

Cruise cancellations are rare….but they do happen, and are no reflection upon the cruise line itself.  Things break down and you don’t want the cruise line to put profits over safety.

Recently Holland America Cruise Lines had to cancel a cruise from Fort Lauderdale on the Nieuw Amsterdam scheduled for February 1, 2020 due to a rare problem with one of its two azipod propulsion systems, and instead is sending the ship to the shipyard in the Bahamas for repairs.  It would appear that the February 8 sailing will go as scheduled, so apparently the repairs will not take too long.

According to the notice on their website: (link will open in a new window, this tab will stay open)

Those booked on this cruise will have the option to move to any other 2020 winter or spring 7-day Caribbean or Mexico cruise in the equivalent stateroom category and also receive credit for a future cruise credit equal to 100% of the cruise fare paid.  There are a couple other options as well, as you can see from the notice on their website.

This is a very generous offer (we are big fans of Holland America….they are the only U.S. cruise line that has a Catholic priest on board every cruise) and for many people this will turn out to be a pretty good deal:  just take your cruise a little later than planned and then get an additional cruise at 50% off of the published prices.  Many of Holland America’s customers are seniors, and their schedules are usually flexible in scheduling their cruises.

However, this solution could create a problem for some:  what if the passenger (s) just wants a refund?.  Perhaps these were the only dates they were able to travel in the near future, perhaps they wanted to celebrate a special occasion during those particular dates, and a whole lot of other “ifs”…..and  that is why we have always recommended travel insurance.

Many (but not all) travel insurance policies will cover you if your cruise if it is cancelled by the cruise line and give you a full refund.  We don’t know how that would affect your future cruise credit offered by Holland America, but in this case if had been booked on this cruise and you were not in a position to take advantage of their offer and had travel insurance, you would likely get a full refund.

We have always championed buying travel insurance directly from the insurance company and not through a cruise line or tour operator.  See our insurance page for reasons why.

For a comparison of insurance policies visit Squaremouth to be sure that you get all the coverage you need.

 

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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.

Paris

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.

Toulouse

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.

Read more15 Days—3 Countries–One Big Lesson!

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Our take on the Netflix Movie “The Two Popes”

Many of you have heard of….or have even watched…the Netflix movie “The Two Popes”.

If you do plan to watch it, be aware that it is mostly fiction…..as the intro states:  “inspired by true events”.  So why watch it at all?  Well, we wanted to find out what it was all about….any time the Catholic Church is portrayed in the secular media we hold our breath waiting for them to show The Church in a bad light.  Not so, in this case.  The acting was good, and, so long as you realize that it is fiction, it makes for an interesting hypothetical.

Spoiler alert:  if you plan to watch “The Two Popes”, then don’t read below until afterward.

The movie shows Cardinal Archbishop Bergoglio meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome to discuss the Pope’s retirement.  There is no record of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio actually going to Rome and meeting with Pope Benedict XVI before he retired.  In fact, there is no one who can even remember Pope Benedict XVI’s talk of resignation before he suddenly voiced his intention to do so on February 11, 2013.

The movie accurately describes the announcement being made in Latin, a language many of those present did not even understand.  As a result it took a while for word to spread.

And other parts of the story are factual….Bergoglio’s role in Argentina’s dirty war that saw thousands murdered ( including priests) was mentioned briefly.  But, his true role in all of that remains unclear to this day.

And of course, Pope Benedict leaving the Vatican for Castel Gandolfo, on his helicopter flight, was accurate.  Many of us watched it live on TV that eventful day.

Brief mentions of Ratzingers’ background are reported and some around him actually shout out and call him a Nazi.  Although it is true he spent some time in the Hitler Youth when he was a teenager…. the movie fails to point out that enrollment was actually mandatory.  He later did much to aid the Holocaust victims and improve Catholic-Jewish dialogue.

Phot courtesy NetflixWe did like the shot of the two walking in the Vatican Gardens…..one of our favorite places in the Vatican.

And, it is here in the Vatican Gardens that Pope Emeritus Benedict resides today in The Mater Ecclesiae Monastery.  So he has not really left the Vatican.  Sorry…..you won’t be able to visit him on your tour of the Vatican Gardens….but you can get a glimpse of where he lives.

Overall, we enjoyed the movie as entertainment, and think you will too.  Perhaps one day we will know more of the true story….just why did Pope Benedict XVI retire?  Great fodder for conspiracy theorists!

 

An interesting note:  Although not shown in the movie, Pope Benedict XVI visited the tomb of the only other Pope in history to have resigned:  Pope Celestine V.  He did this on April 29, 2009, on a visit to L’Aquila, Italy, view the devastation of the damaging earthquake that had taken place there.  This took place before he announced his own resignation, and while there, he did something unusual that people did not quite realize was significant at the time.  He left his Pallium (the sign of his apostolic authority) there at the tomb of Celestine V without giving an explanation.

 

If you would like a more detailed, critical review of the film, click here for an article by John Mulderig at The Catholic News Service. (Link will open in a new tab, this page will remain open)