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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.


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.

Read more

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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)


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Are there really Catholic Masses on Holland America cruises?

We know that many of you cruisers appreciate the fact that you are able to attend daily Mass when sailing on Holland America Cruise Lines.We recently received the following email from a prospective Holland America passenger:

” Hi there,

I’m looking at cruise options and would like to make sure a priest is available for Sunday mass. A number of reviews I have seen say that the Holland America Line offer mass on all cruises however when I phoned them they said it’s not always the case. Can anyone confirm for sure?

Many thanks,
Elise “

Since Holland America does claim to have a Catholic priest on board all of its cruises (to our knowledge, they are the only U.S.-based cruise line to do so), we wrote to Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America to verify this infomation…..not really sure if or when we would get a response.  To our pleasant surprise, we received a reply within a few hours, and here it is:

” Thank you for your recent correspondence with Holland America Line regarding the clergy onboard our ships. I am reaching out to you on behalf of Mr. Ashford.  

We sincerely apologize about any confusion regarding the religious services held onboard our ships. We are pleased to inform you that a Catholic priest is on board each ship at all times and a Catholic mass is held daily. The only reason we would not have a Catholic priest onboard is due to an illness or possible travel delay. The Daily Program provided onboard will list the times and locations.

We thank you for giving us this opportunity to review your concerns, and assisting us in our efforts to meet our goal of consistent excellence. ”  

For more information on how to find a cruise with a Catholic priest on board click here.

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Paris: Notre Dame Christmas Eve midnight Mass cancelled for first time in over 200 years

Notre Dame has celebrated Christmas Eve Midnight Mass for over two centuries…..being closed only during the French revolution.  Due to the fire earlier this year, obviously that is not possible this year.

But the midnight Mass will be moved and celebrated at the beautiful Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois.  This beautiful church is one of the “hidden gems” of Paris and we are happy to hear that the Mass will be celebrated there this year.

You can find out more about the Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois 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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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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Rosa Mystica shrine gets official status

It has been announced that the Shrine of Our Lady of Montichiari in Italy will be named a Diocesan Shrine on December 7, 2019.  Montichari is the site of the reported apparitions of the Blessed Mother from 1947 through 1966, appearing as Our Lady of Rosa Mystica.

Originally opposed by the local Bishop,  the shrine nevertheless drew thousands of pilgrims….and many healings have been reported.

The current Bishop of Brescia will be dedicating Rosa Mystica-Mother of the Church Diocesan Shrine, on December 7, 2019.

You can read all about the apparitions and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Mystical Rose here.