Normally day one of the youth pilgrimage tests the ability to remain awake for the pilgrims. However, the long overseas flight from Philadelphia was already mollified when our merry little group landed to beautiful weather in Lisbon, a name which comes from the Arabic words for “safe harbor”.
Day 1 of the 2013 Youth Pilgrimage
Normally day one of the youth pilgrimage tests the ability to remain awake for the pilgrims. However, the long overseas flight from Philadelphia was already mollified when our merry little group landed to beautiful weather in Lisbon, a name which comes from the Arabic words for “safe harbor”. Eager eyes glared out the plane windows for the first time at the Old World, one that had been Catholic. It is interesting that the men who left this world for a “better” one, a New World, now have their ancestors returning to find out something about their Catholic roots and try to make a true New World.
Today we spent our day in Lisbon, a beautiful but hilly city, which, like San Francisco has suffered its earthquakes. We saw the effects of those natural calamities on structures in the city. Our tour guide took us first, however, to the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos which was built by tax money from the orient at the request of King Manuel I. He invited the Hieronymite monks to occupy that convent and beautiful church, which is the burial place for some of Portugal’s kings.
There as well, an architecture emerged that is specifically Portuguese, called Manueline with its extremely ornate and complex themes.
Also, it is there that we heard that Portugal suffered the same fate as many other countries did when Napoleon came through, viz. the disbanded of religious orders. In France, this seed grew back up through the soil, as we see especially with Dom Gueranger and the Benedictine Order. Unfortunately, however, in Portugal the monastic religious life did not re-emerge. To this day there are no religious in the country. This was such a travesty in those times that when a teaching order of nuns were asked to either continue teaching and get rid of their vows, or stop teaching, Pope Pius IX asked the sisters to continue on as religious and not active teachers since their religious vows were much needed to influence those times.
Through the city we walked and saw a convent closed down and now a restaurant and then another Carmelite convent that was destroyed by earthquake and never rebuilt. The place was a bit of a cemetery for religious life.
For those who came on the 2012 Youth Pilgrimage, they will remember visiting the remains of St. Roch in Venice last year, he who helped the city when the plague wreaked havoc there. Here on the other side of the Mediterranean we visited another church dedicated to this saint and which contains only one relic of his. This poor man was honored with a rich church. The side altars were filled with Jesuit baroque intricacy and gold. One side altar, St. John the Baptist, was literally built in Rome and consecrated there and then transported piece by piece with all of its mosaics to the church in Lisbon. The church also holds the most relics of any church on the Iberian Peninsula. The side altar where the Blessed Eucharist is reserved gives a beautiful but strong warning, “fear ye all those who enter the sanctuary, for I am the Lord.”
It did not take long before we tasted Portugal with some black pork, as they called it. It was a delicious marinated specialty of the region. The area is also known for fresh seafood, which even the fish-evader would find pleasing.
As was said, the earthquakes that this city has suffered has harmed many a church. Another such church was that of St. Dominic where we saw battered walls and heavily chipped pilasters. However, we were given private and exceptional access to the remains of Blessed Louis of Granada, the great ascetical and mystical writer of the Dominican Order. His book, The Sinner’s Guide, still continues to help souls rise to heaven.
At this church, our guide asked a priest if we could see the sacristy, but he first wanted to know where the youth were from. So they responded that they were from all around the US. He then asked where their priest was. When the chaplain, having heard the question from another room, emerged in his cassock to say hello, the priest frankly said, “now that is a priest.” He had to introduce himself as a priest, which his polo shirt by no means betrayed.
After leaving St. Roch, our bus winded through the old and narrow Moorish part of Lisbon and dropped us off at the house where a great saint was born. The Wonder-worker, St. Anthony, who died in Padua, was born of a noble family in Lisbon. When he heard of Martyrs being made of Franciscans in Africa, he immediately left the Augustinian order and joined the Friars. Though not of humble birth, he chose a humble life and thus comes his greatness - quite simply.
Finally, our guide left us and told us that we would have a hard time accomplishing our final task of the day, a visit to the Eucharistic miracle at Santarem. She said that Masses were scheduled back to back in the late afternoon and that when we arrived there would certainly be a Mass in progress. This would prevent us from climbing the steps that lead up behind the altar to see this miracle up close.
But before we continue with this story, we want to tell the more important one, i.e., how this Eucharistic miracle came into existence. In the 14th century, a wife who wanted her unfaithful husband’s love again promised a witch in return for that gift to bring her a consecrated host. Upon leaving the communion rail, she pulled the Body of Our Lord out of her mouth and wrapped it in a cloth. Not long after leaving the church, the cloth began to bleed and passers-by thought the woman hurt. Embarrassed, she finally confessed her crime, one which only the Pope can absolve, and the bleeding host was put up for adoration. Though this story happened over 750 years ago, the Host continues to produce fresh Blood and appear as true Flesh in the monstrance above the main altar.
Wanting to see such a miracle and not wanting to be inhibited by the church’s busy schedule we said a little prayer on the way to the church to the Guardian Angels of those might make it happen that the 5:00pm Mass start late. It is true that this is not a normal request but quite reasonable given the circumstances. Arriving at the church at 4:50pm, we found that we were able to queue up and go up to venerate the bleeding Host. Each pilgrim walked up and was able to kiss the glass that separated them from the miracle. The chaplain was the last one in the queue allowed to go up and for him the attendant opened the glass for him to see more clearly the miracle. When he opened the glass the normal smell of human blood, one perfused with oxidized iron, wafted in the face of the chaplain. It was a truly extraordinary experience and true mercy of God to be able to smell so clearly the Blood of Our Lord.
The group continued to pray back down in the main church and sang the O Salutaris Hostia in honor of the Blessed Eucharist. Just when we finished the group who was supposed to say the 5:00pm Mass showed up, at that point a half-hour late. Do not ever underestimate the power of those angels whom so many artists depict as mere children! This was not a bad start to our trip!