A spring break spent on pilgrimage to Rome

Mar 29, 2018

Graduate students in the theology program recently returned from a pilgrimage to Rome.

During spring break, Dean of Graduate Studies Father Joseph Gile and University Chaplain Father John Fogliasso embarked on a pilgrimage to Rome along with 20 graduate students. These individuals are students of the Newman theology master’s program who participated in the pilgrimage as a culmination of their two-year study.

Gile teaches the Newman elective, “Christian Rome,” and was in charge of offering the Masses and liturgies throughout the pilgrimage. Gile said that, having lived in Rome for four years, his personal experience helps with the planning process for the trips overseas.

One goal of the pilgrimage was to allow the students the opportunity to “experience what it is they have been studying throughout the program,” Fogliasso said.

“On our first day, we went straight to Assisi and got to experience the beauty of that town,” Fogliasso said. “We saw the Basilica of St. Francis and the Basilica of St. Claire, and we finished with a beautiful luncheon at a vineyard outside of Assisi. Then we returned to Rome where we experienced the different Roman churches and culture.

“Father Gile invited me to be the main celebrant for Mass at the Vatican, so that was a unique privilege and experience to offer Mass as well as to enjoy the Scavi Tour,” Fogliasso added.

Father Joseph Gile

According to “The Catholic Traveler,” the Vatican Scavi Tour goes through the excavations below St. Peter’s Basilica and is considered one of the most exclusive tours in Rome. Compared to the tens of thousands of people who visit the Vatican each day, the tour is limited to only 250 tickets per day.

“The tour takes about an hour and a half and it goes to St. Peter’s tomb,” Gile said. “There you get to see, from the second century on, all these other tombs of Christians who wanted to be buried as close as they could to him. That experience — and seeing the Pope towards the end of the trip — had to be my highlights of the pilgrimage.”

Every Wednesday, Pope Francis invites a general audience to visit St. Peter’s Square. During this time, pilgrims and visitors are given the chance to receive the Papal Blessing, Gile said.

“When I ask for tickets to go see the Pope, I tell them that we are from Newman University,” he said. “So at the Vatican, someone calls out, ‘And from Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, a group of graduate students in theology.’ That’s when we all go crazy and start screaming.”

Every student was allowed to bring one person with them for the pilgrimage to Rome. In addition to his wife, one man in the program asked to bring his four kids, who are in their 20s. His request was granted, and the whole family tagged along for the experience.

“It was a family vacation that they will never forget,” Gile said.

While the pilgrimage to Rome has been a tradition for nine years, Gile said that when Assistant Professor of Theology Matthew Umbarger, Ph.D., came on board, the class decided to shake things up and travel to Israel. Last year’s pilgrimage was the first time a group from Newman visited Israel — and due to its success, they have decided to alternate pilgrimages between Israel and Rome in the years to come, Gile said.

“Dr. Umbarger lived in Israel for nine years, so when we visit Israel, he teaches and leads that class,” Gile said. “As for next year’s spring break pilgrimage, on to Israel.”

Fogliasso said, “It was such a blessing to be able to join this group of individuals. We were more than just tourists — we were pilgrims who got to encounter the rich history of our church while praying at the tombs of so many of the greatest saints of our church’s history.”