Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora will host a unique opportunity to see many sites of historical significance in Europe from June 12-23, 2016. The pilgrimage is courtesy of Nawas International, a company that has arranged Christian pilgrimages to Europe and the Holy Land for the last 66 years.
The pilgrimage will visit holy sites in France and Italy. The itinerary, after an initial flight from Toronto, includes Lourdes, Avignon and Nice, France, with subsequent visits to Genoa, Florence, Assisi and Rome, Italy, which feature landmarks of the Catholic faith. Sites include Lourdes where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1868, a taste of Renaissance art in Florence and an audience with Pope Francis on the last full day.
"The seminary has, in the past, hosted such trips, and with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, it seemed like an opportunity to begin to do that once again, and to gear it in a special way to resonate themes of the Year of Mercy," said Msgr. Richard W. Siepka, director of spiritual formation at Christ the King, who is organizing and hosting the pilgrimage with the seminary's rector and president, Father Joseph C. Gatto.
"The idea of ending up in Rome and having an audience with the Holy Father had a certain preeminence to it," Msgr. Siepka said. "And then, to begin in Lourdes, at the great shrine of Our Lady, to make that the beginning and the end of an opportunity to, first of all, have a wonderful time and see some wonderful sites, but also have a nice spiritual experience at the same time."
Susan Lankes, director of marketing at Christ the King, noted the trip will offer an opportunity to "go on a journey" with two seminary faculty members, both of whom have "extensive background" and a wealth of knowledge to bring to the table as they lead the pilgrimage.
"One of the things that's exciting about this opportunity is to travel with them and travel with other people who want to explore this area of Europe," Lankes said. "It is a pilgrimage, so it's a spiritual journey, and you're doing it with like-minded folks."
This will be the first time the seminary has been involved with this particular itinerary. The pilgrimage is open to all members of the public. The goal is to have a maximum of around 50 people which is enough to fill the average tour bus and provide an opportunity to make friends without making the trip too crowded.
Msgr. Siepka said the pilgrimage will be one with ample opportunity for spiritual experiences, and the site in Avignon has a long history with the pope and reconciliation within the Church. There is historical significance because the trip covers Florence where attendees will be able to see the original statue of David that Michelangelo created in the early 1500s.
There will also be an opportunity to witness different cultures and eat the food of France and Italy, while also maintaining a sense of camaraderie with others who will be attending.
Msgr. Siepka said the trip combines many facets of a vacation with elements of spirituality. He said anyone who would like to see the beautiful sites of Europe, including Rome and Italy, would benefit from the trip. He also said it would benefit anyone who is looking to deepen his or her own faith and have an experience of the Year of Mercy.
Father Gatto and Msgr. Siepka both studied in Rome, so they are familiar with many of the sites of Italy. As a result, they have the ability to help people who may not have traveled before and may be hesitant to go on an international trip.
"It's nice to be able to assist people to experience some of the beauties of Europe and some of the wonders of our faith at the same time," Msgr. Siepka commented.
The cost to attend the 12-day pilgrimage is $3,999, which includes airfare from, and back to Toronto. It also includes first-class and select accommodations, most meals, admission and tour fees, government taxes and airline surcharges.
Msgr. Siepka said this package deal strikes a balance between finding the best hotels and services available while maintaining an affordable cost for a trip of this magnitude and length.
"What it comes down to is value for the money," Msgr. Siepka concluded. "Nawas works with good hotels. We've had excellent tour leaders. There's a tour leader who joins us for the whole trip who knows the countries well and the sites and everything. We've been very happy with the company."
For more information about the pilgrimage or to make a reservation, contact Nadine Oates at Christ the King Seminary at 716-655-7092.