Reflections on the Malta & Sicily Pilgrimage

By Tim Von Dohlen
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Just like selecting a good wine, selecting the right location to travel to is very important.  For a wine you want something that has a pleasing aroma, satisfies your taste, and goes down smoothly.  The same for travel which must be well planned, flows smoothly and enriches your mind and spirit.

That describes and captures our first Napa Institute Experience. Although we had previously been to one of the terrific Napa Institute Summer Conferences, this was our first travel experience and my wife Pat and I were not sure what to expect.

From the time we were met at the Valletta, Malta, airport until our departure from Catania, Italy, it soon became clear that even though this was the Napa Institute’s first trip to Malta, they had thoroughly researched hotels, restaurants, historical, and religious sites to visit as each aspect of the trip was first class. Each Napa Institute Experience is a small group of some 10-12 couples and exquisitely prepared.  We can vouch for the staff’s ability to get everything taken care of to provide each pilgrim a five-star adventure.

Day One at St. Paul’s Shipwreck

Indeed, we were on a pilgrimage.  It was specially pleasing that our granddaughter Cate, who has just graduated from The University of Notre Dame, chose “Walking and Pilgrimage” as the topic of her thesis in which she described as “finding purpose at your stage in life revealed through your pilgrimage.  Walking makes us pilgrims, particularly for your pilgrimage to God.”

When it comes to being in a new place in our travels, we would all hope to have taken time to study the geography and history of where we are going.  In our busy lives the amount of preparation is often minimal.  Having one or more experts to inform and prepare you for what you are going to see is vital to having a meaningful visit.  The Institute had several experts along starting with Dr. Andrew Abela, a native of Malta and currently Dean of the Busch School of Business at Catholic University of America, to provide an overview of the rich history of Malta.  Highlights included the Hagar Qim Temples dating back to 6,500 B.C., the time of the Roman Empire when St. Paul was shipwrecked and spent three months evangelizing the people of Malta, the formation of the Knights of Malta and building of the fortresses and harbor, WW II use of the deep-water ports, and the war rooms for preparation of the Allied invasion of Sicily.  So many amazing things to see including the Blue Lagoon on the island of Gozo.

Day Two Dinner at De Mondion in Malta

While these sites were each amazing, it was the cleanliness of the country and the vibrant Catholic faith of the people evidenced by the beauty of some 313 churches on Malta and 46 on the island of Gozo and the openly expressed commitment to the life of the unborn that was wonderful to behold.  A number of dignitaries attended one dinner where the President of Malta, George Vella, who is a physician by profession, said, “I am telling you tonight that I am pro-life, not because I am Catholic, but because of the natural law and it is the truth.”  This inclusion of notable persons is a regular on a Napa Institute trip.

Our spiritual pilgrimage included daily Mass at such magnificent churches as the grotto of St. Paul, St. John’s Cathedral, and on Gozo, the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin of Ta’Pinu, and the Cathedral of Syracuse, the church where St. Lucy was martyred in Sicily, and the church over the prison cell of St. Agatha in Catania.  At each Mass, the homily given by our spiritual director, Father Roger Landry, was powerful and made the bible readings come to life.

Day Eight in Catania, Santa Agata al Carcere

In addition to the wonderful meals and wine, the chance to meet and really get to know the outstanding fellow pilgrims and Napa Institute Staff was a real blessing.  Plenty of time to enjoy the meals and interesting conversation that followed.

If you have not already booked to be a part of the next Institute trip to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, September 10-19, 2022, there are still a few spots open.  Our dear friend Father Dean Wilhelm, Pastor of St. John Neuman Catholic Church in Austin, Texas, will provide spiritual direction, prayer, and time for confession.  Father Dean is also Chaplain of the St. John Paul II Life Center in Austin where babies’ lives are saved each day and through the Center’s Vitae Clinic women who have been told they cannot conceive are individually treated through Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) to cure and allow her to become pregnant.  All the pilgrims will appreciate Father Dean’s caring interaction and shared wisdom.

Highlights of the next unforgettable pilgrimage to Eastern Europe include daily Mass & opportunities for confession and spiritual direction with our chaplain, Fr. Dean Wilhelm, presentations by Fr Roger Landry who will serve as the principal tour leader, iconic dining and meals, private tours of churches and museums, Vespers at the Norbertine Abbey in Prague, an even a river cruise on the Danube! Click here to register and learn more.

In summary, if you want your faith to be enlightened and your search for purpose in life and understanding of our faith elevated, you could not find a better place to accomplish this than on a future Napa Experience.

May God bless the continuing work of the Institute.

Tim Von Dohlen, Board President and Co-Founder

St. John Paul II Life Center

tim@tvdg.com

512-423-8877


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