The Napa Institute’s latest Experience pilgrims have just returned from Malta and Sicily. Pilgrims had the opportunity to embark on the pilgrimage of a lifetime and encounter the vibrant history of our faith that these countries hold. While they chatted and exchanged life stories over exquisite dinners and memorable travel experiences, their opportunity to encounter Our Lord in a unique way was the greatest highlight of the trip.
For many of these pilgrims, the trip began with a visit to Rome. They joined for a dinner at the Taverna Angelica, in the heart of Rome, also joined by Cardinal Harvey and Bishop Checchio. The group enjoyed a vibrant and traditional Italian meal as a wonderful way to kickstart their experience in Italy. Soon after, the Pontifical North American College hosted a special event where they mingled with friends abroad, including several prelates and seminarians. Finally, just before the Experience began in Malta, the Napa Institute hosted a private Mass and dinner for both the Experience pilgrims as well as several other friends of the Napa Institute. A highlight of this special event was the presence of the famous Cardinal Pell who celebrated this Mass along with Cardinal Harvey, Archbishop Aquila and several priests.
Energized by their time in Rome, the pilgrims began the Experience in Malta where they were greeted by their other fellow pilgrims for lunch and a presentation on the rich history of Malta by Dr. Andrew Abela, who is a native of Malta. Following the introductory presentation and throughout the rest of the week, participants had several opportunities to learn about the history of Malta and encounter holy sites firsthand, such as the Grotto of St. Paul, where the Apostle stayed during his time in Malta, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, and the famous Caravaggio paintings it holds, The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, and St. Jerome Writing as well as several crucial sites for the Knights of Malta. Combined with its stunning views and ornate, centuries-old architecture, encountering the roots of the faith sparked new life in the hearts of these pilgrims. It was quite the spectacle to see that though we live in the year 2022, our faith is as timeless as ever.
It goes without saying that the goal of the Napa Institute Experiences is to provide attendees with a memorable pilgrimage centered around the heart of the Catholic faith. Not a single daily Mass was missed. Spiritual direction is provided. Morning and evening prayer is said each day. Rosaries and chaplets are prayed on bus rides in between new destinations. A particularly memorable private Mass was held for the Napa Institute pilgrims at St. Paul’s Cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Galea Curmi, just a short walk from St. Paul’s grotto.
The rejuvenation of the body occurred in tandem with the rejuvenation of the soul. Malta had a wonderful array of cuisine to be explored at several iconic locations, including: 59 Republic in Valletta, Alka in Qrendi, and the Michelin-starred restaurant De-Mondion overlooking the Mediterranean in the heart of Mdina. These meals are sure to be remembered forever, just like the warm hospitality of the small, family-owned restaurants. The Napa Institute Experience provides excellent community, but also total immersion in the sacramental life. Confessions are readily available. The opportunity to live and tour the heart and footsteps of St. Paul. One can only help but wonder about the depths of his famous conversion as they tour the very heart of where he began to evangelize.
The time in Malta closed with a dinner at the historic Villa Bighi. Notable guest George Vella, the current President of Malta, joined the Napa Institute pilgrims, as well as many local business leaders.
After a fantastic farewell dinner, pilgrims packed up and headed for Sicily. Their time began with a tour of the Catacombs of St. John, the burial place for many of the earliest Christians, and visited several churches dedicated to the martyrs of the early church in Sicily, most notably Saints Lucy and Agatha. During their time in Sicily the group was able to visit several beautiful churches throughout different cities, including the Church of Sant’Agata al Carcere, which was built upon Saint Agatha’s prison cell.
Not only did the pilgrims experience the rich spiritual history of Sicily but they also enjoyed tasting the fruit of the land. These meals were unforgettable, just like the private wine tasting at the Feudo Maccari Winery in the city of Noto. Pilgrims tasted several Sicilian wines, all produced from locally grown vineyards.
The pilgrims took full advantage of their time in Sicily and soaked up its beauty. Walking tours were the best way to do so. A walking tour though Ortigia in Syracuse was a wonderful highlight, where the pilgrims began with a visit to Santa Lucia alla Badia Church and visited several other churches on their way, ending at the Tempio di Apollo. Another highlight was a tour of the city of Noto, which focused on the different facades of the church architecture. After spending days in Sicily and immersing themselves in the sacraments and scenery, the pilgrims’ time closed after a farewell dinner in Syracuse.
Though many of the participants journeyed back to the States after day nine, eleven pilgrims chose to extend their stay to see more of Sicily. These attendees visited several Sicilian cities, including the capital of the island, the city of Palermo. This portion of the trip included a visit to the famous Monreale Cathedral, in the city of Monreale, which according to Sicilian locals, claims to be the most beautiful church in the world. It is preserved almost exactly as it was built in 1100 AD.
Through this Napa Institute Experience these pilgrims were strengthened in their faith through the riveting examples of the saints in Malta and Sicily. The saints’ legacy truly came alive to the pilgrims by walking in their saintly footsteps and encountering the effects of their sanctity on their home communities. As the pilgrims move on to their daily lives nourished by this experience, they can look forward to another opportunity to walk with the saints during the next Napa Institute Experience, this one held in Eastern Europe this upcoming September. Those who come to Eastern Europe for this Experience will visit the cities of Vienna, Prague and Budapest. Here they will have the opportunity to discover the history and traditions of these regions and reflect on the lives of their saints, including Wenceslaus, King Stephen of Hungary, and Blessed Karl of Austria. They will also enjoy a river cruise on the Danube, several private tours of churches and museums – all while having countless opportunities to grow in their faith through the very sacraments and life that made these nations’ greatest saints. Click the link here for more on the Napa Institute Experience Eastern Europe.
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