August 6, 2013 by Alex Johannigman
Here is the beginning of the story of my South American pilgrimage. I traveled with a group of 30 amazing young adult pilgrims, mostly from the DFW area, ranging from teenagers to a few in their late 30s and beyond. We were also accompanied by 3 religious, Father Jason, a diocesan priest, Father Orlando, a Dominican priest, and Brother Gabriel, a CFR deacon (Franciscan Friar) from New York City. Some of the entries will include dates, but later on many of them were written after returning from the pilgrimage since my days got busier and busier.
7/16, 7:30pm, JFK Airport, New York
After about a year of preparation, we have begun our pilgrimage! The journey technically began on Sunday as we were sent forth as a group at the 5pm mass at Mary Immaculate. But now after celebrating mass at Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, thanks to the chaplain, Father Chris, in JFK Airport, it feels like our pilgrimage has truly started now that all 33 of us have assembled. 32 of us, including Fr. Jason and Fr. Orlando, met at DFW airport this morning. Brother Gabriel, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal who leads worship at Catholic Underground here in New York, joined us before mass here in the airport. I was worried that the 8 hour layover would be awful, but I’ve really enjoyed the first half of it.
The first day has been an opportunity to meet my fellow pilgrims. While most of them feel like strangers now, many will hopefully become my closest friends by the end of the trip. Fr. Jason has already given Jeffrey and me the nickname “The Sons of Thunder,” presumably because we talk a lot and seem like brothers to him. The two of us prayed a rosary before the first flight took off asking God for safe travels. It really helped get me in the right mindset for this pilgrimage, and I hope we continue that practice before the rest of our flights if we’re able to sit next to each other again.
We’re now waiting for our midnight flight to Lima. Many of us, myself included, have written the names of all those we are praying for on the back of our banner during our down time. Several pilgrims are with me right now praying, reading, and writing in the chapel which is right between a Protestant chapel and a Jewish synagogue. It is a reminder to me that many people of many faiths find peace during their busy days working or traveling at the airport by coming to God through prayer. I was also reminded of this when we met two Jewish teenage girls from Chicago on their way to Israel to do some volunteer work and grow stronger in their faith. While riding the train between terminals, we shared our travel plans with them too and I realized how much we all have in common.
7/17, 7:45pm, Our hostel in Lima, Peru
We made it! Last night we took an overnight flight from NY to Lima after struggling to find dinner in the airport since nearly everything was closed late at night. Today so far has felt a lot like a typical day in my pilgrimage to Rome last year because we’ve visited church after church after church.
We began the day with a visit to the Sanctuary of Las Nazarenas, which is the home of a mural that miraculously survived an earthquake in 1746. We moved from there to the Church and Convent of Santo Domingo and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was a beautiful area full of art and history. It is also the tomb of the three great Peruvian saints, St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, and blessed Juan Macias.
Father Jason reminded us of a major difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim this afternoon. Many of us were getting so caught up in site-seeing that we were treating each church as simply a series of pictures to be taken. Fr. Jason encouraged us toreflect for a moment on the purpose of each painting, statue, and altar before we reach for our cameras. They are there to give glory to God, and so are we.
We continued to the Basilica of San Francisco and saw where the Franciscans of Lima worshiped, ate, and worked in community. Beneath it were the catacombs of Lima. While they were certainly not as large as the ones I saw in Rome, it was still a great experience for me.
That evening I explored the city with Jeffrey and Stephanie. We found an outdoor mall on the coast that had a lot of interesting shops, although most of them were closed or closing by the time we got there. Stephanie bought a beautiful scarf, Jeffrey and I played DDR in an arcade, and all three of us bought Argentinian chocolate. This was also the night that we were introduced to Inca Kola at dinner, which Jeffrey and I are big fans of. I think I’ll be drinking a lot of that stuff over the next few days.
7/18, Cuzco, Peru
Our first day in Cuzco featured more church and museum tours, much like what we did in Lima yesterday. The cathedral here is joined to two other churches, which are all across the street from a Jesuit church. 4 churches on the same block, crazy!
The high altitude definitely took some getting used to. After landing, Fr. Orlando suggested we try some coca leaves. Apparently they’re illegal in the States because they are used to make cocaine, but they’re great at alleviating altitude sickness and can be used to make some delicious tea. Even though we were exhausted by the end of the day, I didn’t feel sick at all. Truly a miraculous plant.
The tour ended with a Spanish mass. We are blessed to have two priests who both speak Spanish, so we had some Peruvians join us in our mass since it was in their language. After mass we effectively got kicked out of the main sanctuary by a group that had gathered at the church to pray the rosary together before we could consecrate ourselves for the day, so we had to do it in a side chapel. Did I mention that we’re nearing the end of St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary? It’s been an amazing experience, and we’re going to finish it in a few days at the largest Marian shrine in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida.
Pictures weren’t allowed in any of the Cuzco churches, which was actually great because it forced us to reflect, think, and pray at each site rather than just take lots of pictures. I was overwhelmed by the amount of gold and silver and most of the churches here. The Spaniards took all of the precious metals from the Incan temples when the colonized and converted them into use for Catholic churches. It was all pretty overwhelming.
That evening we went to San Antonio Restaurant and saw performances by a pan flute band, some traditional Incan dancers, and some more contemporary Latin dancers. I had no idea that a pan flute could ever be so exciting! The band had so much energy! The Incan dancers were all very silly and wore bright and colorful masks along with costumes with lots of feathers.
As we left the restaurant, we were surprised to be told by the restaurant that we needed to pay for all of the water we drank, which we had been told beforehand was included in the cost of our meal. It caused a lot of frustration, and was the first of several incidents where our group got in trouble with the locals because of simple miscommunication.
I’ll save those details for next time, when you get to hear about our run-in with the Peruvian police at Machu Picchu, and our trip to the Comunita Cenacolo Orphanage in the last part of our adventures in Peru.