Get ready to pack your bags for France

Sunday, January 08, 2017 - Updated: 3:00 am
By William Cone Editor

Paris, Normandy and the Christian shrines of France. They await all who sign up for an unforgettable 10-day pilgrimage in October, sponsored by the Pittsburgh Catholic.

Bishop David Zubik will be your spiritual guide Oct. 1-10 as you explore the wide assortment of sites that make up the historic nation of France.

"Our itinerary is full of exciting ventures," the bishop’s invitational letter said, "including our visits to Paray le Monial, known as the City of the Eucharist, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Mont Saint-Michel, St. Bernadette’s resting place at Nevers, Paris, the City of Lights, and Normandy, where we will celebrate Mass at the D-Day memorial."

Father Joseph Mele, diocesan secretary for leadership development and evangelization, said his journey to France in fall 2014 "was a lifelong dream pilgrimage for me."

The travel plans, arranged by Unitours Inc., will feature arrival in Paris and stops in:

• Lisieux, the home of St. Therese, and Mass at the basilica named for her;

• Caen, a key site during World War II;

• The palace of Versailles;

• Chartres, a former pagan sanctuary that was evangelized in the fourth century and became a pilgrimage site in 876. Its 13th-century cathedral has more than 4,000 sculpted figures and 5,000 figures in stained-glass windows;

• Nevers and the convent of St. Gildard, where the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette Soubirous is kept in a glass reliquary, and the Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Margaret Mary Alacoque;

• Ars, village of St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests;

• Annecy, a picturesque small town with the Basilica of the Visitation and tombs of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Chantal.

Father Mele said he expected the highlight of his pilgrimage to be the visit to Ars, but it was actually the time in Annecy.

"It was there that I realized how all of the pilgrimage came together in the sense that we had visited saints who were members of the laity, some were bishops and priests, others were women and men religious, and a deacon also, but they all worked together in the vineyard to help Jesus bring healing and restoration to a wounded world," he said. "That was an incredible moment for me as I knelt in front of the tombs of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantel.

"The French saints shaped much of the American experience of Catholic spirituality," Father Mele said. "So many of them founded many of the communities of the religious who taught in the elementary and high schools that Catholic children in our nation attended in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. We all grew up learning the stories of these wonderful French saints."

Two nights will be spent in the bustling city of Paris, where the pilgrims will visit the basilica of Sacre Coeur at Montmartre, the highest point in Paris; enjoy an afternoon to explore on your own; tour the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, where Mary appeared to St. Catherine Laboure and gave her instructions to make the Miraculous Medal; and the tomb of St. Vincent de Paul at the Church of St. Lazare.

Along the way, the visitors will see the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and the famous Champs-Elysees.

"Paris is everything anyone imagines it to be," Father Mele said. "No wonder there are so many songs about Paris. There is so much to see, and the history is magnificent. People will have so much fun doing everything there is to do in France, and there is so much to take in. It is all wonderful.

"Visiting all the holy places on this pilgrimage will restore the original affection and joy that everyone felt in the beginning when we first came to hear about Christ and his saints and fell in love," he said. "The pilgrims will not want to stop thinking about Christ, longing for him, aspiring to become like him. Their hearts will literally be made like his heart, on fire with love for him and the world he desires to continue to redeem."

Overnight stays are set for Caen, Paris, Nevers, Ars and Annecy. The journey back to Pittsburgh will start at the international airport in Geneva, Switzerland. All items on the itinerary are subject to change.

"I look forward to our time together in France, as we seek to learn more about our faith, celebrate Mass together and pray the many intentions we hold dear to our hearts, including those for our world, one another and our families," Bishop Zubik said.

An information session on the France pilgrimage is scheduled for March 25. For information, contact Belinda Held at Belinda@unitours.com.

To book your seat, call Marianna Pisano at 800-777-7432 or e-mail mpisano@unitours.com.

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