The Archdiocese of Birmingham Discernment Pilgrimage to Synod 2018 in Rome has taken place.

It was jointly organised by the Diocesan Vocations Office and Kenelm Youth Trust (KYT).

"I felt I understood the lives and struggles of these early Christians more than ever"

From Mo:

"On the Saturday of our Pilgrimage we once again had the privilege of being joined by Sister Emanuella. We began the day bright and early to fittingly explore the lives of the early Christians, starting at The St. John Lateran... the very first Christian Church in the world!

“In the Lateran we were guided by Sister Emanuella (a true expert in art and faith) through the architecture, art and symbolism that lies within. Being in Church 1.0, I had many questions in mind - How did they build it? Why did they build it? And what did they base it on?

“Sister Emanuella answered these important questions by guiding us through the lives of Jesus' 12 apostles, using the 12 epic statues that surround the sanctuary. The depth of thought, symbolism and precision of the original Church made many things I had spotted in Churches back home fall into place for the first time.

“We would talk about how they gave their lives to keep the faith, and how the small group, through much persecution and struggle, grew it to the international Catholic Church that we know today.

“In this sacred place I felt I understood the lives and struggles of these early Christians more than ever, and a new sense of pride and dedication to my faith was allowed to blossom - if these guys can go through so much to do what God has called them for, then I truly have no excuse!

“Sister Emanuella's passion and love for her vocation is clear through every word she speaks. A truly inspiring woman, she carries herself with a zeal and joy in Christ that puts your doubts and anxieties to rest with the blessing of truth in a unique and immensely powerful way.

“We continued our walk with the apostles as she took us to Tre Fontane, the site of the imprisonment and martyrdom of St Paul. Standing outside the cell in which he wrote some of the most famous and important words ever written, and walking in silence the same walk that he made to his death was a ridiculously powerful moment, able to reduce some of us to tears of sorrow for his killing, and joy for his dedication to God's work.

“We then had the extremely rare privilege of venerating the column on which he was beheaded. Sister Emanuella seems somewhat of a celebrity in Rome, and so this wasn't the only 'access all areas' moment of the week, but for me, definitely the most powerful. I got to go right up to the column, inside it's protective cage, and rest my head right where Paul rested his head for the final time to pay the ultimate sacrifice and give the world the miracle of Tre Fontane, three springs that erupted as his head hit the ground. Being right there, in the same spot, I felt a deep connection from my heart to Paul's and I prayed that we may have the courage and faith to walk with God as strongly as he did that day.

“A short trip across the street we came to the place of most significance to Sister Emanuella. The place of a miracle of Our Lady, where her order was formed.

"Sister Emanuella told us her own inspiring testimony to vocation in religious life, with her usual strength, joy and zeal, followed by the story of the miracle of 'The Virgin of Revelation'.

“Usually when thinking of Mary, I picture her as peaceful and somewhat quiet (I now recognise my fault in this), but this appearance of Our Lady is no such story. This is an epic miracle of the power that the Queen of the universe has...

“It's a story of plot against the Pope from a violent and rage filled man and the stern and outspoken Mary who put him into place and brought about his conversion to truth. It's an amazing story that I won't do justice here, so go find out more about it!

“But Sister Emanuella's strength, influence and zeal made more sense than ever now. She is truly following on the path of this side of Our Lady's character, and it was so inspiring to see a woman of God living in the vocation that she was so clearly created for. Her testimony and example made me realise, deeper than ever, in my own discernment that there is a plan for each of us, and we are made to do it perfectly with strength, joy and zeal.

“In her own words ‘God has a project for you, it won't be easy, but it is a truly great project’.

“On Sunday, we were unexpectedly given tickets to attend the closing Mass of the Youth Synod with Pope Francis.

“We arrived two-and-a-half hours early to ensure that we would get seats inside St. Peter's Basilica - the sunshine which we had been treated to for the majority of the week until this point had vanished and been replaced by intense thunder and lightning!

“Mass was incredible - the different elements of the Mass were celebrated in various languages and focused on the call to vocation especially for young people.

“The privilege of being able to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis was not lost on any of us. It was a truly incredible experience.

“After eating lunch together after Mass, we all slowly started to make our way back to the airport and onto various planes bound for the UK (or the USA in the case of Jimmy Mitchel!)

“When on the plane, our pilot informed us that the ground temperature in the UK was 3'C - a full 19'C less than we'd been used to all week.

“But with the plane taking off, there was no option to turn back and two-and-a-half hours later we were back in (freezing) Birmingham.”

"We were able to venerate the pillar upon which St. Paul was beheaded"

From Megan Cox, Youth Development Worker:

“On Saturday we met with Sister Emmanuella again and visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Tre Fontane (the place where it is believed that St. Paul was imprisoned and beheaded), a shrine to Our Lady of Divine Revelation and a visit to the Basilica of St. Paul's outside the walls.

“Sister Emmanuella is an incredible tour guide. As well as being incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about the history of early Rome and Christianity, she is able to get you in to some behind the scenes areas of different Basilica’s and historical monuments.

“For example, at Tre Fontane, we were able to venerate the pillar upon which St. Paul was beheaded- the pillar is usually locked behind bars and the public can ordinarily only see it from a distance.

“The Church warden was very interested in our discernment pilgrimage for young people and was incredibly kind and hospitable to us.

“After another busy day at these amazing places, we were once more invited back to the Venerable English College for a round-up of our experiences of the trip on our final night together and also a Holy Hour and Reconciliation in the beautiful and historical setting of the VEC chapel.”

"Seeing all these relics today has really helped me grow stronger in my faith"

This is from Dom, a young man who is currently serving on the Alton Castle Mission Team:

"Today we started with Mass at the Basilica of St Mary Maggiore.

“This was also where we got to venerate what is thought to be the crib that Joseph built for Jesus. I spent a few minutes praying at this crib. This was a very special moment for me because I didn't realise that these old relics of Jesus were around anymore.

“After visiting this we then went and visited the Steps of which Jesus walked down after being sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate.

“We had to kneel all the way up as a sign of respect and prayer, when we got to the top we spent some time in the Chapel praying for personal intentions.

“After this we then visited the relics of what is believed to be some of the remnants of the true cross.

“This was truly amazing as I had no idea these still really existed.

“The relics included pieces of the cross, one of the nails used to nail Jesus to the cross, two thorns used in Jesus's crown of thorns and St Thomas's finger which felt the wounds in the body of the risen Christ.

“Having some time for personal prayer before these relics was one of the highlights of my Pilgrimage so far.

“As a young Catholic seeing all these relics today has really helped me grow stronger in my faith, and I have learnt how these artefacts can help us to focus our prayer more fully.

“Today we also visited the North American College and were given a tour and listened to testimony from Deacon Luke and Deacon Rhodes about their journey of discernment, and living out their vocations as seminarians and how they are preparing to become priests next year.

“They joined us for dinner and were so welcoming, open and friendly to their English cousins!

“After our time at the NAC we had holy hour in a local parish church run by Franciscans who were extremely friendly and it turned out were originally from New York.

“Our new Franciscan friends translated the prayers used in holy hour from Italian to English for us.

“Tonight, there has been a strike on public transport in Rome which has been a little interesting but has just meant that through our (extended) adventures around the capital this evening, we have become closer as a group.”

"We took time to pray for Joy in our vocation"

This is from Becky:

"As part of the Synod discernment retreat we spent a ‘day with the saints’. Making our way through the streets of Rome we visited many beautiful churches, not only to appreciate the artwork and incredible architecture but we took time to learn about the different saints that the chapels are dedicated to and contain the relics of.

"We took time to pray for Joy in our vocation by the tomb of St Phillip Neri, pray for mercy by the painting by Carrvagio of St Matthew, pray for spiritual boldness with St Catherine of Siena, pray for purity by the relics of St Agnes and for discernment with St Ignatius.

"To top it we spent time in the VEC with one of the seminarians called Marco, who recently did a placement at the diocesan retreat centres Alton Castle and Soli in Staffordshire.

"He gave us a tour and spoke eloquently on the 44 martyrs who were trained at the college.

"We also joined fellow seminarians for a holy hour praying for our vocation especially, our relationship with our Father and acceptance of his call for us.

"The day has allowed us to be inspired by the saints of past and has given us hope in looking forward to not only following the call God has for us, but one day joining them as saints ourselves."

A celebrity walks in

Megan Cox, Youth Development Worker, added: "We were eating dinner in a restaurant not too far from the Vatican where we were discussing how the Synod was in the final stages and the report from the Bishops would soon be published.

"In walked Bishop Robert Barron, one of the Bishops who is involved in the Synod and quite the Catholic celebrity - he spoke at Adoremus last month!

"He was really pleased to see such active and faith filled young people on pilgrimage to Rome during the time of the Synod."

Photo Gallery

Synod 2018, Rome