Nancy Bohte and her best friend Ellen Harrington have been traveling the world since they first met nearly 40 years ago, while teaching for the South Pasadena Unified School District.
But this week the retired high school teachers embarked on a special trip to Rome. Having visited the city before, this time they will see it with different eyes, they said, since they will be part of the historic canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
Traveling April 22-30 with other 50 pilgrims on a pilgrimage sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, both women “could not miss this opportunity.”
Harrington, a self-declared devout Lutheran, said one of the motivators for the trip is her “special respect and admiration for Pope Francis.” After helping establish the Advanced Placement Spanish program at SPUSD nearly 44 years ago, she taught history of most Spanish-speaking countries as part of the program, including Argentina, the pope’s home country.
The Vatican’s history, art and music make it appealing to the wider Christian community, she said, and “there’s no other denomination closer to the Catholic Church, than the Lutheran Church.” Her son converted to Catholicism a few years back, after marrying a devout Catholic.
For Bohte, the pilgrimage will be the culmination of her spiritual journey alongside Pope John Paul II.
“I felt drawn to it,” she said regarding her decision to go on the trip to Rome. For a few days she only considered the idea of joining the pilgrimage after reading the announcement in the bulletin at her home parish, St. Bede the Venerable (La Ca√±ada Flinthridge), whose pastor, Msgr. Antonio Cacciapuoti, is the pilgrimage’s spiritual director.
“And then I told myself, ‘What’s wrong with me? What an opportunity!’”
The former teacher, who has a major in home economics and a minor in geography, made certain adjustments to her budget to make ends meet and be ready for the trip a week after Holy Week. Then she invited her close friend Ellen, who did not hesitate a minute. “Any chance I have to go to Italy, I will grab it,” she told The Tidings in a phone interview.
Bohte has “felt drawn” to Pope John Paul II since 1987 when she was selected to join nearly fellow 50 parishioners who were bused to Dodger Stadium to participate in the Mass on Sept. 16 during the Polish pope’s visit to Los Angeles.
“To be in the crowd of thousands of people and feel a sense of calm was just a beautiful experience,” she recounted.
And when learning about the pope’s passing in April 2005, she “felt a strong urgency, a calling, to go down to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to mourn him” together with thousands of faithful followers.
Patrick Kellogg felt that same urgency when he learned about the canonization pilgrimage he is taking with his wife Elizabeth.
In 1987 he was one of the 1,400 choir members selected from parishes in the archdiocese to sing during the papal Masses at Dodger Stadium and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“It was a very exciting moment,” said the retired real estate appraiser and St. Augustine (Culver City) parishioner. The 1,400 singers rehearsed for six weeks at Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, and at the Coliseum he was about 50 feet away from the pope, close enough “to feel his magnetizing power.”
When asked why he decided on going on the pilgrimage, Kellogg replied, “It seemed appropriate; it’s the final marker for John Paul II.” It is also his first trip outside the United States with his wife of nearly two years.
And what are they expecting? “We want to feel the power of the Church in the modern day,” said Kellogg.
That is exactly what Msgr. Cacciapuoti, from Naples, wants to achieve. He was key in planning the itinerary, which starts with a visit to the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli, home of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which gave the name to the city of Los Angeles (California). A stone from the church is kept underneath the altar of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The Basilica in Assisi houses the Porziuncola, a tiny church built by St. Francis (from whom Pope Francis took his name) and his followers.
“I think Assisi is the Mecca for people searching for meaning in their lives, for learning about inner peace and love and respect for creation, the message of (Saint) Francis,” said Msgr. Cacciapuoti. “And yes, definitely, here in Los Angeles we have a connection with Assisi.”
He is “very impressed” that people chose to join the pilgrimage, “even though they know there’s no tickets to see the Holy Father.”
The historic canonization at St. Peter’s Square is expected to draw about three million people, the largest amount of pilgrims ever in the Vatican.
“Pilgrims will have to sacrifice, stay up all night and not be thinking they’ll be close to the altar,” said Msgr. Cacciapuoti, who has led smaller pilgrimages before. “But it’s important that we are there.”
During the pilgrimage the priest plans to talk to pilgrims about the holiness of St. Francis and two new saints, and “most importantly,” learn from the two popes “how we can be evangelizers, and grow in relationship with God and one another, focusing on the two popes’ lives and struggles. Because even when they were popes, they were human beings first.”
Msgr. Cacciapuoti said he will allow pilgrims to have “enough good time to spend with themselves,” in contemplation and prayer, the “main goal of a pilgrimage.”
The Tidings will be walking along the pilgrims April 22-30, as they journey through Assisi and Rome and witness the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Visit www.the-tidings.com, and check upcoming issues.