02 Aug 2017 St Pio Relay for Pro-Life!
Enjoy this awesome recap of the pilgrimage, All In Christ for Pro-Life! The Relay portion was completed over two days with 5K run/walk legs covering the 82 miles from St. Pio’s birthplace of Pietrelcina to his ministry home of San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy (see schedule).
This inaugural St. Padre Pio Relay for Pro-Life took place Jun 16-19, 2017 in Italy with 10 LIFE Runners participating in this pilgrimage hosted by the Saint Pio Foundation in partnership with LIFE Runners. Lots of Relay photos here. St. Padre Pio is the patron saint of LIFE Runners, inspired by an encounter that our founder, Dr. Pat Castle, had with St. Pio near the finish line of the 2006 Pikes Peak Ascent.
The pilgrimage began with a scenic 2-hour drive from Rome to St. Pio’s birthplace, Pietrelcina. There we were greeted by Luciano Lamonarca, president of the Saint Pio Foundation and our host for the pilgrimage. We enjoyed an authentic Italian lunch, one of the many extraordinary meals experienced during the 4 days we were hosted by the foundation. Luciano, who is also an accomplished tenor, ended the meal by serenading the group of LIFE Runners. This gave us renewed energy to spend the rest of the day following in the footsteps of St. Pio and visiting notable places such as his childhood home, family farm at Piana Romana, the area where he received the first sign of Jesus Christ’s passion, and the Padre Pio museum. The 5XL LIFE Runners jersey fit nicely on a St. Pio statue, as we were unable to get it on the Rocky statue at the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon, apparently it was meant for a different “Italian Stallion.”
The 82-mile relay from Pietrelcina to St. Pio’s ministry home of San Giovanni Rotondo, began with a team huddle and cheer, a blessing from a Capuchin priest from the Church of the Holy Family in downtown Pietrelcina, well wishes from the mayor and a police escort for the first leg out of town. Walkers and runners took turns covering 5K legs of the relay through the Italian villages and hills wearing our “REMEMBER The Unborn – Jer 1:5” jerseys and praying for the intentions of LIFE Runners all over the world. After a hot and tiring, but gratifying day covering approximately 50 miles of the relay, the last leg of the day ended in Foggia late afternoon. That evening we celebrated Mass at our hotel with Fr. Joe Coffey, our LIFE Runner priest whom we were blessed to have with us on this pilgrimage, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. Our day ended with another incredible meal as we shared our stories and experiences of the day with one another.
Sunday started off bright and early as the first team of runners took off just as the sun rose. The hills and winding roads became steeper and steeper as the miles accumulated and more prayers were offered up. As difficult as some of the miles were, the scenery, fellowship, and intentions of our teammates kept us joyfully running along together. As the relay came upon the outskirts of San Giovanni Rotondo, we all gathered together, prayed the LIFE Runners Creed before marching the last few miles through the town and into the square with a police escort. Fr. Joe, our spiritual shepherd, led the way as we chanted our LIFE Runners cheer, “All In Christ! For Pro-Life!” At the finish line we were greeted by San Giovanni Rotondo city officials and cheers from the other pilgrims in the square. We celebrated and wept in amazement at the sites before us, recollecting the miles we covered praying and running to spread the message of LIFE with St. Pio as our spiritual teammate.
After our celebration in the square we made our way to our hotel, Centro di Spiritualita Padre Pio, for lunch and to rest a while. We then drove an hour over to Monte Sant’Angelo where we toured the Abbey of Pulsano, with incredible views of hermitage ruins and the Bay of Manfredonia. We prayed at its Romanesque church backed in to a cave. Elyse, one of our young pilgrims with us, lit a candle there for her dad Doug, who was able to attend the pilgrimage because of a motorcycle accident. Doug sent us literature on St. Pio and encouraged us to prepare our hearts for the journey. We then made our way to the Sanctuary of St. Michael, a sacred cave and an important pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages. It was here that the Archangel Michael appeared 3 different times and consecrated the shrine himself. We were blessed to attend Mass while we were there. After another delicious meal, we returned to the hotel and gathered together in one of the hotel chapels to say evening prayers with Fr. Joe, as we did many times during our pilgrimage.
We were up early the next day to attend Mass at the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church and then meet our tour guide. We were shown the many places and things Padre Pio experienced during his ministry years at San Giovanni Rotondo – his room, his confessional, the crucifix from which he received the stigmata, nearly everything he owned, and then ended the tour at the crypt of St. Pio where we prayed for the intentions of our LIFE Runner teammates and asked St. Pio for his intercession. We went back to our hotel after such an extraordinary morning and had our final meal with Luciano, who again sang to us and the patrons eating lunch in the large hotel restaurant after he shared with them about our relay from Pietrelcina. We boarded the van for our 5-hour drive back to Rome. Little did we realize that this time would be spent sharing our individual journeys to the LIFE Runners team and we were also treated with the detailed story of Pat’s spiritual encounter with St. Pio on the mountain top in Colorado 11 years prior which made the whole pilgrimage even more meaningful than it already was. As has happened many times before, when LIFE Runners gather together there seems to be some sort of impromptu retreat experience involved! When we arrived in Rome, we had to say goodbye to our driver, Gerardo. By the end of our time with him he was telling others, “My team! My team!” We huddled together, prayed over Gerardo, and thanked him for delivering us safely to all our destinations. He had tears in his eyes as he left the hotel parking lot, and they will know we are Christians by our love.
In Rome the next day we toured St. Peter’s Basilica, visited the Colosseum, the Spanish steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon among many other sites and wonders of Rome. While at St. Peter’s, we were thrilled to find out that Fr. Joe would be able to celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, definitely one of the highlights of the trip. On the way back to our hotel from dinner that night we were stopped on the street by a priest who saw our jerseys and asked, “Are you really LIFE Runners??” We told him why we were in Italy and he said he had been following our relay! He then told us he was also a LIFE Runner and had just run the Rome Marathon wearing his LIFE Runners jersey! He shared that he was from Sioux Falls, SD which is Pat’s hometown. Coincidence? We think NOT!
The next morning we rented a car and drove the 2 hours to Assisi, home of the 13th Century saints, St. Francis and St. Clare. We toured the Basilica of St. Francis and prayed at his tomb, visited the Basilica of St. Clare where the Crucifix of San Damiano hangs and before which St. Francis prayed and heard a voice say, “Go and rebuild my house,” and the church that sits atop St. Francis’s home, Chiesa Nuova. After lunch we drove to the top of Assisi to see the castle that looks out to the surrounding area. After driving a ways we somehow never found the castle but spotted a pasture with some donkeys so we decided to get out and enjoy the breathtaking view from the top of the mountain. Realizing we had some apples with us we got the donkeys to come to the fence and started petting and feeding them—a true St. Francis moment!! As we were petting the donkeys a car stopped and a father and his special needs adult son got out and came over to pet the donkeys. The son was so thrilled and that made the “St. Francis moment” even more special! We made our way back down the mountain and went to St. Mary of the Angels, the Basilica which is famous for housing the “Porziuncola”, the tiny stone church which was the place St. Francis founded the Franciscan order. We arrived there just in time for evening Mass, which wasn’t even planned…at least not by us!! On our way back to Rome we prayed the Liturgy of the Hours with Fr. Joe and quietly and reflectively thought about all we had experienced up to this point.
Our last day in Rome was spent touring the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Mary Major and the Crypts and Catacombs and just walking the streets of Rome, taking in as much as we could knowing this was our last day there. Before we had left the hotel that morning we packed the snacks from the relay in our backpacks, remembering all the homeless people we had seen our first day in Rome. As often as we could we would stop and talk with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and offer a smile, a snack, a sandwich, a hug, whatever we could to let them know we cared. As beautiful and magnificent as some of the structures and churches were in Rome, encountering the homeless on the street was something we, as pilgrims, would always remember. Our LIFE Runners Creed states, “We believe in the dignity of ALL human life from conception to natural death,” and that includes the innocent life in the womb, the woman in a crisis pregnancy, the broken families affected by the tragedy of abortion, the abortion worker, the homeless and forgotten in the streets, the dying in the final stages of their earthly life.
We had our last meal together that evening reminiscing about our experiences from the week and giving thanks for all that we were blessed with during this pilgrimage. We pray that we were a sign of hope, healing and love to all those we encountered whether it be in the airport, running through the towns and villages in Italy, talking with our tour guides, negotiating with hotel personnel, sharing food with a stranger, but most importantly, spreading the Pro-Life message to the world. St. Padre Pio, patron of our LIFE Runners Team, please pray us forward, All In Christ for Pro-Life!