Their itinerary was impressive, with stops in Venice, Padua, Florence, Assisi and Rome. But what made this tour of Italy so memorable were the many visits to churches and basilicas in these historic cities, and especially the chance to celebrate private Masses.

The famous canals of Venice (photos by John Geroux)

Earlier this month, Fr. Robert M. Egan, CSV, Superior General, and Fr. Richard Rinn, CSV, led a group made up mostly of parishioners of St. Viator Catholic Community in Las Vegas, on a pilgrimage to Italy. Fr. Egan and Fr. Rinn have led many tours together, including throughout Ireland last year and to the Holy Land back in 2019, before the pandemic, but this one took them to step inside of some of the most famous churches in the world.

“Just seeing a church built 800 years ago — and the faith that built it — was very impressive,” said Fr. Rinn, pastor of St. Viator Parish. “These experiences can deepen your faith.”

Their trip started in the historic city of Venice, where beyond experiencing a ride in its iconic gondolas, they visited St. Mark’s Basilica. There, they observed its Byzantine influence reflected in its art and symbols, including in its 43,000 square feet of gold mosaics.

“It is always amazing for me to see the different cultures influencing our church,” Fr. Rinn said.

Fr. Egan distributes communion at the Basilica of St. Francis.

From Venice, the group traveled to Padua, where they saw St. Anthony’s Basilica, whose architecture reflects Romanesque and Byzantine elements, with Gothic features added later. Like St. Mark’s, the basilica is filled with rich mosaics and statues, and also contains important images of the Madonna.

Once they reached Florence, they toured the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, with its historic dome, or del Duomo, which has become the symbol of Florence and of Renaissance culture. When they reached Assisi, and climbed its many flights of steps, Fr. Egan and Fr. Rinn celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis.

Rome was their final destination. There, the group toured its four major churches: St. John Lateran, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. However it was at St. Peter’s where they group was able to celebrate Mass in one of its small chapels located underneath the Vatican.

Entrance to the Chapel of St. Peter

“It turned out to be the Chapel of St. Peter, which is situated above the tomb of St. Peter,” Fr. Egan says.

Those who went said it was a moving experience, to celebrate Mass in this intimate chapel, beneath the Vatican, that is steeped in the history of Catholicism.

“It was beautiful, the highlight of the trip,” said John Geroux.

Fr. Rinn agreed, adding: “It was special to visit the tomb of Pope John XII.”

Fr. Richard Rinn and Fr. Mick Egan concelebrate Mass.

Both Fr. Rinn and Fr. Egan had been to Italy, and in particular, Rome, many times, but to see its historic sites — and churches — with parishioners fulfilled one of the main tenets of the Viatorian mission, which is” to build up communities where faith is lived, deepened and celebrated.”