We celebrated mass in one of St. Peter’s chapels at 8am this morning with Cardinal Raymond Burke, with Fr. Tim Nelson from Jackson, Michigan concelebrating. It was a beautiful experience to celebrate amidst the foundation stones of St. Peter’s Basilica, and as today happens to be the feast of Athanasius, it was memorable for that reason, too.

After walking the ten minutes or so across the Conciliazione to my hotel and cleaning up and packing up, I checked out and walked back past St. Peter’s Square toward our bus for San Giovanni Rotondo which was leaving by 10am. As I walked past the nearly-full square, I realized that Pope Francis’s Wednesday audience was happening. He was on the platform in front of the basilica, and featured on the screens as I walked by. The last I saw him in person was in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

Our scheduled five hour journey to San Giovanni Rotondo was going well until we were a bit more than an hour away, when we ran out of fuel. Our Italian driver spoke no English, and after using Google Translate I was able to suggest to him heading to a station a bit down the road. He hailed a passing car and departed, arriving back about an hour later with fuel. In the meantime, we were left not simply on the side of a highway, but on the shoulder of a significantly elevated portion of the highway, a bridge over a stream and farms. It was a new experience.

We finally arrived and checked into the Hotel Santa Maria della Grazie and shortly after freshening up we went to see the Ospedale Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza in person. San Giovanni Rotondo is a beautiful, mountainous town near the Adriatic coast, and the Casa was Padre Pio’s way to serve God by serving the sick and suffering. Its continued success and world-class status is an inspiration for hw to do Catholic healthcare well, and it was an honor to be able to visit.

Plenty has been said and written about Padre Pio. An anecdote featuring the novelist Graham Greene is probably my favorite in terms of conveying the strange depth of the man in a pithy way. After attending a mass celebrated by Padre Pio, Greene reflected that he had “introduced a doubt in my disbelief.”

We later had dinner at Masseria Calderoso, located down the mountain and outside of town. It’s part of the farm that produces everything from milk to olive oil for use at the Casa, and when we arrived a local wedding was still ongoing. At one point, a young woman came out to offer some scraps to the wild dogs lounging nearby, but they refused the gift.

A long and full and good day, impossible to capture in writing or through specific details. It will stay with me for a long time.

“A.D. 1792”