Whenever people ask my opinion of where to go on their first pilgrimage, I always recommend the Holy Land, followed by Italy. The Holy Land gives us the spiritual and experiential context to better understand Jesus Christ and his mission on earth. In Italy, Vatican City — completely surrounded by Rome — is the world headquarters of the Church where the pope (the successor to the St. Peter, who was the first pope) resides and works.
St. Peter’s Basilica is both a beautiful and imposing building to behold. When possible, a pilgrimage to Rome should include Mass in the basilica, sometimes at the tomb of St. Peter. I know nothing about art, but when I entered the Sistine Chapel and gazed upward, time stood still.
The art is breathtaking — and so powerful that its images traverse through the eyes to the brain and into the heart. I had goose bumps thinking that the relics of our first pope lie nearby in the lower level of the basilica. The pilgrimage to Italy usually includes a visit to Assisi to see the places where one of our great reformers, St. Francis, listened to God’s call to serve him totally. He left a ministry that is still profoundly affecting the Catholic faithful.