A local church group spent this year's Thanksgiving pushing the limit of holiday travel by flying halfway across the globe.
Father Timothy Grassi, parents and teens from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Thomas left Washington, D.C. in a plane on Nov. 17 and made their way to Rome. They remained in the city until Nov. 23 and walked to several churches and historical sites during their stay.
"It was sensory overload," Grassi said, summing up the entire trip.
Members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church, in Thomas, stand in the Piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Pictured kneeling are, from left, Kathy Nichols, Diane Rader, Kevin McDermott and Father Grassi. Pictured standing are, from left, Dominic Salamida III, Nathaniel Rader, Seth Rader, Emily Siler, Elizabeth Nichols, Ian Nichols, Summer Snyder, Brittiny Snyder, Gabe Salamida, Barbara Quattro, Dominic Salamida II, Rita Johnson, Miranda Siler, Robert D’Aurora, Abbey Eye, Lukas Thompson, Meredith Magness, Ashley Shreve, John Cook and Maria Salamida.
Grassi said the excitement began immediately after the group's arrival.
"(We went) right to the Vatican, the first day," he said.
Each consecutive day began by waking up and taking a bus to the outskirts of the city, he said. The group would go to the farthest northern point, for instance, and walk back in the direction of their hotel.
They started in different locations each day. Along the way, Grassi said, parents and students would stop to look at churches and other notable structures. They also attended mass at several points along their journeys.
Two major historical locations they toured were the Coliseum and the Pantheon.
There are four major basilicas, or churches, the group visited, Grassi said. St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John Lateran are located in Rome, Grassi said, and St. Peter's is located in Vatican City. Each basilica was visited by the group on a different day, he said.
Next to St. John Lateran is the Scala Sancta, a staircase that led up to Pontius Pilate's praetoreum. Grassi said the group climbed up the stairs and prayed with a rosary while on each step.
"Hands down, that was the most powerful experience of the trip," Grassi said.
Every day, the kids were asked to meditate on two questions: Where did I see God? How did I respond to him?
Several kids, Grassi said, mentioned the Scala Sancta as being one of the most impressive locations for witnessing God.
He said a tour was taken of the catecombs beneath St. Peter's Basilica, which is where the bones of St. Peter are kept.
"Very few people get to see it each week," he said.
Grassi explained the process of how the tour is conducted.
"A seminarian leads the tour and describes how they know that these are the bones of St. Peter," he said.
The gentleman who led the group's tour, Grassi said, was studying in England to become a priest.
The group also saw the Pope as part of a group receiving his blessing, and were witness to the Swiss guards that protect him.
"The guards stand at complete attention," Grassi said. "The kids were very impressed."
Grassi said all the kids were impacted by the trip.
"A couple of the boys were thinking about the priesthood," he said. "(This trip) may have motivated them further."
Kathy Nichols, Diane Rader, Kevin McDermott, Dominic Salamida III, Nathaniel Rader, Seth Rader, Emily Siler, Elizabeth Nichols, Ian Nichols, Summer Snyder, Brittiny Snyder, Gabe Salamida, Barbara Quattro, Dominic Salamida II, Rita Johnson, Miranda Siler, Robert D'Aurora, Abbey Eye, Lukas Thompson, Meredith Magness, Ashley Shreve, John Cook and Maria Salamida joined Grassi on the trip.
Contact Casey Houser by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.