The Poiriers meander down the old streets of the medieval town of Trojir, Croatia.
VANCOUVER – This summer my husband Gary and I got to make an extensive driving trip throughout Europe with his brother and sister-in-law Craig and Marcia and their four children.
As I recall this trip now, it's not the beaches and the marketplaces that bring a smile to my face. It's sitting in prayer together at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, lighting candles with the kids for the family at home. It's waiting for a ticket for an elevator ride to the Eiffel Tower and praying a rosary together, with Madelyn, age seven, proudly announcing the mysteries.
It's watching Claire, Luke and Madelyn walk up the stairs to see St. Vincent de Paul, stand before the incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure in Paris, and pray at their tombs.
The incorrupt bodies, of course, led to discussions of relics. The seven- and 10-year-olds hadn't heard about them before and had a typical excited fascination about them. Every time they had a chance they would ask, "is that a first-, second-, or third-class relic?"
After a day of discussions about relics I said to Madelyn, "You, my dear, are a precious relic, absolutely first class, made by God for some special saintly task," or something to that effect, which ended the relic discussions for a while.
Another grace: attending Mass at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the foot of the town of Assisi with a few of the children. Although the Mass was in Italian, they had no trouble, spending time in the little church that St. Francis himself built shortly after his conversion.
Ten-year old Luke went to Confession at the basilica and suggested to me that I should go as well, because of the Portiuncula indulgence.
In Rome they all learned the phrase "Silenzio, no photo!" It became a phrase often repeated in the car, or when someone was being a little noisy.
St. Peter's was one of my favourite spots in Rome. The basilica became a vessel for grace as we walked into the church, holding the hands of two of the children, and looking at them, looking up, up, up and then through the enormous expanse. I enjoyed pointing out the Creation of Man by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel.
Claire and I spent some alone time together next to the Blessed Sacrament in St. Peter's, where we prayed a rosary and then a Litany to St. Joseph for her future husband. Claire is only 12, but when that special man proposes to her one day, she can be reminded of the day and place that she prayed for him.
Luke and Madelyn pause in the shade of the Seventh Station of the Cross at Medjugorje.
Marcia, the children's mother, took some quiet time for herself the first few days in Rome to participate in 7 a.m. Mass at St. Peter's. I followed suit after that, and recommend that special quiet time for anyone who has the opportunity. The basilica is not crowded in the morning, and there is a beautiful reverence about the place not easily found later in the day.
In Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, climbing Krizevac (Cross) Mountain was a special time for Luke and his uncle Gary. The smallest of the group, four-year-old Kolbe, announced to everyone that we were going to see Mother Mary. That came as a bit of a surprise to all of us.
While in Medjugorje, we met a lovely man, Patrick Latta, originally from the Lower Mainland. After a conversion experience, he moved to Medjugorje and built a lovely castle for offering free lodgings to travelling priests.
Patrick suggested to Luke that one day Luke could stay with him, when he becomes a priest. My nephew told him that's exactly what he was thinking about one day.
Patrick kindly gave him a specially blessed rosary. It was one of the highlights of Luke's trip.
Later that evening, after the outdoor Mass, "Momma Marcia" was thinking it would be nice to have a rosary of her own to pray with her daughters before we returned to our pensione. As we had sat on the grass during Mass, Madelyn had taken little pebbles and created a perfect rosary.
As Marcia looked down and saw it, tears came to her eyes. It was one of the sweetest rosaries we prayed together throughout the trip.
There were so many moments of grace and of sweetness. I learned that sometimes we expect too little from our children, not too much. The spiritual aspects of our holiday together taught me how much our children can benefit from visiting and praying at these holy places. It also revealed how children can teach adults about prayer and piety.
Since then, I've made a promise to myself to offer my time, treasure and talents to be there for Craig and Marcia, when it comes to helping them invite Jesus into the lives of their children.
As Marcia gently reminded me, there are many local opportunities as well, such as visiting Westminster Abbey, attending ordinations of priests, going on the Marian pilgrimage to Mission in August, or a weekend trip to the Chapel of Mary in Oregon.
We don't have to fly to Italy to have these moments. Last weekend, Luke and I visited the abbey together. You couldn't wipe the smile off his face when he met one of the seminarians.