1 family. 3 generations. 16 pilgrims from 3 different countries reunite in Italy for 16 days. To pray together.


I wouldn’t exactly describe my family as being deeply religious. Although we practiced most catholic rituals while growing up (i.e. Mass on Sundays, visita iglesia and following the way of the cross during Holy Week, misa de gallo on Christmas Eve, grandma leading the rosary while barking out instructions to the cook – whuuut?!), I prefer to describe ourselves more as spiritually enlightened.

The last few years, however, have seen my parents going on at least three pilgrimage tours: two of them Marian (special places of pilgrimage associated with Mother Mary) and one to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. Though not entirely shocking, it has been a rather pleasant surprise.

Touched by the experience and the stories of fellow pilgrims who’d saved up just to be able to go on this one trip (for some the only trip) of a lifetime, my parents decided to share the experience with their entire family and take us all on our once-in-a-lifetime family reunion.

Coordinating Schedules

Taking their three daughters, their spouses, and all nine grandchildren – ages ranging from 7 to 17 years old – sounded daunting enough. But the biggest challenge came from simply trying to get a common school break (not to mention the dance recitals and football finals) among the three sets of grandkids. With one daughter living in the Philippines, one in Canada, and the third in the U.S., compromises had to be made.

We agreed to travel in June when the kids had the most number of common days off. Luckily, the schools accommodated parents’ requests for some of the kids to begin their summer break early and for others to begin the new school year late.

Deciding Where to Go

Given the ages of the family members and size of the group (16 instead of the original 17 as one spouse, unfortunately, had work commitments and couldn’t join us), we decided that limiting the coverage of the trip to only one country would allow us more time to better appreciate the sights, instead of rushing to get from place to place or spending even more time on the road.

As headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican City was a good starting point. So by virtue of its location in relation to the Vatican and the sheer number of religious sites it has, Italy became the obvious country of choice.

An itinerary was designed based on sites connected to holy figures significant to the family (Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and San Giovanni Rotondo, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padova) and those which my parents thought would be interesting enough to the younger kids (attending an audience with the Pope in Rome, visiting the site of the first Eucharistic miracle in Lanciano, seeing the incorrupt body of St. Rita…which wasn’t as bad as it sounds, don’t worry). It was also important to include sights of historical and cultural importance to take advantage of the many other things Italy has to offer.

All Roads Lead to Rome 

Flights were found, arrivals in Rome and departures from it were synchronised and booked. Great.

Now, how to move our group around Italy. Bearing in mind that this was during the peak summer season, getting a big bus and a driver dedicated to our group was the best option for several reasons:

* We needed to move the group as efficiently as possible. Difficult to achieve if we had to compete with so many other tourists vying for the same seats on public transport. And some of these places were remote!

* Given the size of our group, we enjoyed economies of scale in terms of cost. Even though we had a bus that could comfortably accommodate 25-30 passengers, the cost per person still gave great value.

* It was simply much more fun for everyone to travel together in one big bus – and certainly less stressful not to have to worry about the rest of the group had we taken different modes of transport.

A friend of the family’s who organizes and leads pilgrimage tours for a living recommended a French driver who proved to be absolutely wonderful and contributed to making the trip as stress-free as possible. Decent and respectful of our needs, intelligent, well-dressed, kept the bus spotlessly clean, he was a safe and calm driver. He even looked like a more wholesome version of rapper Pitbull! No, he didn’t wear a suit jacket, but seeing the drivers of the other tour groups we had come across, he was definitely a cut above them.

His fee already included the bus itself, gas, parking and toll fees, his food and lodging. You shouldn’t have to worry about these things when hiring any form of transport with driver.

There were just a couple of dinners when we did ask him to join our table. You shouldn’t feel obliged to do so and they really don’t expect you to. But these were for meals that had been pre-arranged with our accommodations, where he was also booked to stay and dine.

Now that we’ve covered how everyone met up in Rome and how we found a way to see the rest of the country, you can read Part 2 here.