Traveling in Faith: Archdiocese to host pilgrimage to Italy for Jubilee Year

Pilgrimage is an important part of the Christian’s life, and Pope Francis has called the faithful to live this out during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

In response to the Holy Father’s call for pilgrimage during the Year of Mercy, the Archdiocese of Denver is hosting a pilgrimage to Italy, led by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and one of Denver’s own Missionaries of Mercy designated by Pope Francis for the Jubilee Year, Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid, J.C.D. The pilgrimage will take place Sept. 16-26.

“God is always ready to pour out his mercy on us, but we are privileged to be living in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which offers us the chance to receive special graces through pilgrimage,” Archbishop Aquila wrote in a letter promoting the pilgrimage.

In planning the pilgrimage, the archdiocese called on Jane Luzietti and John Magee of the Denver-based Catholic travel agency Religious Travel International (RTI) to develop an itinerary that explored a message of mercy, while at the same time highlighting lesser known saints and religious sites associated with Italy.

The itinerary they developed for the archdiocesan pilgrimage will take the pilgrims to several fascinating locations within Italy that are associated with Catholic-Christian saints and miracles. These include the regions where Padre Pio conducted his ministry during his lifetime, Lanciano, the place where the first Eucharistic Miracle occurred, and Manoppello, where Veronica’s Veil resides.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid will lead a pilgrimage to Italy from Sept. 16-26 as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The pilgrimage will highlight lesser-known devotions and saints of mercy associated with Italy, including the church in Manoppello pictured here, which houses a sacred images of Jesus' face known as Veronica's Veil. (Stock Photo)

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila and Monsignor J. Anthony McDaid will lead a pilgrimage to Italy from Sept. 16-26 as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The pilgrimage will highlight lesser-known devotions and saints of mercy associated with Italy, including the church in Manoppello pictured here, which houses a sacred images of Jesus’ face known as Veronica’s Veil. (Stock Photo)

Luzietti felt inspired to include Manoppello in this particular pilgrimage because she had visited the site herself the Fall prior. Manoppello is home to Veronica’s Veil, also called the Face of Jesus. It is a cloth made from sea silk that contains a vivid image of a man’s face, and science hasn’t been able to explain how the image got there. Studies have indicated in the past that it could be the cloth that covered Jesus’ face at the resurrection, though there is no formal proof to back this claim.

Regardless, Luzietti said sitting in the church that housed Veronica’s Veil was one of the most profound faith experiences she’d ever had, and she wanted the pilgrims to experience it for themselves.

“The face is so alive. I was in that church all alone and it was honestly the most mystical experience I’ve had in my life,” Luzietti said. “Pope Francis speaks a lot about looking into the face of Jesus during the Year of Mercy, and I thought, wow, what a perfect place to do that.”

Another interesting site the pilgrims will get a chance to visit is Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict and his sister, St. Scholastica. In 2000, a Benedictine community went to Norcia and re-established a Benedictine Monastery there. This particular community of Benedictine monks brew beer in the very old tradition of the Benedictines, which they call birra nursia, and is quite famous in that region of the world. Pilgrims will have the opportunity to partake in this drink whilst enjoying hospitality in the famous Benedictine tradition.

“When you take a pilgrimage, you step into the mystery of God and you realize that you’re a part of that mystery in your own life.”

The last few days of the pilgrimage will be spent in Rome. Pilgrims will have the opportunity to visit the major Papal basilicas, the Vatican and ancient Rome. Archbishop Aquila will lead the pilgrims through the threshold of one of the Holy Doors, and on the final day, the pilgrims will get to participate in a Papal Mass celebrated by Pope Francis himself in St. Peter’s Square.

The idea of pilgrimage goes back to the earliest of times, Magee said, when early Christians would travel to holy sites. Traveling to experience the world’s cultures and see landmarks are good things in and of themselves, Magee said, but going on pilgrimage presents a unique opportunity to travel and view the world through the eyes of faith.

“On a pilgrimage, you go in a sense of faith,” Magee said. “You are literally following in the footsteps of saints and martyrs, and you come away with a much greater appreciation of your faith.”

“When you take a pilgrimage, you step into the mystery of God and you realize that you’re a part of that mystery in your own life,” Luzietti said. “There’s really nothing quite like it.”

Pilgrimage to Italy

Cost: $4,275 ($350 non-refundable deposit due at time of registration)
Deadline: June 8
Visit to register, or call 303-563-6261 or 303-563-6255.

COMING UP: Father and son, deacon and priest: Deacon dads and priest sons share special bond as both serve God’s people

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The bond between a father and son is one of God’s greatest designs; however, when father and son are both called to serve the Church as deacon and priest, that bond takes on a whole new meaning. Just ask these two dads and their sons, all of whom answered the call to serve the people of God at the altar.

Deacon Michael Magee serves at Our Lady of Loreto Parish in Foxfield, while his son Father Matthew Magee has worked as the priest secretary to Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila for the past several years and will soon be moved to a new assignment as parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder. Deacon Darrell Nepil serves at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver, and his son, Father John Nepil, served at several parishes within the archdiocese before his current assignment as a professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary.

However different their journeys may have been, all four have something in common; mainly, that far from seeing their vocations as a reward from God, they have received them as an uncommon gift of grace that has blessed their families and individual relationships with each other abundantly, knowing that God acts in different ways to help us all get to Heaven.

Interwoven journeys

Deacon Michael Magee was ordained in May 2009, at the end of Father Matt’s first year of seminary. Little did they know that God would use both of their callings to encourage each other along the journey.

Deacon Michael’s journey began when a man from his parish was ordained a deacon.

“I simply felt like God was calling me to do something more than I was doing at the present time,” he said. “I had been volunteering for a number of different things and was involved in some ministry activities and in the Knights of Columbus. And I thought the idea of being a deacon would be simply another activity for which I could volunteer.”

He didn’t know what it entailed at the time. In fact, he believed it was something a man could simply sign up for. To his surprise, the diaconate was more serious – and it required five years of formation and discernment. Yet he was so drawn to it, that he decided to do it anyway. But as he learned more about the nature of the diaconate during his formation, he became more nervous and unsure about whether God was really calling him to that vocation. 

While his doubts remained all the way up to his ordination, Deacon Michael was faithful to his studies, trusting that God would lead him in the right path. 

And God did — through the calling of his own son to the priesthood.

Deacon Michael didn’t realize that his son Matthew had paid close attention to his father’s faith journey and had found in it a light that gave him courage to discern the priesthood.

Father Matthew Magee (left) and his dad, Deacon Michael Magee (right), were both encouraging to one another as they each pursued their respective vocations. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

“Seeing my dad, as a father, growing in his relationship with the Lord was really influential for me on my own desire to follow Christ,” said Father Matt. “Looking at his courage to discern his own vocation and follow God’s plan in his life gave me the strength and courage to be open to the same thing in my life… He played a very important role, whether he knew it or not at the time, and whether I knew it or not at the time.”

On the other hand, Father Matt didn’t know that his dad was in turn encouraged by his own response to God’s calling. 

“As I went through all those doubts, I watched Matthew’s journey in seminary and listened to how he was dealing with that in his life. And, as he just articulated very well, I also saw those same qualities in him,” Deacon Michael said. “Seeing a young man in his 20s willing to consider following God for the rest of his life also gave me the courage to continue on in my own journey, to see it through.”

God’s way of uplifting them in their vocations through each other’s journey is something they are very grateful for. 

This unusual grace impacted Father Matt during his first Mass, when his dad, as deacon, approached him before the Gospel reading and asked for the traditional blessing by calling him “father.”

“It was a really special moment for me. He’s certainly my biological father and raised me. But then there’s something different when we’re at the altar in a clerical capacity — there’s a strange reversal of roles when we’re giving spiritual nourishment to the people — a father asks the new father for the blessing,” he said.

In both of their vocations, Deacon Michael and Father Matt see God’s Providence and the unique plan he has for all of us.

“We all have a vocation, even if it’s something we may not expect,” Deacon Michael concluded. “You may feel anxiety or worry about what it’s going to look like, but trust in God. He will take care of things as he always does.”

A bribe for Heaven

For Deacon Darell and Father John Nepil, the journey was different, but not any less providential.

While he grew up Catholic, Father John wasn’t interested in setting foot on any Church activity during his teenage years. His saving grace was perhaps what many parents have to do to get their teenagers to Church: bribe them.

“His mom and I basically bribed him to go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference,” Deacon Darell said with a laugh. “He didn’t want to go, but we’d heard so many good things about it, that we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen, whatever it takes.’”

So the Nepils came up with a creative idea.

“He owed me some money for a uniform that he had needed for a job in the summer. So, I said, ‘Listen, if you go to the Steubenville of the Rockies Conference, I’ll forgive your debt. And he did, he and his brother went. And John especially came back a different boy. He literally was converted with a lightning bolt at that retreat.”

To this day, Father John marks his conversion to Christ from the summer before his senior year in high school when he attended that conference. 

As it happens with stories worth telling, the details of how much money he owed his father have varied over the years, and it’s a matter of debate among them, but Father John remembers it was close to $500.

“That’s subject to each one,” Father John said laughingly. “But what matters is that they offered to forgive my debt if I went to this retreat – it was money well spent.”

Besides this important event, Father John said that his dad influenced him in many ways by the simple fact of who he was as a father.

“My dad’s faith and moral character were a rock for me during some difficult teenage years,” he said. “He’s a great example of a man who was always faithful and lived a really outstanding moral life, but then as he deepened in love with Christ, he decided to give of himself in a more profound service.”

Father John Nepil (left) and Deacon Darrell Nepil (right) both had rather roundabout ways to their respective vocations, but they both say serving God’s people together as brothers in Holy Orders is a great joy. (Photo provided)

Besides his desire to serve and follow God, the seed that would eventually lead Deacon Darell to the diaconate was planted by a coworker, who would also take holy orders: Deacon Joe Donohoe.

“One day he said to me, ‘You should be a deacon.’ And, of course, I laughed at him and said, ‘I don’t have time for that. My life is too busy.’ But it only took him to suggest it for the idea to keep coming back to my head, and God kept nudging me. Eventually I decided I really wanted to do that,” Deacon Darell said.

The ability to share at the altar during the Mass has deepened the natural relationship of father and son and given Deacon Darell and Father John new opportunities to grow closer to God. 

One of the most meaningful times came when Deacon Darell had a massive stroke in 2018. While he was in the hospital, Father John was able to visit and celebrate Mass at his bed and pray the rosary with him every day, as he had come back from Rome and was working on his dissertation.

“It was probably the most privileged and intimate time I’ve ever had with my father,” Father John said. “It was an amazing gift that really changed our relationship.”

“I feel like that’s a huge reason why I healed and why I am here today,” Deacon Darell added.

“It’s a real gift to have my dad as a deacon and a brother. It’s a tremendous honor. It’s one of the great joys of my life.” Father John concluded. “That’s really what has bonded our relationship together: the sheer desire to serve Jesus, especially in holy orders.”