Last month, Father Dindo Billote, pastor of Saint Mary Mokena and Father Mario Quejadas, pastor of Saint Walter Church in Roselle, led a Catholic pilgrimage to Southeastern France and Northwestern Italy.
The 10-day trip brought roughly 40 pilgrims to Nice, Cannes, Saint Tropez, Monaco, Genoa, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome.
Each day, Father Dindo and Father Mario alternated saying Masses for the pilgrims at various sites that have legendary status to Catholics worldwide, including the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls, the catacombs in Rome and Saint Peter’s Basilica itself.
The trip came about after Father Mario invited his friend Father Dindo to join him on the pilgrimage.
“I had been wanting to go with a group on a pilgrimage but had no idea how to organize one and make it interesting for the pilgrims,” says Father Dindo. “Thankfully, Father Mario had plenty of experience. Besides saying Mass, we had many activities and spiritual experiences planned for the pilgrims.”
Father Dindo describes some of the group’s activities. “Many pilgrims renewed their wedding vows at the Cathedral of Monaco, where Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956. We had a healing Mass in Florence with the Anointing of the Sick. We had Catholic Q&A on the bus trip. We said Morning Prayer, the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Day!”
One of the biggest honors the pilgrims enjoyed was being able to see Pope Francis as he came out to greet the crowds gathered at the Vatican.
“It was thrilling to visit the Vatican and attend the Papal Audience with the Vicar of Christ, recalls Father Dindo. “Pope Francis is so amazing, and we were so close to him. He actually blessed us during his ride on the popemobile. We were seated close to the aisle where he passed.”
According to Father Dindo, one of the most emotional moments of the trip for him was the honor and privilege of saying Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica.
He later told an amazing story about how that experience came to be:
“This was a very emotional Mass for me. I was thinking about my dad who passed away last January and was not able to see his son celebrate Mass at the Vatican and my Mom who was ready to watch me concelebrate this Mass with my best buddy, Fr. Mario Quejadas.
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this Basilica and so honored to have the opportunity to concelebrate Mass here. As we were finished vesting for the Mass, Father Mario turned to me and asked if I would like to be the main celebrant. I wasn’t expecting it because it was his turn. I had been the main celebrant at the Mass at the Catacombs of Rome the day before. So Father removed his vestment, the chausible, and gave it to me to wear and let me celebrate Mass in the Vatican! At St. Peter’s Basilica!
I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this Basilica and so honored to have the opportunity to concelebrate Mass here.
I was overwhelmed with tears! This was the first time for me to be in Rome as a priest …last time I was here I had been a seminarian. Fr. Mario gave the homily and retold this story and explained that the Lord was telling him to let me say this Mass, even though it was his turn and he had been looking forward to it. God was asking him to give his brother priest this opportunity. He knew it was meant to be when the vestment they gave him was too large for him. But it fit me perfectly.”
According to Father Dindo, he and Father Mario are already planning another pilgrimage for November 2019. This time, the destination is the Holy Land.
Here’s a slideshow of more pictures from this once-in-a-lifetime trip.