During his studies for the priesthood, Father Mark Steffl spent five years in Italy.

Now the shepherd of St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Redwood Falls, Steffl opted to provide an opportunity for some of the parishioners in the congregation, as well as others from the region, the chance to travel to Italy with him on what was being called a faith pilgrimage.

So at the end of January and into early February a group of nearly 30 people from across Minnesota traveled to Italy to see many of the places that are important to their faith.

A pilgrimage, explained Steffl, is more than a trip one might take as a tourist.

A pilgrimage specifically provides the opportunity for those making it to visit the holy and sacred places of their faith in an effort to help them grow and to experience blessings because of it.

Nancy Stoterau of Redwood Falls and Monica Luckhardt of Clements were among those who made the pilgrimage to Italy, adding they truly felt blessed to be there.

Despite the fact that the trip got off to an inauspicious start, both Stoterau and Luckhardt said they had a great time and learned a lot along the way.

When the group was scheduled to leave Jan. 22 a snowstorm had hit, and despite getting to the airport in plenty of time, flights were cancelled.

Some of the group missed out on all of the experiences being in Italy, but other destinations along the way made up for it.

“Some of the group left earlier and the were able to see the Pope,” said Stoterau, adding, however there were so many other beautiful places and wonderful experiences that made the trip a blessing.

Every day during the trip the group had a Mass, which was conducted by Steffl. Both Luckhardt and Stoterau said having that personal Mass every day really made the trip special. 

“We had Mass in some beautiful places,” Luckhardt added.

Stoterau and Luckhardt added the pilgrimage was made during the off-season, which meant there were not as many people around, and despite being during a time when the weather was supposed to be less than ideal both Luckhardt and Stoterau said the weather was gorgeous every day they were there.

Steffl said he truly enjoyed the chance to be on the trip, adding despite living in Italy for five years there were places the group visited he had never seen.

Naturally, the group spent quite a bit of time in Rome, which is where much of the history of the Catholic church begins, with stops at the Vatican including St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel, which is home to Michelangelo’s famous work of art.

Stoterau and Luckhardt said they had great tour guides during their visits. The guides offered information about places they visited one doesn’t read or hear about, adding that information really helped to make the stops in those places even more enjoyable. Some of the other places they visited included: the Sanctuary of St. Michael the Archangel, the friary of Padre Pio, the coliseum, the catacombs, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Sicily.

Stoterau and Luckhardt said they loved the trip.

“The people were very friendly, and they love to feed you,” said Stoterau.

Steffl said he hopes those on the trip were able to make a connection with their faith on a greater level because of the pilgrimage.

Other trips may be planned, said Steffl, adding he is considering a trip in the future to the Holy Land.