On May 13-17, 2024, the friars of the Vatican Penitentiary visited Sicily to learn more about its rich heritage of art and monuments accumulated over the centuries, which reflect the millennial history of this large island in the center of the Mediterranean and the people who settled here.

This cultural visit was part of the year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the presence of the Conventual Franciscans in Vatican City, which began when Pope Clement XIV issued his Bull Miserator Dominus of August 10, 1774, in which he called the friars to carry out the ministry of reconciliation at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Friar Paolo FIASCONARO, a native of Sicily, led the visit, along with the Rector of the College of Vatican Penitentiaries, Friar Vincenzo COSATTI. The theme of the five-day visit was “A Journey with the Theology of Beauty, Surrounded by Culture, Art, History, Nature and Religiosity.” This was an incremental journey to discover the three Christ Pantocrators [ancient, iconographic mosaic depictions of Christ] located in the cathedral in Monreale, in the Palentine Chapel in Palermo and in the cathedral in Cefalù. Each featured its own particular symbolic and chromatic elements. The friars greatly admired the extensive mosaics, which were created through the cooperative effort of Arabic and Norman craftsmen. The cathedral in Monreale alone has 6,400 square meters [68,889 square feet] of mosaics, using 1800 kilos [3968 pounds] of pure gold tiles. These mosaics recount the most significant episodes of the Old and New Testaments. They are defined by scholars as the “bible of the poor” and were created between 1000 and 1200 A.D., a period of peaceful coexistence between the three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The friars also explored the religiosity of the people of Sicily in the cities they visited, in particular, the way the people venerate their local patron saints. The friars stopped to pray at the Santa Rosalia Cathedral in Palermo, the Sant’Agata Cathedral in Catania, and the Santa Lucia Cathedral in Syracuse, where the relics of each patron saint are kept. The pastor at each location talked to the friars about the artistic and spiritual features of the cathedral.
The friars also had some meaningful meetings with the heads of the local dioceses, namely, the Most Reverend Gualtiero ISACCHI, Archbishop of Monreale; Giuseppe MARCIANTE, Bishop of Cefalù; Francesco LOMANTO, Archbishop of Syracuse; and Domenico MOGAVERO, Bishop Emeritus of Mazzara del Vallo who presided over Mass with the friars at the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Lacrime in Syracuse.
At the Basilica of San Francesco in Palermo, the visitors received a very Franciscan welcome from the friars there and from the Minister Provincial, Friar Gaspare LA BARBERA. The visitors were given a tour of the basilica and the workshop of medieval studies. While in Sicily, the penitentiaries were accommodated at the San Massimiliano Kolbe Sanctuary in Carini and at the Passionist Fathers retreat house in Mascalucia.
There were plenty of visits to the historic centers of the main cities as well as to the monumental complex of the former Dominican Monastery of Santa Caterina in Palermo, the archaeological park with a Greek theater and stone quarries (latomie) in Syracuse, the Roman villa in Piazza Armerina, and the Gole dell’Alcantara nature park.
Amidst the vast panoramic views of sea and mountains, the friars also enjoyed various Sicilian gastronomic delights.
This was a journey that touched the friars’ hearts and gave them a break from their sometimes tiring daily routine. They were refreshed and enriched after encountering the people of Sicily and its long history. It was an opportunity to experience the values found in every Sicilian soul.

A member of the Italian Province of the Immaculate Conception (Sicily-Calabria)