The history of religious pilgrimage is ancient and venerable. Whether to the Buddhas birthplace, the Muslims pilgrimage to Mecca, or to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, pilgrimages serve as a time of prayer, growth and enlightenment. According to Bishop Robert J. Cunningham of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, Catholics also have a rich ancient tradition of making sacred journeys to sites which commemorate important events in our faith history. On March 26 through April 5, 82 Catholics from throughout the North Country and beyond had the opportunity to join Bishop Cunningham and the Rev. Doug Lucia in exploring the Catholic treasures of Italy, including the seat of their faith at the Vatican in Rome. For Altona couples Stephen and Barb Deyo and Chandler and Joan Deyo, the trip served to deepen their faith. Starting in Venice, the group made stops in Tuscany, Florence, Siena and Assisi, concluding in Rome, where they joined an audience with Pope Benedict XVI. At each stop, they explored magnificent churches, viewed historic artwork and celebrated Mass. We did see other things, but [the trip] was mostly focused on religious aspects, explained Joan. Despite the grandeur of both the architecture and the artwork, both women agreed the Vatican was by far the highlight of the trip. If it was just to visit, Id like to go back to Venice. Its really different the homes are close to the water, so no matter where you go, you have to travel by boat, explained Barb. But Rome was my favorite for the religious part. Its 100 percent different than seeing[the Vatican] in pictures or on TV, added Joan. The women were also heartened to see the reception the Pope received as he passed the ecstatic crowd at St. Peters in his Pope-mobile. There were a lot of young people, Joan noted. It was very encouraging to see them being interested in religion. When asked about the differences between the religious environments in Italy versus the United States, Joan struggled for words before finally settling on, their religion is more religious. Despite the spiritual focus of the trip, the secular world still intruded the weak U.S. dollar, unfamiliar food, impatient drivers and a lack of public restrooms. When you did find one, you had to pay, said Joan. You just had to drink less, joked Barb. Still, the trip was an experience of a lifetime. Im very strong in my faith, said Joan. But, it gave me a good feeling inside that we saw the leader of our church. Barb added seeing where the top person lives had enhanced her faith. He is a man, but hes next in line to God, she explained.