Family grows in faith and love on trip to Milan


The holidays started with a truce: we promised the possibility of shopping and sightseeing in addition to the obligatory visits to museums and churches.

I recently spent five days in Milan with my wife, our preschooler, two teenagers and my daughter’s boyfriend. While keeping track of everyone, and despite the intensity of the city, Omicron’s dodging, and the ever-changing rules governing the pandemic, I managed to find a moment of retreat.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

Milan is today known for its worldliness. It is an overcrowded city, the second in population after Rome. It is also a modern economic powerhouse renowned for finance, art, fashion and design, education and media. All of this makes it a very busy place.

At the same time, the Italian capital of Lombardy has a long religious tradition. Two of the four Latin Fathers and Doctors of the Church have close ties to Milan.

Saint Ambrose, one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century, sat in his episcopal see from 374 to 397. A young Saint Augustine in search was in Milan and held a government post when he came under the influence of ‘Ambrose and his sermons. He converted to the faith and in 387 was baptized by Ambrose himself during the Easter Vigil Mass in the Cathedral of Milan.

Saint Augustine baptized by Saint Ambrose

The legacy that Saint Ambrose left to the Catholic Church was so influential that the Archdiocese of Milan still has its own unique liturgy: the Ambrosian Rite. It is one of the few liturgical rites in the Western Catholic world distinct from the ordinary Roman rite.

While I looked forward to a personal pilgrimage to Milan, my family had other expectations. In fact, we ended up in Milan as a sort of truce. If I could, my wife and I would spend all our vacations in a hermitage. Our children, although religious, have different ideas about vacations. We have therefore promised the possibility of shopping and sightseeing in addition to the obligatory visits to museums and churches.

So our stay involved some finagling. To our daughter: “If you come with us to the Ambrosienne Library, we will go to Chanel. To our oldest son: “If you come with us to Brera’s painting gallery, we will accompany you to Inter’s official football merchandise store. Even to our preschooler, “If you don’t have a tantrum at DaVinci’s last supper, we’ll take you to the newly opened FAO Schwarz store and buy you a toy.”

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

Although I had been to Milan before, this was my first time spending a lot of time there. Although its origins date back to Roman times and was important throughout the Middle Ages, 90% of the city was destroyed during WWII. As a result, it was rebuilt as a modern city. Some churches and ancient palaces have survived and are now like enclaves of religion and history surrounded by 20th century urban sprawl.

The multi-storey Duomo, the cathedral, enjoys a privileged position in the center of the city. In fact, the streets and neighborhoods radiate out in a circular star pattern.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

At the same time, it is a social city. Across the plaza is a Times Square-like mega-screen from which Chanel displays advertisements of a more sensual and consumerist nature.

As the screen faces directly the facade of the Duomo, one wonders if it was positioned in this way on purpose, as a challenge – in the same way mosques were placed directly in front of the church square. of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the Holy Land. or arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. More likely, in keeping with secularism, which is largely indifferent to religion, the fashion brand put their ad out there just to reach more people.

Adjacent to the Duomo is the famous Galleria, lined with fashion brands such as Ferragamo, Swarosky and Prada. Clothing styles in the windows seemed more understated and less wacky this year. Perhaps the pandemic has affected the mindset of the designers. The shoes were also cheaper. Men’s shoes cost only € 800 ($ 900). The last time I was here they were around € 2,000 ($ 2,250).

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

Even our visit to the famous Duomo seemed influenced by materialism. To enter the cost was € 5 per person, including teenagers. So the cost to my family (and boyfriend) was € 25 ($ 30). I understand the need for maintenance and security, but charging to enter churches is not good evangelism. (To be fair, we didn’t have to pay to go to mass, which we did, on St. Stephen’s Day.)

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

Despite all the secularism, I quickly found a spiritual refuge in the Saint-Ambroise church not far from our Airbnb. I got up early one morning and arrived just as the church was opening. I was the only person there. It was like an oasis of calm, devoid of the hubbub outside the city.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

The church was built by Saint Ambrose himself in an area where martyrs were buried during Roman persecutions. It was one of four he built in Milan to combat Arianism and strengthen the teaching of Nicaea. He filled the church with symbolism and Orthodox images, still present in the superb mosaics of the apse.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

The remains of Saint Ambrose can be visited in the crypt. He is lying elevated between two first martyrs, wearing the bishop’s miter. There is something powerful about sitting in the presence of one of the most influential bishops in the history of the Catholic Church. A peace emanated from his relics and from the basilica in general, and I returned several times during my stay in Milan.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

The next morning I attended a daily mass at the Basilica of San Lorenzo Maggiore. It appeared to be identical to the ordinary Roman rite until the reading of the Gospel. It was only then that I realized that the priest was celebrating according to the Ambrosian rite. The Nicene Symbol was uttered after the Alleluia and before the reading of the Gospel.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS

The Sunday Mass we attended on St. Stephen’s Day was also celebrated according to the Ambrosian rite. On the surface, it also did not appear much different from the Roman rite. The Kyrie was sung twice and the order of Mass was slightly different. Not everyone knew when to get up or sit down, as there were many tourists, especially around the Gospel reading. The peace sign took place earlier, the creed was read earlier, and the prayers of the faithful took place earlier.

After speaking with a priest, I understood that the differences are more pronounced once we deepen the Missal, which is unique and closer to Eastern rites. The Ambrosian Rite has its own songs and hymns, some written by Saint Ambrose himself. It also has its own cycle of readings, prayers, sacramental and lectionary. This is due to the greatness of Saint Ambrose.

We returned from our short stay in Milan with more than we had left. We didn’t just have shopping bags and unique museum ticket stubs, our family had come together. They left happier, and me too. We have each grown in culture and spirituality and in our love for one another and in our faith.

Photo courtesy of Bret Thoman, OFS


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