Pilgrimage to Rome an awe-inspiring journey for Upstate couples


SPARTANBURG — When Pope John Paul II closed the Holy Doors on the Jubilee year, three couples from Upstate South Carolina felt blessed to witness the historic events.

No wonder. During an eight-day pilgrimage to Rome, they saw the Holy Father four times. “That’s unheard of,” said Tina Andress, who journeyed to the capital of Catholicism with her husband, Greg, and their friends, Gary and Dottie Towery, and Ray and Marie Meyers. “Some people never even get to see the pope.”

This adventure, however, was much more than a sightseeing trip. This was a journey touching and enriching the core of their faith. It was sponsored by the Legionaries of Christ, who invited them along as lay members of their group, Regnum Christi.

And being in a crowd of 125,000 while John Paul II closed one of the Holy Doors was downright awe-inspiring.

The Upstaters got to walk through three of the four Holy Doors in the basilicas before they were sealed, and they called the feeling cleansing.

“It’s almost like going to confession,” Ray Meyers said.

For Greg and Tina Andress, the closing of those doors signaled an end to the jubilee but a new start to their faith. An end because they realized that time wasted on fruitless ventures cannot be recaptured. A beginning because now they know how precious time devoted to Christ really is.

“Our lives are insignificant if we aren’t doing something for God. We’re called to serve God,” Greg Andress said.

“The Holy Father says this is not an ending; this is a beginning,” Ray Meyers added.

“If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze,” the pope told the pilgrims from the Legionaries and Regnum Christi.

That is all these three couples needed to hear to ignite the flames of their faith. The Sistine Chapel had inspired them. Being so near St. Peter, St. Paul and all those who had walked with Christ awed them. Taking in 2,000 years of Catholic history, Catholic artwork, Catholic architecture had floored them. Now the pope ha d issued them a personal challenge. Go back home and evangelize.

“It makes you sort of go to your knees,” Ray Meyers said.

He bought a large crucifix that “shows the true pain, hurt and suffering on Christ’s face.” Instead of packing it for the trip home, he carried his cross on the plane all the way back to Spartanburg. “It will be a Meyers family heirloom,” he said.

Meyers now is working with the Boys Club, a group of youngsters 11-16 years old who need spiritual guidance. He mixes athletics with gospel reflection and prayers. “At least they’ll grow up with their eyes toward God,” he said.

Greg, Tina, Gary and Dottie also are working on ways to spread the word of God. Their Regnum Christi group in Spartanburg is a starting point. When they returned home, the pilgrims invited 30 friends over to watch videos of Pope John Paul II and their experiences in Rome as well as to talk about their journey of faith.

“It’s such a holy place,” Greg said.

On the way back home, Ray and Marie Meyers made a side trip to London. After Rome, they found London “shallow.”

Such are the doors that open to the truth and to a deeper faith.