By Kelly Wahlquist


In The Joy of the Gospel, as well as in many of his homilies and interviews, Pope Francis invites all Christians, everywhere, at every moment into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If you look up the word encounter in the dictionary, you learn that the Holy Father is inviting us into an “unexpected experience.” What? How can you knowingly enter into something unexpected? That sounds like a complete contradiction.

But what if it isn’t so much the “entering in” that is unexpected, but rather the experience of what happens to you when you let Jesus “enter in” to your life?

When I met the Lord in a deep and personal way 12 years ago, I never expected to be overcome with a powerful awareness of the presence of God and overwhelmed by a complete sense of awe at just how much He loved me. Though I was in a Bible study to get to know Him better, I never fathomed such a transformative relationship would occur. But the Lord did, and the encounter changed my life, my actions, my thoughts, and my relationships. It even changed my career.

Version 2Also unexpected was the way He changed me, and continues to change me. First, He changes me through my relationship with Him daily as I encounter Him in the sacraments, Scripture and prayer. Then, He brings me closer to Him and transforms me through my relationships with the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) people He has put on my path as I travel on this journey back to the heart of the Father.

When I was in Rome with my youngest daughter, I was thinking about this very thing: how the Lord uses my relationships with friends and family to draw me closer to Him. As I sat in the chapel where St. Catherine of Siena prayed for great change, I couldn’t help but think, “If my friends on earth draw me closer to Him, just think of how powerful my friends in heaven could be if I let them!” Then, it hit me! We are entering into the holy Year of Mercy and one of God’s merciful gifts to us is the communion of saints. He has given us an army of saints fighting for us to be saints—why not tap into them? Why not encounter them?

And so, I want to invite you, my sisters in Christ, to journey with us this summer through Italy as we “encounter” our saintly sisters.

On this extraordinary pilgrimage, we are going to spend time with some great mystics, martyrs and monastics, travel in their footsteps, and become guests in the places where they lived. And in doing so, we are going to encounter the female saints of Italy in a way that opens us up to a personal relationship with them and a deeper encounter with Jesus!

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 8.42.49 PMJoin us June 17-26, 2016, for our women’s pilgrimage, “WINE & Shrine: Visiting the Great Female Saints of Italy.” It will truly be a blessed time as we journey through Italy. Co-hosting with me are Catholic author and talk show host, Teresa Tomeo and Catholic speaker and co-developer of The Great Adventure Bible Timeline Series, Sarah Christmyer. We will also be joined in Rome by historian Dr. Elizabeth Lev, and enjoy special teachings with Joan Lewis, host of Joan’s Rome.

Trust me, it will be an “encounter” that will transform your life!

For more information, visit 2016 WINE Pilgrimage to Italy.