I just returned from an incredible pilgrimage trip to Assisi, Italy. While I was preparing to go, I sent a message out to my Facebook friends: “Leaving for Italy in 2 weeks.” Many friends wished me a happy and safe journey, one friend wrote that I would be transformed. Hmmm, I thought, transformed. What does he mean by that?
Working for the Franciscans, I really wanted to understand Franciscan charism. Why did Francis and Clare touch so many hearts, and what did other pilgrims discover on their journeys that made Assisi a sacred destination? Many of my co-workers who have been on the Franciscan pilgrimage told me this was not a vacation. This trip truly was a pilgrimage, and I should be prepared to open my heart.
When I arrived in Rome, I was greeted with warm handshakes from 18 other pilgrims and hugs from our leaders, Father Michael and Sister Bobbi. We were a group from all over the world waiting to see what God had in store for us.
Assisi is a beautiful village nestled in the hills of Italy and is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis–patron saint of Italy and founder of the Franciscan order. I found Assisi steeped in spiritual and inspiring destinations, beautiful landscapes, and rich in history of the Church. Each day our group of pilgrims would gather for breakfast, begin our day in prayer and prepare for our journey. I was warned before I left to be prepared for the steep hills and the physical endurance of the 5 to 7 miles we would walk each day. Nobody told me how deeply I would be moved emotionally or spiritually as we were guided through history of the men and women who walked before us.
It is hard to put into words all of the wonder that waited for me. There are a few things that will never leave my memories about Assisi. One, for example, is the sounds–bells from the churches ringing every quarter hour, the flutter of birds in the streets and in the trees, and the sound of silence when we were up in the mountains . It was the silence that allowed me to take time for prayer and reflect on the events I learned that day.
Another thing that struck me about Assisi was the color. There was color everywhere! The art was simply breathtaking, Michaelangelo, Rafael, frescoes and sculptures–no photograph could make the color reflect like it does in my mind. Being in the mountains at the beginning of fall also offered rich, vibrant color. My photos remind me of the spectacular views, truly God’s paintbrush at work.
The experience that impacted me the most, however, was reliving the experiences of St. Clare. As we visited the chapels of San Rufino d’Arce and La Maddelena we were told about how both Francis and Clare ministered to the leper outcasts. To me, as a woman, Clare’s story hit my heart more than anything else on my pilgrimage. Imagine being an 18-year-old girl, leaving your family and all of your worldly possessions to serve the lepers–all for the glory of God! Clare’s compassion and mercy to serve the lepers made me wonder; as a child of God, as a wife, mother and grandmother do I serve others for the glory of God? Wow, at that moment I knew I was transformed. I hope and pray through Clare’s example and God’s grace I can be better at serving others.
I will never forget my experiences in Assisi. I believe I was transformed. A few of my friends say they notice a difference in me. I hope so.