Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Experience of Pilgrimage

During the past two weeks, three of us from the Franciscan Spiritual Center had the opportunity to accompany eleven other people on a pilgrimage trip to Assisi and Rome, Italy. This was the second pilgrimage trip sponsored by our center and appears to have been a successful endeavor to those who participated.
The experience of traveling to holy and historic sites in Europe is a marvelous way to meet others and share meaningful dialogue. Places where St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare routinely lived and wandered were simultaneously very spiritual and impressive. We had the benefit of learning a great deal about both saints through the lens of Sr. Mary Jo Chaves who has spent a lifetime in study and contemplation of Franciscan theology. Through her descriptions we could feel the holy presence of both Francis and Clare which allowed us to more fully understand their continuing impact on people throughout the world. The pilgrimage sites in Assisi continue to draw large crowds of the faithful in spite of the fact that they lived in the twelfth century.
Having been on three pilgrimage trips I know that such a trip changes one’s perspective. It is impossible to go and not feel the challenges that saint’s encounter as they make their spiritual journeys. To see the adverse conditions that Francis willingly chose to endure in his devotion to the Gospel message was indeed remarkable. Through the stories of Francis and Clare I learned about their love of God, love for their fellow religious and loyalty to their church. The strongest message that I returned with is that the tough choices they made were made willingly and with love for their fellow human beings. Francis of Assisi is known for his rather peculiar behavior during his lifetime but there can be no doubting of his devotion to God and the Gospel message. The willingness on both his and St. Clare’s part to challenge authority when necessary to remain faithful to their vocations is a fine lesson to all.
Most of us probably don’t know of any future saints in our midst but we can learn more about remaining faithful to our values and what we believe from those who have gone before us. To me, being a saint is less about performing miracles but is all about following one’s convictions to lead a life of kindness filled with hope and gratitude. Francis and Clare embodied those characteristics and continue to influence thousands of people yearly in the beauty of the Italian countryside. How lucky were we to experience the sanctity of their homeland and to gain a better understanding of why we call them saints.

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