Hello from Austria!
We just got back from our 10-day pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, and what a trip. While some students traveled to Rome by bus, others opted for further adventure by taking the overnight train to Florence. Let me begin by saying I have a great love for Gaming and Austria in general, but words cannot express the beauty and culture I came to appreciate in Italy. From the moment we stepped off the train at 6:30 am, the street shops were getting organized, and smells of leather, food, and smog filled the air surrounding the palm trees and artwork. People are friendly, busy, and devout in their lifestyles and in their work in Italy, all of which enriches their culture. Our group spent a very full day in Florence visiting the shops that line the streets, eating gelato, and visiting famous places such as The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Galleria dell’ Accademia, and Ponte Vecchio. The following day we breezed through Siena on our way to Rome, which was well worth the hour spent there!
Rome… Amazing! I must say that the phrase, “There is no place like Rome,” really resonates with me as I reflect back on our visit. It is the home of our Catholic faith, the ‘home’ where people from everywhere in the world come to venerate the relics and various burial places of saints. I was awestruck by the fact that the paths of MANY saints and holy men and women have crossed through Rome, and more-so, crucial events and burial places of these saints were and are IN Rome. We had the privilege of a papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI, and in the first three rows sat Franciscan University. We were privileged with SO much in Rome: Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Scavi tours underneath the Vatican, the Vatican Museum, the Cupola of the Vatican overlooking St. Peter’s Square, praise and worship at the Pontifical North American College, the Catacombs of Santa Chiara, tours of Rome to all major landmarks, churches, and basilicas – really, a jam-packed week! One of my personal highlights, aside from the obvious, was a trip to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This is one of the main basilicas that some of the seminarians and religious orders use for their studies, but more importantly, it holds various relics of Christ’s Passion. At Santa Croce, you can see one of the nails of Christ, two of the thorns that pierced His head, the plaque that was at the top of the cross, and a replica of the Shroud of Turin. These were all so moving and pierced my heart with the realism of Christ as a man.
As if Rome wasn’t the trip of a lifetime, Assisi added even more to our pilgrimage. Winding roads weaved up the mountain to the heart of Assisi, which was captivating as we arrived as the sun was setting. Coming from busy Rome to such a beautiful, quaint town like Assisi was perfect, as it allowed us to reflect on what we had seen while continuing as exploratory pilgrims. The San Damiano Cross, the original that spoke to St. Francis is in Assisi along with St. Francis’ home, place of imprisonment, and hermitage. Speaking for myself, it was amazing to see what depth lies behind the name of the University, how so much of our education is based on Franciscan values, and what those values mean. The Hermitage of St. Francis was several more miles up the mountain. There lies the cave in which he prayed, the altar on which he offered Mass, and the grounds on which he spent time with his brothers.
For those of you who don’t know me, I have a tendency to sometimes, somehow miss important details, such as this trip to the Hermitage, being a nature hike… Needless to say I was very casual wearing khakis and simple shoes thinking we would pay a short visit and return to town. Despite this minor endeavor, I made it up the ‘less traveled’ path to the very top of the mountain, where the sun was shining and winds must have been upwards of 70 mph. There, at random, I found my dear friend Sr. Joan Paule, along with a few other friends who had joined along the way. Up at the top of this mountain, there was such wind, as if we could fly. To me this was a great reminder of what some of you reading may also be experiencing in your lives: that sometimes we think that once we reach a certain point of life, a certain goal, there we will find peace, that there we will be satisfied. But in reality, we ARE to live in the moment. We ARE to find joy in the obstacles of the present, because then, we are learning and bearing fruit on our journey. Like at the top of the mountain, where I thought I’d find peace and quiet, I found great wind! It was a beautiful reminder that peace only comes from God, and to keep going, to persevere. We are never fully accomplished here on earth. Rather, we are fulfilling a mission. What is your mission? What are you learning on your pilgrimage through life?