Digital Pilgrimage Takes Thousands to Franciscan Italy

Maria Hayes Friar News


Thomas Hartle, David Convertino and Basil Valente at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Thousands of people from around the world joined four friars on a digital pilgrimage to Franciscan Italy last month. As David Convertino, OFM, Octavio Duran, OFM, Thomas Hartle, OFM, and Basil Valente, OFM, traveled to sites in Assisi, Padua and Venice, they shared updates from their journey through social media to followers who were eager to learn more about Francis, Clare, Anthony and other saints.

The purpose of the pilgrimage was two-fold — to raise awareness about the Province’s development and vocation initiatives, and to bring the prayers of the people to God through the intersession of the Franciscan saints. Throughout the trip, the friars posted videos, photos and reflections of the different sites they visited. Tom, who has led other pilgrimages to Italy, served as a guide to Basil, HNP’s vocation director, and David, executive director of development. Some of this footage, taken by Octavio, will be used to create DVDs for development and vocation purposes.

The pilgrimage began in Venice on May 18, where the friars connected with Russel Murray, OFM, who is studying at the Instituto de Studi Ecumenici San Bernardino. During the next few days, they visited and filmed at sites including Il Deserto, where Francis would go for prayer and retreat, and the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. While visiting the latter, David remarked on the important role of the donors in building the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and promised the Province’s donors that they would be remembered in his prayers throughout the trip.

On May 22, the group departed for Padua to visit places associated with St. Anthony, including the basilica, a significant moment for Basil.

“Being in Padua, it was amazing for me to see how St. Anthony healed so many people and to see, in fresco form, an artist’s vision of the miracles of St. Anthony,” he said. “One miracle that was particularly important to me was the healing of a man’s foot and leg after it was broken. Given my own issues with my knees, it was very inspiring to see the gifts that people brought to the Basilica of St. Anthony because of the healing they received from him. As I was nearing St. Anthony’s tomb, people would stop me and ask me to pray with them, pray over them and pray for healing. Getting to know St. Anthony, not only as a saint in the Catholic Church, but as someone who I and so many others can personally relate to, was something that was very new and important for me on this trip.”

While visiting the basilica, the friars brought with them thousands of prayer requests that were submitted by those following the pilgrimage online. The friars prayed for them while at St. Anthony’s tomb.

“To see the faith of the people who come here and their wonderful devotion to St. Anthony is just amazing,” David commented as he and Basil reflected on their trip to the basilica. “It’s a great city. Oftentimes people bypass it. It’s a beautiful city, the basilica is magnificent, the artwork was spectacular. It was fantastic to be there.”

The friars left Padua for Assisi on May 26 and spent the next week visiting and filming at various sites including the basilicas of Saints Clare and Francis, as well as Gubbio, Bagnoregio and La Verna, to which they took day trips.

While visiting the carceri, a set of small caves where Francis used to come to pray, David took time to film footage of a statue of the saint encircled by symbols of religions — Christian and non-Christian — from around the world. “These symbolize that this man Francis of Assisi, is not only a saint for all times, but a saint for all peoples.” This sentiment was echoed by Basil, especially during the friars’ visit to Bagnoregio, the birthplace of St. Bonaventure.

“While on this pilgrimage, we tried to find different places in specific spots that inspired Franciscan men and women years ago and continue to inspire people in this day and age,” he said. “Even in little Bagnoregio, in the old part of the city, it was amazing to see how many people were hiking these huge hills to get to this little town at the top where Bonaventure used to live. It’s still inspired by Bonaventure and you can feel his presence there.”

Another inspired moment occurred while visiting the San Damiano cross that spoke to Francis at the Basilica of St. Clare. After the Poor Clares caring for the basilica closed the building so the friars could film, Basil was reminded of the first time he visited the cross 33 years ago.

“On my first trip to Assisi, while I was a college student, I remember being in front of the cross that spoke to Francis and having that affect my life in a very treasured way,” he said. “That’s where I received the final grace from God, knowing that joining the Order was what I wanted to do with my life. Thirty three years later, I was there with only my three brothers and the Poor Clare who was our guide. She could sense that I needed to be by myself with my God in prayer in front of this cross that spoke to Francis so many hundreds of years ago, and she invited everyone else to leave so that I could be with my God in my own way for 20 minutes.

“This was such an important moment for me that it was difficult for me to articulate myself afterward, given the work that we needed to accomplish in that space,” he continued. “I could feel God holding me and giving me more direction, letting me know that this was where he wanted me to be, and that he would help me in my ministry with the friars and with so many other men who want to be part of the consecrated life.”

Basil was also in the juxtaposition between going from San Damiano and the cross that spoke to Francis, to Mount La Verna, where the patron saint of the Franciscans received the stigmata.

“Francis’s experience in San Damiano imprinted the image of the crucified Christ on his heart, but at La Verna, the passion of Christ was imprinted in his flesh,” Basil reflected. “Through his prayer, throughout his life, Francis was trying to identify with his God as strongly as he could. It was at that moment where that burning lifelong love for Jesus Christ completes that through the stigmata.”

One of the friars’ most popular updates from their trip, as indicated by their Facebook followers, was from their visit to Mount La Verna.

After the friars returned to the United States, Basil reflected on how grateful he was for the time he spent with his brothers.

“It was a very powerful trip, and I’m grateful to Octavio, David and Tom,” Basil said. “When you spend such a lengthy time traveling with your brothers on a pilgrimage, you really get to know them. We always had a tremendous support for each other, which was a critical part of what St. Francis wanted for the Order.

“The prayerful part of this journey was more significant than any of the other work that we accomplished, and we accomplished a lot,” Basil continued. “We were there for prayer. We were there to pray with one another and for one another. We were there to bring these inspired Franciscan places to so many people who couldn’t be with us. It was God who influenced that reality and made all of this possible.”

Footage from the friars’ pilgrimage is available on two Facebook pages: The Franciscans and Be A Franciscan.

— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.