Friars Pray, Reflect and Commune on La Verna Pilgrimage

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NEW YORK — Sixteen friars, led by F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, and Thomas Hartle, OFM, traveled to five areas in Italy in October to renew their Franciscan spirit and vocation as part of the Province’s La Verna Program.

The second of three programs, this 11-day retreat gave participants a prayerful and fraternal context to reflect on their inner spirit, to understand the vowed life in the contemporary world,  and life and ministry since profession, and an opportunity to evangelize. It took place Oct. 9 to 20.

The “Renewing Our Franciscan Spirit and Vocation” trip brought the friars to some of the areas associated with St. Francis and St. Bonaventure, including Rome, Greccio, Assisi, LaVerna and Bagnoregio. Leaving from New York City’s Kennedy Airport on Oct. 9, the group began its pilgrimage in Rome the next day.

The group met with the General Curia and had a personal visit from the General Minister, Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM. Joseph Rozansky, OFM, gave the visitors a tour of the Order’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Rome.

An Expression of Community
While most of the group had visited Italy before, many enjoyed the camaraderie and community expressed by being with a friars-only trip.

“It was a very congenial and enjoyable fraternal experience,” said John Ulrich, OFM, of Beach Haven, N.J. “The group was small enough to be able to connect well and to get to know each other a little better. It was a group of friars who generally do not spend much time together, so it was a good opportunity to get to know some friars that I didn’t know too well – to know them and appreciate them more.”

In addition to Ed, Tom and John, participating friars included: Robert Doyle, OFM, of St. Anthony Residence, Boston; Octavio Duran, OFM, Sacred Heart Friary, East Rutherford, N.J.; John Frambes, OFM, St. Paul Friary, Wilmington, Del.; Lawrence Hayes, OFM, St. Camillus Church-Friary, Silver Spring, Md.; John Heffernan, OFM, Triangle, Va.; Richard Husted, OFM, St. Bonaventure Church-Friary, Allegany, N.Y.; John Marino, OFM, St. Anthony’s Friary, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Louis McCormick, OFM, Holy Peace Friary, West Clarksville, N.Y.; Edward Metzger, OFM, St. Anthony of Padua Church, Helper, Utah; John Quinn, OFM, St. Anthony of Padua Friary, Camden, N.J.; Frank Sevola, OFM, St. Francis Friary, Providence, R.I.; Ignatius Smith, OFM, Holy Cross Church, Callicoon, N.Y.; and Michael Tyson, OFM, St. Paul Friary, Wilmington, Del.

They stayed at the Collegio S. Antonio in Rome and the Monasterio S. Andrea. They visited places such as St. Isidore’s, an Irish Franciscan house of studies, San Damiano/Basilica of St. Clare, Basilica of St. Francis, and they celebrated the Eucharist in many churches.

Several participants wrote to HNP Today, praising the trip and offering their reflections on the time abroad.

111908-Laverna-collageAppreciating the Experience
Frank wrote: “For me, the most inspiring place is the Basilica of St. Francis. I found the most prayerful place to be at the tomb of St. Francis. Before I left, I promised a lot of people that I would pray for them at the tomb and I found that to be a very prayerful and inspiring experience. The art in the basilica is also very inspiring. The Life of St. Francis, the meditation on the vows, the Life of Christ all combined to give me a renewed Franciscan spirit. I am really grateful to Ed for his time and effort that he put into the trip. It was great to be with just friars. I’ve done this trip with others many times but being only with friars made it very special.”

Louis wrote: “Any trip to Rome and Assisi is bound to be a memorable one for a person living the Franciscan life. This second of three La Verna pilgrimages as part of Holy Name Province’s continuing education program was no exception. What I found most memorable of many experiences shared was the sense of community that formed among the friars on the trip. That sense of community manifested itself mostly for me in the Eucharistic liturgies we shared. I remember especially the Mass celebrated in the cave chapel below the main church at La Verna. There was just enough room for our group and the sharing during the homily was very moving, as it was during all the Masses we had.”

He continued: “The unstructured time we had to explore Assisi and Rome was important for me and is always appreciated in any program. That unstructured time allows many experiences to sink in and to deepen. Just the opportunity to sit here or stop there or wander about provides an added dimension to the experience. I am thankful for the leadership of Ed Coughlin and Tom Hartle, the wonderful company of my other brothers who were part of the trip, and the opportunity provided by the Province for this continuing education pilgrimage.”

John Ulrich wrote: “Nearly all of us had been to Rome and Assisi previously. Thus, for most of us it tended to be more of a deepening in appreciation of the places that Francis frequented, the implications they had for his life, and their role in the development of the early community… In particular, I appreciated our visit on Sunday evening to the General Curia of the Order. There, Joe Rozansky gave us an interesting tour, as well as a general overview of his role as one of the co-directors of the office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. It gave me a new appreciation of the complexity of the Order, especially in terms of its international flavor and the many cultures our community embraces.”

“One highlight of the evening was an extended personal visit from, and conversation with, the General Minister.  He was enthusiastic, animated and very interested in sharing with us the thrust of his work and the role of the Curia in the life of the entire Order. All in all, including an invitation to the evening meal, it was a warm and welcoming participation and insight into the life of the friars at the General Curia.”

The last of the three pilgrimages of the Grace of Our Origin’s project is in May 2009, Ed said.

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.