TRIANGLE, Va. — On the afternoon of March 20, 38 excited parishioners, including Francis McHugh from St. Francis of Assisi Parish, met at Dulles Airport to begin a 10-day pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome.
Their first “act of penance” was changing planes at De Gaulle Airport the next morning. Upon arrival in Rome, they were met by Italian tour manager Marney who acted as guide, translator, and, when necessary, mother superior. She managed to get everyone and all luggage onto a bus and whisk them off to Assisi for an Italian Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis. This was followed by their first of many wonderful Italian meals and finally sleep.
The five days in Assisi included daily Mass with Fr. Frank at the Basilica of St. Francis, San Damiano, and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels where he was joined by Joseph Rozansky. On a day trip to Siena, Fr. Frank celebrated his first Mass on an altar not facing the people at the Basilica of St. Dominic in Siena.
There were guided tours of the Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare; Eremo delle Carceri, the caves on Mt. Subasio where St. Francis and his brothers went to be in prayerful solitude; the Cathedral of St. Rufino where St. Francis was baptized; the Assisi home of St. Francis’s family; and a side trip to Perugia to see the ancient Roman ruins and the square where St. Francis and St. Dominic had preached. The group also visited Rivotorto, sanctuary of the “Sacred Hut.”
Free time in Assisi was spent in prayer at the tomb of St. Francis, learning the difference between latte and caffe latte, sampling local wines, pizza, and ice cream, exploring the many Assisi side streets, and shopping.
The bus trip back to Rome included a stop for Mass at the Basilica of St. Mark the Evangelist in Orvieto. The next morning, Marney made sure everyone got a very early wake-up call so they could be first in line at St. Peter’s Square for the papal audience. Seated close to the pilgrims was a group of college students from Minnesota whose excitement was contagious. They even cheered when the St. Francis group was announced. After the Papal audience, there was a guided tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel.
The last full day began with Mass celebrated by Joe and Frank at St. Paul Outside the Wall followed by guided tours of the basilicas of St. Clement’s and St. John Lateran. During the afternoon free time, pilgrims could be found walking among the ancient Roman ruins, touring the Colosseum, strolling around the Circus Maximus, tossing coins in the Trivi Fountain, and shopping.
With suitcases weighing more, wonderful memories, lots of stories, and hundreds of pictures, the group headed home. The return trip included the last penance for the pilgrims — changing planes at De Gaulle airport.
Even though the pilgrimage included rain almost every day and so much snow at La Verna that the tour there was canceled, it was a time of reflection and renewal. Looking out from Assisi over the beautiful valley below, one could not help but know the presence of the loving God of creation and the peaceful presence of the saint from Assisi who continues to have such a great impact on our world.
— Judith is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order.