Spirit Burns in Franciscan Pilgrims’ Hearts
After journeying with Sister Carol Ann Gambsky, Sister Caritas Marie Le Claire and other pilgrims to Assisi and Rome June 4-16, 2012, Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Maria Goretti Scandalioto shares her return Franciscan pilgrimage reflections. Her thoughts are further enhanced with images of the places of St. Francis and St. Clare.
Prior to June 4th, the Assisi Pilgrimage was only a dream, a goal, a longing of the heart. Today, as we travel home, it is a memory — a deeply contemplative experience to be cherished, savored, and brought to fruition in the daily living out of our Franciscan vocation. Until now, I had not fully understood the meaning of pilgrimage, my only expectation being to see the land where Francis and Clare began their walk with God. I quickly came to realize, however, that Pilgrimage is not only to see; it is to experience the life and journey of Francis at the deepest level of one’s being, and to do this within a community of pilgrims who get to know one another as companions on a wonderful journey.
In the course of eight days spent in Assisi, we walked up and down the winding streets of this beautiful city. Even for a veteran walker like me, the way through this city built on a mountain side was arduous. The walk itself, however, spoke powerfully to me of the inner journey we are each called to undertake during our lifetime. I learned that pilgrimage isn’t just about arriving at a destination and enjoying the view, it is investing oneself in the journey – the going toward, the community formed, the ache in one’s muscles, and the longing in one’s heart. Pilgrimage is all about allowing oneself to be deeply touched by each graced moment, and changed in the process.
I am deeply grateful to my community of Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity for giving me the opportunity to make this pilgrimage. Led by Fr. John Petrikovic , OFM Cap and Brother Michael Ward, OFM, we climbed to the fortress, La Rocca, visited San Rufino, walked down to San Damiano where we saw the very stones Francis had placed in the wall in his effort to repair the Church and create a home for Clare and her first nuns. We stood in the little dormitory room where Clare and her sisters slept, and saw the place where she died. We participated at Mass inside the Porziuncula, we traveled to the Carceri where Francis retreated alone to pray, and to LaVerna where he received the Sacred Stigmata. We were privileged to participate in Assisi’s Corpus Christi procession and celebrate the Eucharist at the tomb of Francis. We visited Sancta Chiara and the tomb of St. Clare where we also prayed before the San Damiano crucifix, the very one through which Francis heard the voice of God. Finally, a visit and Mass at Greccio accompanied by a festive “Christmas” meal brought our Assisi experience to a meaningful culmination.
Our final two and a half days were spent in Rome where we celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. Peter, saw the great Basilica, St. John Lateran, and the Sistine Chapel. In the midst of so much beauty and grandeur with its layers of history, I experienced yet another phase of pilgrimage. Joining the enormous crowd of people from every nation and language as we made our way through these sacred places, I was reminded of the living stones that support and give life to the Church. Was not this crowd, after all, symbolic of the living body of Christ, each person with his or her personal struggles, ideals, joys, sorrows, successes and failures, all making their way in faith beside me?
I learned that there is a beauty about “pilgrimage” that far surpasses a “tour,” because as I now realize, pilgrimage is ongoing. Reflecting on the past thirteen days, I sense a profound change within my heart. My Franciscan pilgrimage has not ended; indeed, it has perhaps just newly begun. For Francis, Jesus was always his unwavering focus. I pray that the spark ignited long ago in Assisi within the heart of a little man totally in love, may continue to burn in the heart and life of each of us who are privileged to call him “Father.”