After a crazy week of classes filled with exams, papers and quizzes galore, the greatly anticipated Rome and Assisi pilgrimage finally came. We were all so excited for 10 days in Italy: eating pasta, gelato and pizza and drinking good wine. I had the opportunity to go to Florence beforehand with a small group of friends. There was so much to look forward to and enjoy on this trip that I could not even cover each part of it.
This pilgrimage started off with an early morning to go to St. Paul Outside the Walls for Sunday Mass. It is one of the four major basilicas in Rome and, in my opinion, beautiful and majestic both on the outside and inside. After Mass in Italian, a new experience for many, we journeyed onto the Vatican to join Pope Francis in the Angelus. All these things we experienced on our first day were so special and set a high standard for the trip as a whole.
The following days were just as spectacular. We visited the three other major basilicas of Rome: St. Peter’s, St. Mary Maggiore and St. John Lateran. I had the opportunity to climb the Holy Stairs on my knees for an indulgence and visit Santa Croce, where several relics from Christ’s crucifixion are kept. I visited the catacombs and saw the famous Sistine Chapel, both of which did not disappoint. We spent an evening with North American seminarians and had praise and worship with them. This pilgrimage did not lack in prayer time.
The highlight for many was the pope’s general audience on Wednesday. Some students woke up at four in the morning to secure us seats against the fence to be as close to Pope Francis as possible. He was the sweetest pope; what a blessing it was to see him from a few feet away and listen to him preach on the eighth and 10th commandments! We received a blessing which he extended to our families and we had many of our special religious items blessed as well.
Of course, there were other things in between all these holy events: gelato every day, pizza for lunch, pasta every night at dinner and the best red wine I have ever had. We had time to shop, visit other famous places in Rome and do whatever else we had dreamed of doing on this trip. It was exhausting waking up at six in the morning each day and taking thousands of steps around the city, but it was a once in a lifetime experience and most rewarding.
The trip to Assisi gave me time to gather my thoughts after the hustle and bustle of the Rome pilgrimage. I am a city girl at heart, so Rome was enjoyable for me, but the quiet and stillness of Assisi was much needed. It is called the “City of Peace” for a reason. Assisi is quiet, humble and beautiful. It was just as I imagined a quaint Italian town to be, and I was quite happy to roam the streets and the hillsides in my free time.
As we spent our three days there, I started to think back on the trip as a whole and my mind wandered back to the homily the Rev. Seraphim gave during Mass before we left. He talked about what pilgrimage is: it is not necessarily what happens on the pilgrimage but how it affects you afterwards. You have to let your pilgrimage have a purpose and to let that purpose impact you in the long run. Pilgrimage is not simply about the places you go, the food you eat, the things you buy. It’s a spiritual journey that keeps continuing even when it’s over.
Keeping this idea in mind, I began to think about all the places I had been. I remembered St. Peter’s, and how we saw the spot where Peter gave his life for Jesus. It was not seeing this spot that made the experience significant but that it made me remember to continue to give myself to Jesus as Peter did. I walked up the mountain to St. Francis’ hermitage and prayed in the room where he lived and prayed. Seeing this place encouraged me to live a holy, humble life as he did and to put Christ first.
This pilgrimage allowed us to walk in the footsteps of the saints. All the places we visited, from Rome to Assisi, followed the lives of great people, from Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome to Sts. Francis and Clare in Assisi. This was how the pilgrimage impacted me in the long run. We were encouraged to grow closer to Christ by the example of these holy people, walking in their footsteps along the way.