Wednesday, 7th September:
Fr Matthew is on his way to join about 20 Chaplaincy students and young adults on a pilgrimage to and in Italy. Over the next couple of weeks, they will be sharing their experiences on our social media. Please keep an eye out for those, and remember them in your prayers!
Santo Colosimo, Renzo Lam, Nathan Coundon, Maria Mahony, Michał Harris-Edwards, Rebecca Galbraith, Benjamin Chan, Alex Bailey, Emily Gorton, Alexander Norris, Anna Fleischer, Tommaso Sacconi, Chian Yang, Caroline Pilat, Marianna Beltrami, Elba Victoria Slámečková, Jasmine Jones, Ye-Ye Xu and Katerina Levinson.
Many thanks to Santo for the idea and doing all the logistics!
Today begins the journey for some of us pilgrims, travelling from our homes to somewhere closer to London, ready for our flight in the early hours of tomorrow. The day started at 6am for me. I got up and packed my bag. While I waited for my family to awake, I finished up a painting that I have been working on. The whole house was rather excited today since not only was I going away, but it was also the first day back to school for my brothers and also my youngest brother’s birthday.
Thursday, 8th September:
Day 0: Bologna
Friday, 9th September
Day 1: Florence and La Verna
Saturday, 10th September
Alex B’s #PilgrimDiary:
Today we started with Mass at the Sanctuary in La Verna, and a visit to the the cave St Francis lived in, the chapel built where he received the stigmata, and St Anthony’s cell. After Mass we united in prayer with the Domine Salvum Fac and National Anthem as His Majesty Charles III was proclaimed king. Then we began our long walk to Pieve Santo Stefano – do think of us tomorrow as I hear there will be even more of an incline!
Sunday, 11th September
The Ascent of Mount Verde
Well, today was ‘pretty exciting’ . We just kept going up and going up until we were at a peak, when we saw another peak (Mount Verde) that was even higher than the one we were on. ‘Surely, we are not going there, are we?’ As one might expect, we ended up climbing that peak. It was particularly steep near the top, and I, carrying my heavy rucksack and being afraid of heights, struggled tremendously to scale the peak. The rocks were a bit loose, and no visible path could be seen. Then Alex (Norris) descended from his lofty heights and offered to carry my bag and hold my arms while I tried to climb up. After much difficulty and cheering from all the others which made me feel really embarrassed, we all eventually reached the peak. I found it common to question myself during the pilgrimage, ‘why have I signed up for this? Why am I making myself suffer greatly? Is it not better to just sit in my room, playing games and reading books?’ I guess the answer, is just because the beauty and joy that I have been experiencing in this pilgrimage, cannot be obtained otherwise. Suffering is a necessary prequel to joy. As God says, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life’. The spiritual life is no different. A lot of spiritual writers have written about the importance of penance, but I think penances should not be done for its own sake. Penances, like the extreme tiredness of hiking, is a necessarily ‘evil (not moral evil, but something that is bad)’ that accompanies the joy of living in Christ. Just as people go to gyms to strengthen their bodies, so we need to do penances in order to strength our ‘spiritual muscle’. Ultimately, God wants us to have the greatest joy, which comes from possessing goodness itself, God Himself in the heavenly kingdom. And this joy is a totally different kind of joy, one that is so great that we cannot fathom. Ultimately, our joy is Jesus’ joy, and for this reason He created us. Why then, should we not do penances?
Monday, 12th September
Tuesday, 13th September
Fr Matthew’s #PilgrimDiary:
Wednesday, 14th September
Thursday, 15th September
Early this morning I woke up to the sight of green Umbrian hills, neatly framed by the small bedroom window. The postcard view was a beautiful foretaste of our journey to come.
As I laced my boots, from outside, Fr Matthew pensively surveyed the vista from the isolated stone refuge. “He’s praying for no rain,” Santo joked. It’s true that storms had been forecast for today.
After a beautiful mass, we enjoyed breakfast prepared by the deacon. I was touched by the kind hospitality of our host to a group of strangers. Over coffee, bread, jam, cake and fruit, we discussed the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, celebrated today. The meaning of suffering was a mysterious and solemn topic for the early morning!
Then we began to walk. It is a funny thing how after a week of pilgrimage, moving to a different place each day becomes natural. Packing my rucksack to leave a place forever is part of the daily routine.
Chatting happily along the way, with an occasional wary glance at the grey sky, we walked.
A little time later, we arrived at Pieve de’Saddi for a short break, where another group of pilgrims were already enjoying the drinks generously offered by our hosts. It is these hostels punctuating the route which make it possible for us pilgrims to walk onwards each day.
Rucksacks strapped on again, we continued to walk. Half an hour of silent meditation brought us to our lunch stop. Gathered in a circle on the road, munching slightly stale focaccia (the last shopping opportunity was two days ago), I listened to the low sound of rumbling thunder. A storm must be approaching.
We trundled along our way. The fields had given way to woods, broken every now and then by a view over the rolling hills.
It might have been half past two when I first felt a drop of rain.
‘It’s only a couple of drops – we can carry on!’ Chian encouraged me. We put on our raincoats, ponchos and rucksack covets and continued to climb the hill. Turning back to our various conversations, we ignored for a while the crescendo of rain.
On top of the hill the storm broke. Rain lashed, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed. Gathered in a barn, worried grimaces and thrilled smiles were exchanged. We marched onwards, in another time of prayer. Those praying the rosary had to compete with the crescendo of thunder to be heard.
The rain turned to hail, the lightning became as frequent as camera flashes on a red carpet, and still we walked. Our goal was in site one moment – a church on top of a hill in Pietralunga – then covered by cloud the next. With puddles in our boots, wet to the core, yet smiling and some singing, we continued.
When we arrived, the parish priest beckoned us into our rooms, all the more inviting because of the rain still pounding outside.
We anticipated the storm today, although we could do nothing to change it. The weather did not change our destination ion, but if anything hastened us towards it, as we encouraged each other in our group still. Perhaps this sheds some light on the question of suffering discussed earlier. We cannot duck out of pain in life, but we can remain together in it. The Church on earth suffers, although God is with us still. Still we can run wholeheartedly towards Jesus.
Friday, 16th September
Alex N.’s #PilgrimDiary:
Today’s day was somewhat different than expected, largely by not including any walking!
Late last night, as we sat in our Pietralunga hostel with the rain bucketing it down and the lightning periodically splitting the sky, we had a difficult decision to make. Do we press on despite the carnage caused by just a few hours of the tempest’s raging, or do we accept defeat and give up on our walk for the sake of our safety?
From our window, we could see the streets outside transformed into torrents of mud, and the stairs leading uphill, a streaming waterfall… In light of this, many in the group unsurprisingly opted for the latter plan, despite the gentle suggestions from those of a more penitential bent to consider which path St Francis himself would have chosen. And so, as we awoke to a strange combination of bright sunlight streaming through the window and tales of the previous night’s destruction on the news, we had a more relaxed morning than we had enjoyed for several days.
After Mass in the seventh-century parish church, we set to work drying our clothes and (most importantly!) our sodden boots. Fr Matthew had led us in an extended period of Lectio Divina by the time we started thinking about lunch, and acquired some delicious sandwiches from a local shop. Nathan, to his astonishment and our great respect, had – only partly intentionally! – ordered a full-size focaccia, replete with block of cheese and whole pickled onions within. We munched and munched, and having finished munching, began to wend our way to the bus stop…
…only to discover, after some time waiting, that the buses had been cancelled! It turned out the station had been flooded and all buses had ceased running, much to our dismay.
Some of us began wondering if this was divine retribution for not having trodden the path of the Seraphic Father. Others reminded themselves of Renzo’s observation the night before, that while some may find the prospect of trudging through ankle-deep rivulets of mud up a mountain for ten hours an uplifting one, ‘I haven’t quite reached that spiritual state yet.’
Soon, with the help of a fellow-pilgrim in a similar predicament, we were able to find a local angel of mercy willing to convey us to Gubbio, and after a bumpy ride he dropped us right by the friary. We looked round the church, spent some time in prayer while waiting for Santo to work his wonders in Italian with the hostel, and on his return settled into our new lodging.
As I write this, I am lying in my bunk preparing to turn in for the night, well fortified by an excellent risotto and omelette dinner cooked by our resident Italians (including the newly-arrived Tommaso), a game of whist, a time of reflection and compline, and many fascinating theological conversations (the like of which have been known to prompt Fr Matthew to ask whether some might profit from a period of silence). Here’s to a peaceful night, and a day tomorrow filled with peace, prayer, and the company of friends!
Saturday, 17th September
Sunday, 18th September
Pilgrimage from Perugia to Assisi
After two days of thunderstorms and typhoon-like weather, the Sun finally shone upon us again. Topping up our water and filling up our belly, we started walking our last path from Perugia to Assisi.
25 km is a long-distance day walk especially when we all carried our heavy-duty rucksacks. For those who had been on the road more than a week with blisters all over their feet, it was an absolute challenge. I could not imagine how painful it is for them to continue walking. However, each step they took is an inspiration for me to keep moving on. Fortunately, with God’s blessing, we made it through. We first arrived at the basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, where the original site of the Franciscans “Portiuncula” was located. We then took some rest at a local cafe nearby to get some gelato to recharge our energy for the final destination to Papal basilica of St. Francis. In front of the basilica, we gave each other a hug as an appreciation for all the companionship along the trip. Thank you all!
“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward.” I know Steve Jobs might not be the best person to quote here but this sentence really came to me when Renzo Lam told me that he’s really glad we finally made it and he doesn’t think he would be able to make it without enough rest we had in the past two days. Now I am looking backward,I can see that God’s blessing for our trip was not only on those good-weather days but also on those bad-weather days. Although the previous rain and the thunderstorms disrupted our pilgrimage schedule, it was probably God’s plan for us to take some rest on our feet and get ready for the long walk to Assisi. For us, life is full of unpredictable events or unexpected circumstances. However, maybe what happened to us is not random or unexpected but God’s blessing for all of us. After all, everything is full of God’s mercy.
Monday, 19th September
Tuesday, 20th September
Wednesday, 21st September
Thursday, 22nd September