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!

Michał’s #PilgrimDiary:

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.

Soon after, we were all leaving on our separate ways. Since then, I’ve been travelling by train – today, I’ll be staying with Emily, who has offered to house some of us since she lives not far from the airport.
I’m overcome with a wide range of emotions – I can’t wait to be in Italy. I hope that this can be a time of self-reflection. It will be nice to see everyone tomorrow. I wonder what everyone is thinking – after all, pilgrimages are something that we’ve all have heard of, but for many of us, this is our first experience of one.
I think that seeing these ancient sites will make me feel more connected to the Christians that came before me. It makes you feel that you are not alone on this journey, and calls us to remember those that came before us. I have heard stories of the friendships that are made on pilgrimages – where complete strangers walk the same route, to reach the same destination, for the same purpose. I wonder what we’ll learn and who we’ll meet.
I plan on keeping a sort drawing diary. I’m not sure what I’ll draw – I guess it will be whatever feels right.
I pray that this pilgrimage may shape us all, and that we may grow close to God as a result.


Thursday, 8th September:

Santo’s #PilgrimDiary:
The first Mass on the Pilgrimage to Assisi was offered for the reposal of the soul of the Queen Elizabeth. As Fr Matthew said in his homily ‘The Queen’s devotion to her duty was a wonderful witness of her Christian faith’. May she rest in peace.
Please pray for the pilgrims as they begin their journey towards Assisi.
Benjamin’s #PilgrimDiary:

Day 0: Bologna

What better way to start a pilgrimage than with a penance of waking up in the middle of the night for an early flight to our first destination? While some spent the night in London, yours truly, jetlagged from my trip back to Oxford from Hong Kong, woke up at quarter past 3 and took the Airline to Heathrow. Seeing familiar faces again after months of summer marked the beginning of two weeks of spiritual growth, friendship and leg day.
Today was my first day in continental Europe. Stepping out of the plane, I breathed my first breath of Italian air – disappointed at the absence of the scent of pizza. But life moves on.
My first impression of Bologna was that of friendliness and compassion; having lost the walking sticks I checked in at Heathrow, the staff were attentive and caring in exploring alternatives for me. European courtesy only manifested even more when our fellow Italian pilgrim, and coordinator of the trip, Santo, guided us every step of our way to the city centre. From checking in at the Canossian and dropping off our bags, translating menus, to telling us about architectural and town history, the pilgrims were looked after exceedingly well by our doctor. Of special mention was our visit to the basilica where St. Dominic was buried. The transcendent pieces by Michaelangelo touched our soul. As Renzo and I knelt down in front of St. Dominic’s body, asking for this great saint’s intercession, I was reminded of God’s grace in converting me, and nudging me to baptism and confirmation a little more than 3 months ago.
As the day drew to an end, Fr. Matthew celebrated Mass for Queen Elizabeth. Let us pray especially hard for her soul, in being granted and her accepting eternal life in the presence of God.

Friday, 9th September

Maria’s #PilgrimDiary:

Day 1: Florence and La Verna

With alarms set for 6.30 and after a quick pastry stop, we left Bologna and boarded the train to Florence marking the next stage of our adventure. We were fortunate enough to celebrate mass at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore where we met up with 3 more pilgrims: Marianna, Anna and Alex. Afterwards we explored the city visiting the Museum of Saint Marco, walked along the Arno river and I tried my first ice cream of the trip. Two more trains and a bus through the beautiful Italian countryside, with a second ice cream stop on the way, took us to La Verna. We reached our destination for the night, the sanctuary where St Francis received the stigmata. The sanctuary is located on Mount Penna and has breathtaking views of the valley below. Our dinner came with the 3rd ice cream of the day and towards the end of the night we reflected on our intentions for the journey, looking forward to taking our first steps following the path of St Francis of Assisi tomorrow.

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

Renzo’s #PilgrimDiary:

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

Anna‘s #PilgrimDiary:

‘It’s a beautiful morning!’ chirped Emily, returning into the darkness of our sleepy room. My bed was by the door, and her statement was incongrously accompanied by a brief vision of dim grey light and a blast of cold air. I wanted to go back to sleep.
The morning was soon warming however. Before long excellent coffee had been drunk and in a vision of boyish bliss Alexander and Renzo were happily engaged in hitting each other with sticks in the dappled sunlight which was beginning to peep through the trees. We gathered and shared prayer intentions before setting off.
It was not long before our pilgrim valiance was tried, and the wonders of modern technology (GPS) pitted against the wonders of ancient technology (signage). We followed our Welsh guide Michał as he sprang merrily as a sheep in the valleys down and up the suspicious looking wilderness into which the phone led us leaving the comfort of signage behind, to make sure there was a way ahead. Halfway down the mountain confidence began to fail. Michal valiantly forged through the trees of an almost sheer slope and disappeared. We sat, talked, whittled the walking sticks we’d picked up along the way. Michal returned, unconvinced of the path. Santo called a mysterious friend. It was confirmed. Signage had achieved its victory over GPS, and our legs were the collateral damage. Up we climbed, conscious of the futility of our reascent.
We continued, and found that the way became easy and broad, but thankfully did not lead to the destruction of anything but our poor pilgrim feet. We passed some beautiful fountains bringing us fresh water from the mountains, and a hermitage (pictured) with a beautiful depiction of Our Lady that, if my poor Italian translation can be trusted, spoke to St. Clare, and a cloister as perfectly beautiful and peaceful as it was small.
A spirit of peace is certainly what Fr. Matthew desired when he gently suggested in the wake of an ardent theological discussion between certain young gentleman that many in the group might benefit from half an hour’s walking silently in prayer. Shortly afterwards, in the setting sun, we passed a sign announcing our presence in Sansepulcro, and finally arrived at the old convent in which we could collapse and rest our weary feet, with – joy of joys! – free washing machines. The day ended with Mass and Pizza and clean socks. Tomorrow, we take the bus.

Tuesday, 13th September

Fr Matthew’s #PilgrimDiary:

Rest day!
No day is without its challenges! A hornet has just been spotted in the kitchen of our hostel, so lights are being switched off and windows opened to see off a less than welcome additional guest. We are still some way from living what in popular imagination is the spirit of St Francis of Assisi!
Today was a welcome rest day from walking; we covered the equivalent of two days on foot by an afternoon bus that has taken us from Tuscany into Umbria, from the former Servite monastery, with its grand vaulted ceilings and elegant passage ways, in Sansepolcro to a more modest but wonderfully clean hostel provided by the enclosed Clarissian nuns in Citta di Castello. For the time being at least, we have left the hills and now very much in the Umbrian plains.
We began the day with Mass in the former Cathedral of Sansepolcro. The Parish Priest made us very welcome, inviting Santo forward at the end of the liturgy to translate for us warm greetings from the local community and encouragement for our onward journey.
Rest and food have been central to the day! A park next to a Franciscan Church provided the ideal spot for the Senior Chaplain, (but not just he) to stretch out and doze in the shade and it was there that we gathered for lunch, various pilgrims arriving from the supermarket with almost as much in their lunch bags as they would normally have in their haversacks! No names mentioned!
We were sad to say goodbye to Marianna two days ago. Today we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming Chian to the group, a first contact for us with someone who could bring us news of how the days since the death of the Queen (RIP) have been being experienced in Oxford. What a momentous time you have all been living through, and us too in our own specific way. Please God graces for the country will flow from the end of her Majesty’s reign.
Please pray for us as we resume our walk tomorrow.


Wednesday, 14th September

Nathan’s #PilgrimDiary:

𝙁𝙚𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙀𝙭𝙖𝙡𝙩𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙤𝙛 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙃𝙤𝙡𝙮 𝘾𝙧𝙤𝙨𝙨
I will begin my diary with some of the beautiful and wholesome moments of the day, and then I will explore some thoughts about St. Francis. One scene that remained with me was an encounter we had with two horses- the horses were being bothered by flies and looked to be in discomfort. We had a rest alongside them and gave them some loving attention. Another harmonious scene involved Maria teaching us how to play Quidditch on the drive next to the next Church and house we were staying at. (For the record, the internationally accepted term for the sport is now ‘Quadball’). The final score was 3-3 between Griffindore and Slitherin- Benjamin made an excellent Malfoy. Now, I will share some of my thoughts about the spiritual meaning of our pilgrimage.
St. Francis lived a life of profound self-denial- he discarded clothing, money, and all things associated with appearances. He and his friars went out to share the Gospel. Francis seemed to be accepting of his brethren suffering persecution, and he directly instructed the friars to not retaliate if attacked. Upon hearing that a small group of friars had been martyred because of their faith, Francis said that he now knew he had ‘true’ friars. I think about this intense part of St. Francis’ spirituality in connection with God’s teaching to St. Paul: ‘my power is perfected in weakness’.
I associate with this passage of Scripture the idea that: when our human nature is deprived of natural benefits (physical comfort, security, money, and so on), the only thing that is left to act through us is God’s supernatural power. If, through self-denial or persecution, we have no natural power left, there is only God’s power that remains to act through us. So, when St. Francis and his friars let go of physical tools and benefits, they were not incapacitating themselves; rather, they were clearing the way so that only God’s power was present to act through them.
These themes feel very intense. How can they connect with us on our humble pilgrimage? Following Francis’ example of material poverty, we can take up small acts of self-denial. Following the spiritual power of Francis’ embrace of a kind of ‘worldly weakness’, we can see our personal weaknesses or Crosses in a new light: our Crosses may be the very parts of us where God is most present to act powerfully and share His love.

Thursday, 15th September

Emily’s #PilgrimDiary:

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

Tommaso’s #PilgrimDiary:

We got up in cold Gubbio without rush, having a calm and generous breakfast, together with two other pilgrimages in our shelter.
In the morning we visited the wonderful medieval city of Gubbio, the city of the duke: walls, hills, churches and ups and downs in a peaceful landscape. Heavy rain and strong wind surprised us, forcing the groups to look for protection inside a church and a medieval palace. We shared a simple lunch in a bakery and we went to Perugia by bus.
Perugia welcomed us with escalators and the sub-surface town, where we met Alex and Caroline. We visited the cathedral and the main civil palace in the splendid city centre. Perugia is famous for its chocolate, so we bought some sweets and found rest in a cafe with hot chocolate.
In the evening, we walked towards the hotel, where we had a plentiful dinner and we celebrated our Sunday mass in the hotel chapel! Here we had an amazing surprise: Fr Matthew’s room was used by Saint John Paul when he visited Perugia. He affirmed that it could possibly be the first time he slept in the bed of a saint!

Sunday, 18th September

Chian’s #PilgrimDiary:

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

Caroline’s #PilgrimDiary:
You could say that our walking pilgrimage is over. Our backpacks are resting by the foot of a bed while we wander through the winding cobblestone alleys on Assisi. Visiting church after church, the ancient city slowly reveals its venerable treasures.
Hobbling or skipping down the mountainside to St Damiano, and climbing back up again, it becomes clear that our walking pilgrimage is not over until it’s over. Still deciphering Latin, still calling Anna to give us the starting notes of our harmonies, still beating our walking sticks against the ground as we walk. And still amazed by the life of St Francis of Assisi.
Time for a new phase of our travels with a few days in Rome. It’s noisy, it’s bustling, it’s beautiful too.
Compline tonight – in St Peter’s Square, where else! Mid-chant, a stranger joins us, attracted by the warmth of our communal prayer. With Philippino flair, our new friend Dimitrio gathers us around him and leads us in an Our Father. God is all around, the Church is Universal.
After a short night’s rest we will be back in St Peter’s Basilica to attend Mass in the crypt, only a few footsteps away from St Peter’s tomb. Prayers, melodies, and chants from neighbouring chapels will filter into our service. I saw bishops, cardinals, official dignitaries, students, professors, children, parents, and friends in St Peter’s Basilica. They came for many different reasons, but they all came for Mass. This is the Church – what a lovely Church!

Tuesday, 20th September

Ye-Ye’s #PilgrimDiary:


Very few places in the world oblige me to simply stop and stare at beauty. Assisi was one such town; already I long to go back. Brick-layered streets climb up and round the Umbrian hills. Sunlight strikes its every level. Small flocks of birds swirl here and there. Church bells toll all over. The sight is bright, and musical. There are olive trees of which aroma you can smell that take you back to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Assisi was a quieter, protected space – the home of St Francis and St Clare and their tombs. We were far away from the car engines and traffic lights of Florence and larger crowds of tourists. Arrival here marked the end of the walking part of the pilgrimage, whence most of us could rest properly and pray in stillness. We prayed in the Basilica of St Francis, enveloped by painted memories of the Gospels and portraits of Saints – I could have stayed there for hours. We prayed before the wooden Cross of San Damiano, where St Francis in his twenties heard the voice of God telling him to rebuild the Church.
We also prayed before the body of St Clare. I reflected on the strength of this woman to answer God’s call in her teenage years and to found the order of the Poor Clares.
But time in Assisi was short. After one night in a convent, we took a bus down the hill, then a train to cacophonic Rome. Our first day in the capital, on 20 September, was bursting with visual magnificence and heartfelt reunions. Early that morning we went to the Vatican – it was sparkling in the sunshine – to meet an old friend of ours, Fr José María La Porte, of the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce. He so kindly arranged for us a private Mass to be celebrated in the Grotte Vaticane, which are the Papal tombs that lie below St Peter’s Basilica. Following Mass, we took a croissant – pistachio crème my favourite – and coffee breakfast at a café nearby, before touring around Rome on foot, guided by Fr José.
Thanks to Jasmine, several of us were invited to visit the The Venerable English College, Rome, a seminary founded in 1579. Fr Stephen Wang, former Chaplain of Newman House, is the present Rector. The history of the college is one of mission and martyrdom; over the course of 100 years, 44 former students, once returned to England, died for their faith by brutal execution. We were humbled to speak and eat with present seminarians and priests, and will be keeping all of them in our prayers.

Wednesday, 21st September


Katerina’s #PilgrimDiary:

St. Peter’s was bathed in a golden glow as we walked into St. Peter’s square overflowing with eager pilgrims. It was 7 am, and although bleary-eyed from a late night the previous evening, our expectant hope and croissants in each hand sustained us this morning.
And suddenly there he was: a little head donning a white cap peering from a car with a gentle wave. Our Union Jack flag alight, the crowd cheered and smiles tore across our faces. This was not a greeting for a celebrity or a president, but for the successor of Peter, the one who binds our faith in a living Church.
As the various delegates of each language spoke and paid their respects to the pope, we were struck by the universality of our faith. Our Church binds French, Polish, Hispanic, and Arabic speaking-worlds together. And when the pope replied to the Hispanic delegate in Spanish, I felt he related especially to me.
The rest of the day was filled with small joys, of sharing carbonara, and visiting the tombs of St. Monica and St. Catherine of Siena, and eating 4-scoop tiered cones of gelato. To my happy surprise, at mass Santo and I found ourselves seated next to the tomb of my great inspiration, Bl. Fra Angélico.
On our walk home, a few of us stopped to watch the sunset over the dome of St. Peter’s on the Tiber. Delirious from exhaustion and glowing from all of the holy sites we visited, we couldn’t stop laughing as we mimicked each other’s English accents and tried speaking to each other in a mixture of Italian, Spanish, and Latin. In this moment, we felt that friendship across cultures is life-giving.
Love reaches us in the very fiber of our physical reality. It meets us in our cultures, beckoning us to greater universality. Love cherishes us as we are, and bids us to go beyond ourselves. We have the great freedom to be who we are, and who we are meant to be. The Church, guided by the papacy, is grounded in our earthly home, and leads us to our heavenly home.

Thursday, 22nd September

Jasmine’s #PilgrimDiary:

In a final homily before our flight home, Fr Joseph reminded us not to lose the ‘sense of eternity’ which had imbued our stay in Italy. This comment made me reflect on the paradox of pilgrimage. Over the past month, the materiality and historicity of my Catholic faith — the exhilaration of knowing that ‘this happened here’ — has strengthened my belief in the One who ultimately transcends the material and the historical, being beyond space and time.
Reaching Rome was the culmination of my summer of spiritual discoveries: this had begun with a period of volunteering in Lourdes and a family wedding near Fátima before I reunited with the Oxford Chaplaincy cohort to share faith and friendship in Florence, Siena and Assisi. Each of these locations offered me a different encounter with Christ; sometimes alone, sometimes with others.
He was in Our Lady’s Grotto; in the candlelit Rosary processions; in the nuptial vows; in the houses of the three shepherd-children; in the glittering sacred art of the Uffizi Gallery; in the streets stepped upon by St Catherine; in countless tabernacles, sacramentally; in the frescoed Franciscan basilicas; in the sincere sacerdotal eyes which blessed us and our religious objects; in the breathtaking burial place of Blessed Carlos Acutis; in the exquisite viewpoints over the picturesque province of Perugia; in the helpful hands of those who lugged my pink suitcase up and down endless metro station stairs; in the pervasive peace of the Vatican’s underground chapels; in the rich tradition of the @vecrome; in the joy of gelato, macchiato and aperitivo; in the silent surroundings of holy tombs; in the international cheers of St Peter’s Square as the Popemobile approached; and in the heart-warming hug of my dad who greeted me as I got off the bus from Gatwick, home.
The pilgrimage hasn’t ended… it continues. Savouring the ‘sense of eternity’ which has struck me this summer, I now appreciate anew the beauty to be found in everyday life and in the graced companionships which accompany me on the ongoing pilgrimage to our Father’s home in Heaven.