Franciscan Spirit Blog

Roamin’ Catholic: Always a Pilgrim

Wandering the streets of Rome, the Franciscan spirit is alive. It breathes. We pilgrims inhale deeply.

We are on the bus to Rome after being in Assisi for over a week. I’m torn. I don’t want to leave the hometown of Francis and Clare, but I can’t wait to get to a big city. I appreciated the quiet. Now I want the noise.

After an hour in Italy’s capital, I’m not surprised that I love it. I have always felt more comfortable in a noisy, bustling metropolis, and Rome is one with a lightning-fast pulse. In our downtime, three of us eat gelato at the Spanish Steps, where Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck shared a memorable scene in Roman Holiday—one of my favorites. We’re wandering, not knowing exactly where it is we’re going. Honestly, I’m indifferent. I’ve never been so happy to be lost.

There’s a reason our pilgrimage group spends time in the city. It was in Rome where Francis sought papal authorization for his brotherhood in 1209. Pope Innocent III saw Francis as a holy contractor of sorts—somebody with a willing heart and a strong back who could repair a broken Church.

Visiting the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome brings this point home to me. This is day 10 of our pilgrimage. In 1926, a bronze statue was created of Francis and his brothers and erected across the street from the basilica. Francis is dressed like a holy pauper, his arms raised high in the air. As our guides point out, the view from behind the bronze statue makes it look as if Francis is holding up St. John Lateran.

I’m in awe of the paradox: his frail arms, wreathed in tattered clothes, keeping aloft an opulent Church. Rumor has it Pope Innocent’s advisers cautioned him about meeting Francis, thinking him too radical, too controversial. But the pope was taken by his pious humility. Francis’ Rule was formally approved in 1223, just three years before he died.

Centuries later, his efforts flourish: The Franciscan spirit surrounding this area breathes. We pilgrims inhale deeply.

Sadly, it’s here: the last day of our pilgrimage. We receive a papal blessing and use our free time the rest of the afternoon drifting around.

I spend my last night on the balcony of my hotel room drinking wine and looking up at a heavy sky. I feel anchored—not wanting to leave this spot. I peer into my pilgrimage book and read how Clare was sometimes so overwhelmed with a hybrid of emotions that she was immovable—not knowing, it reads, “whether she had a feeling of holiness, a sudden bashful impulse, whether she ought to pray or just sit and dream.” I know the feeling. I don’t want to move but it’s time to leave Italy. My own Roman holiday is over.

The mood on the bus to the airport the next morning is a medley: Some are quiet, some are chatty. I’m somewhere in between. I crave conversation, but I also want to remove myself and savor these final moments. I spend the long hours in the air back to the States journaling, half-watching movies, and looking at pictures, memorabilia, schlock I’m bringing home for family and friends. We land at Chicago’s O’Hare for a layover.

As I wait for the last flight, my mind regains some of its focus. It’s time to resume my normal life. My shoulders hang low from backpack fatigue. My eyes are strained and weary. But it is my pilgrim heart, eager and tireless, that still wanders the sun-kissed streets of Italy.

For more on Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, click here or the image below!

Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs


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