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Papa Francis The First | His Holiness Papa Francisco

Preparing for Pilgrimage...

As you read this, I will be arriving in Italy for a Franciscan pilgrimage. For the past two weeks I’ve been getting ready. Amidst all the physical preparations, including creating “the List” (of things to do, buy, and pack for the trip — keeping in mind to simplify, simplify), buying good walking shoes for the pilgrimage’s extensive hiking up and down the hills of Assisi, making sure my camera is up to the task of recording and transferring the anticipated photos, buying an Italian outlet converter and language phrasebook, buying trip insurance, obtaining an international ATM card, and getting my hair cut shorter to avoid transporting multiple hair products and implements across the ocean, I am aware that this trip also requires preparation of another kind altogether.

It’s time to prepare the mental and spiritual ground. I have read and listened to Francis: The Journey and the Dream and Francis and Jesus, both written by Friar Murray Bodo, and other books on Francis (we tend to have a few here at Franciscan Media). I attended a poetry-and-music night honoring Francis at the Friars’ Studio in Cincinnati, recently watched Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the 1972 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and Franciscan Media’s own Assisi Pilgrimage DVD program.

As the pilgrimage handbook explains, a pilgrim approaches the visit to holy ground much differently than a mere tourist. “Pilgims perceive an internal dimension…while tourists are concerned with the external journey alone.” The internal dimension is what I do not want to miss, so I am leaving behind any technology – cell phone, laptop — that will tend to keep me in the fray of my ordinary life.

In light of the growing popularity of pilgrimages — 20,000 visitors a day at Lourdes, pilgrim’s certificates (for those who have walked 100 kilometers of the Camino de Compostela trail in Spain) growing exponentially from 2,000 in 1983 to 70,000 in 1993, the crowds who gather December 12 at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico now numbering in the millions — the handbook further comments, “In the midst of growing secularism and modernity, technology and electronics, mobility and rapid travel, space exploration and information superhighways, people are seeking the stable and unchanging rootedness of sacred earth.”

To someone sometimes alarmed at the pace of change today, this is welcome news indeed, and I am looking forward to my time in the medieval ambiance of Assisi. For a taste of the experience, see this excerpt from Franciscan Media’s Assisi Pilgrimage DVD:

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