It has been nearly 30 years since I set foot in Assisi or Rome, and as the day of my departure draws closer, I naturally wonder what it will be like to walk the same paths that St. Francis walked. I am also curious to see if I will notice any differences in these special places from 30 years ago, but I suspect the real differences lie with me.
My first trip to Assisi was in 1980, just a couple of months before I would formally enter the Franciscans as a novice. I had just had a course on the early writings of St. Francis which was taught by my then-guardian-formation director, Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv. I remember how grateful I was for Wayne’s insistence on all of us memorizing the dates and significant places in Francis’ journey. As I visited each of these places they came alive in a deeper fashion than before.
My second pilgrimage to Assisi was in 1985, a year after I professes my solemn vows in the Conventual Franciscan Order. I was a bit older, not that much wiser, but a little more seasoned in the Franciscan life. The big difference for me during this journey was that I was now formally a part of this centuries old fraternity and I felt that every site I visited was now a part of my heritage, my story.
I return to these beautiful places after 25 years of retreat ministry; I am a different person than I was in 1985–a bit heavier, much grayer, and far more seasoned in the Franciscan way of life. (Perhaps the term, “slow-cooked,” is a better description.) My journey with my fellow pilgrims will be an adventure, a time for prayer and reflection and a wonderful opportunity to see and take in the land that was so much a part of St. Francis.
To quote that great entertainer of the 20th century, Jackie Gleason: “And away we go…”
Peace and all good things… Bro. Bob