After hiking 128 km from Rieti to Spello I have only 13 km to go before I arrive in Assisi! I can actually see it from the wall of the hilled city of Spello, neighbouring city of Assisi. I am so exited and so grateful!
It has been quite a journey so far. I would classify the highlights into two different aspects: 1) Those I would chalk up under the column “adventure” and throes I would put under the column “pilgrimage”. I suppose very true pilgrimage involves a fair bit of adventure doesn’t it? So, how about the adventure column first?
Well, the first day, as you well know if you’ve been following my blog, started with a bang when I found myself stranded halfway to my destination resulting from a strike! I hung around at the station hoping that the next train would come and each time it didn’t… by about 1pm I was really starting to worry. I needed to get to Rieti very soon, as I had to make it to Poggio Bustone (the site if a Franciscan hermitage built on the site of where Francis would sometimes go to pray with his brothers) and, once there, I would need to hike 18 or 19 km mostly uphill to get there. What’s more, well, it’s June in Italy, which means that by the afternoon it is definitely above 30 degrees. So, I started looking for a cab or a bus or anything to get me the rest of the way now that I realized I couldn’t wait any longer. I finally did manage to find a cab and two others in the same situation as me so we were able to split the 100 euro cab ride!! Wow! But, I arrived and could start and start I did at about 2:30pm. I had some ground to cover. I did make it to my destination at about 7:30pm and boy was I tired and hungry!! Thanks be to God for a good host who looked after me and fed me that night. Here is a picture of the following morning when I could finally visit the Franciscan sanctuary:
The second major adventure came as a result of what we’ll call ‘Michael error’. Yup, I made a mistake in thinking that 32km would be ok to hike in a day and, not just the distance but, over a mountain as well! Oh I was asking for this one… I still can’t believe how I did it. I started at 6am and hiked until 3:30pm with really only two breaks – I don’t know what was harder, go my up or down? Man, I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hard hike! The vistas were amazing though, especially on the way up! Unfortunately I don’t have any good shots as I was in business mode while on my hike. I took a wrong turn at one point and ended up having to hike about an extra kilometre or so to make up for it – I am so grateful I caught it and am a bit surprised I did as somethingbjust didn’t feel right – I had not seen a marker for a while and I felt like I was going the wrong direction too… it’s easy to miss a turn when hiking uphill for so long as you sort of out your nose to the ground and look only at the step right in front of you (this way you are less discouraged by what lies up up ahead). When I finally made it to my hotel I cleaned up and slept and slept and then tended to my poor feet. I have had to really look after them after that day as they paid the price the most I think. I will spare you a picture…
As for the pilgrimage highlights? Well, two main ones have to do with locations connected with St. Francis. The first was at the Sanctuary of Poggio Bustone, mentioned above, where Francis used to pray. They have built the sanctuary over the cave where he would pray but have preserved the cave so that you can still visit it. There is a built a wooden crucifix in a spot where it is believed he would pray and i was able to pray there by myself first thing in the morning. Just beautiful! Truly a special moment to recall. What a peaceful place and to be here first thing in the morning was tremendous – it was so quiet and prayerful. Here is a picture of the place I prayed:
The second place is also a place associated with St. Francis and His prayer. It is called Monteluco and was offered to him as a place for retreat and prayer. He would go up there before there was anything there and pray. They have built a small church and monastery over the place and built a tiny tiny chapel mover a rock where Francis is said to have abandoned himself to the Lord – which likely means a type of surrender to the will or God and God’s will. I was able to pray a moment here too and am so grateful for I remember being ked to pray a similar prayer of abandonment and surrender to the Lord. Also, the Franciscan brother even gave me an apple and a small fruit (not certain what it is but it is similar to a nectarine) which was a beautiful comfort as this was in the midst of my longest day over the mountain and it helped tide me over until I arrived at Spoleto. Here is the spot where I was able to pray:
Plus, they had some cells that were built a little after Francis (one of which Michealangelo stayed in to escape his work in Rome – sounds familiar!). They are pretty humble to say the least – check one out:
Pretty incredible little cells! They were beautiful in a very austere way and it’s hard to describe the experience of being there where so many people have so seriously prayed to the Lord. I won’t forget it ever I think. Every door had a a beautiful written on it: Bkessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. Very moving.
Well, those are a few adventures and experiences I’ve had so far and I am still to arrive in Assisi, which I will do tomorrow by He afternoon. I am hoping to celebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Francesco. May the Lord provide! The following morning I will celebrate Mass at the Basilica of Santa Chiara for a group of American pilgrims and then I am off to Rome before coming home the following day.
May God bless you and know that you are in my prayers and I am doing my best to carry you and your burdens with me along the way to Assisi. My brothers and sisters in Christ, keep walking for the Lord loves you and is with you and will bring you to your destination with joy and peace and love!
See you in the Eucharist!!