13 km to go to Assisi!

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:


Oh, and here is a view from my room that night…


There were a few upsides when I finally arrived. Wow! What a day! I’m glad that I made it. Thanks be to God! 

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!!

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SCIOPERO!

So, I got up early this morning and hiked three kilometres to the train station in order to begin my cammino from Rieti to Assisi over the next week. All was going to plan until my train made it to Terni where I needed to make a transfer to a regional train. I got off the train to look for my transfer and … SCIOPERO! 

This is a word you get used to hearing fairly often here in Italy – it means ‘strike’. It seems like no one strikes more here in Italy than public transit. I was wondering how I was going to make it the rest of my way to my starting point of Rieti but, good news, there is another train that they decided not to ‘cancellato’. So grateful! Praise God! Plus, I discovered a little statue of St. Francis in the train station – I am in the right place and all will ok! 

Well, until later. It looks like it is going to be a hot one! Here we go! Amen! St. Francis and St. Clare…. PRAY FOR US!

THANK YOU!

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Guess what? I am finished! I have completed my first year in Rome! I literally just completed my last exam, paid a visit to the Blessed Sacrament to say thank you to God and now I want to do the same to all of you!

Thank you so very much to each and every one of you who has supported me with all of your prayers throughout my academic year! I am so grateful! It is hard to express how challenging this year has been as the challenges were very unique and new for me – many of which pertained to language and communication. Please know that I am grateful for you all and all of the support you/ve given and the faith you have in me – most especially through your prayer. Thank you for also checking in here at my blog even though I have been so incredibly terrible in updating it once I began my studies. May God bless you and help you each as you need. Thank you for sharing some of my burden throughout this year. It is a blessing to be a part of such a beautiful body of people call the Church! Thanks be to God for the Body of Christ and every one of His members!

Please know that I continue to pray for many of you and will do so before returning home as I am making a hiking pilgrimage to Assisi. I will lift you up on my journey and when I arrive to that holy place in just over a weeks time. May God bless you and keep you in His peace through the grace and love afforded us in Christ Jesus!

Arrividerci da Roma!

In Christ,

Fr. Michael Schumacher

Walking with the Saints

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Anyone who knows me even just a little likely knows that my favourite saint is Saint Francis of Assis (Santa Francesc0 as he is called in Italian). I have long loved this little poor man since some of the earliest days of my conversion and during the time of my discernement of my vocation to the priesthood. I have benefitted so much from his great witness and profound and radical love for all of God’s creation. It is primarily because of the example of St. Francis of Assisi that I often refer to others as my brothers and sisters for he did this not only with other people but even with animals and other aspects of God creation – most profoundly I think was when he was composing his most important “Canticle of the Sun” he named and welcomed death as “sister death”.

As I set out out from Rome for Assisi I must admit that there was a subdued excitement joined with a more substantial seriousness or solemness within me. I was going to a place that I had read about countless times, in order to see and pray at the resting places of two saints who had inspired and guided me during a most important time of my conversion. What would I see and expereince? How would it affect me? I was going to a kind of starting place for my own conversion and setting out to live the gospel. I was definitely on a pilgrimage.

As the train approached Assisi – you can see it some way off from the train as it is built wonderfully atop a mountain – my excitement and emotion grew. It was beautiful to behold with my own eyes, more beautiful than I had ever thought. I had made it and I thanked God for it. What a true blessing this day was. God is good!

Assisi did not dissapoint, apart from the fact that I had only 5 hours to make my way through these holy places, I was moved and touched by so many things during my short stay there. I arrived at the Basilica of Santa Francesco, by the gace of God, just in time for Mass after stading in line for 30 minutes in order to get through security. Follwong Mass I was able to go to confession and, although it was in Italain, it was still a moving and transformative expereince. It was then, after responding to the grace of God as best I could, that I set out to visit the tombs of Brother Francis and Sister Claire. I will not give much details of my experiences there – they are very personal – but I will say that the Francisans have beautifully arranged the chapels for pilgrims to pray in the presence of their burial places. Unlike some of the other places in Rome or even in Assisi, when one descends to these tombs, the people are all rapt in prayer or in devotion and reflection. Prayer and peace is tangible here and it is truly beautiful and it assists the soul in going to God in prayer and seeking the assistance of these saints living in Him. Neither of the basilica’s allow photography and it is such a blessing – it seems like it helps people to be present to where they are and what they are seeing. There were times when I would have loved to capture something with a photograph but I was also so very grateful that I could not try to take something of the sanctity and grandeur of these places (feeble as that effort would have been).

After making a grande tour to several of the major sites in Assisi (the Basilica of Santa Francesco, the Basilica of Santa Chiara, the town square where Francis disrobed and chose to be a son of God the Father, the church where he began the tradition of the nativity cresh by brining in live farm animals, and finally the place where he died in the presence of His brothers) I made my way to the station to take the train back to Rome. I was kept in prayer the whole way home and I was grateful and moved by the love of God for us and for the great faith and trust of St. Francis and St. Claire in that love. I want to follow them in faithfulness and sincerity in living the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord make it possible for us by His grace and may these blessed saints of God continue to help us on our journey.

One thing is certain, I will return to Assisi when I am able.

Vatican City

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I made it to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square on Sunday. It is hard to describe how I felt. I sort of felt like I was at home but more than that. I felt like I was not alone – even though in many ways I am alone here in Rome – and that I belonged there. It was a very beautiful experience just to be there and to not only see but to sense the universality of the Church and some connection with all her members past and present. I spent a fair bit of time just wandering through the square and walking under the collinades (there is a beautiful breeze there). I am not certain what I was thining though as it was a very hot day and I did not have a hat! It won’t take me very long I think to look like one of the Romans!

Once I made it inside I tried to make it around to the various side altars of St. Peter’s and I was able to pray at the altars dedicated to Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII. I was grateful to see a number of people praying in these places. I also happend upon the relics of Pope St. Gregory the Great in another side altar! I immediately thought of St. Gregory’s Parish in Holden whose patronage the parish there is entrusted to and I knelt down and prayed for the parish and the people of God there. It was a moving experience being able to do that. May his intercession benefit the people of God in St. Gregory’s Pairsh and lead them to ever greater holiness and joy!

Finally, I decided to walk up the 551 steps to the cupola or dome of St. Peter’s. It was my first little mountain climb since arriving in Europe! As I climbed all I could think of was of a friend of mine who apparently almost died (exaggerating a little here) because of the number of steps. They get narrower and narrower as you get closer to the top and it was quite an amazing thing to see both the dome up close and to look down upon the baldecino and the altar from above. Once at the top a person can see Rome in every direction and it is wonderful to behold. I do not know what time the cupola opens but I think that it would be wonderful to be up there for either sunrise or sunset. I hope to be able to do that sometime. I will leave you with a picture of the cupola. Addiamo!

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Hidden in Rome

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So, I made it to Rome earlier today after a long flight and a little sleep. Blessings to you all who are following my progress. Some undoubtably are wondering whether I am here on a little vacation or something. No, I am here in order to commence studies of Italian which I am to begin on Monday morning. I will do two months of intensive immersive studies – intensivo – as my course is actually called. Then, with hopefully enough progress in Italiano, I will begin a Licentiate in Moral Theology. But, as for today, I was free to wander the streets fo Rome and visit as many Churches as I could.

As I visited numerous Churches I was obviously confronted with a lot of other tourists as the above photo confirms. I was most suprised by how many torusits there were visiting the Pantheon or Santa Maria dei Martiri as it is also called. I was so suprised by the incredible lineup in orderto get in that I decided I would come back another time, perhaps for Mass or in the morning sometime. In each of the Churches that I visited I stopped to pray for a bit or for a while longer than a bit but, in almost all of them, I was confronted with the same experience. Many many people milling about taking millions of pictures (I took my small share as well) but most of them never stopping to pray. I was really struck by the amazing presence that was right underneath their noses (or camera lenses) and how so few of them even realized it. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Pantheon. When I arrived their was an anticipated Sunday Mass in progress so there were guards to keep people form going in. I was grateful for this care to keep sacred the liturgy. Nevertheless, people waited and waited for the smallish group of Mass goers to come out so that they could rush in to see the grande building and space (and indeed it is grande!). I wanted them to know that they looked for beauty, for mystery and for something to awe them but that, although they may have found some of it in the stunning architecture, there was something – Someone – infinitely more awesome and particualry present in that same space in the Eucharistic Lord!

God’s sacramental presence! The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist! They were entering into the proximity of Christ’s most inredible presence and had no idea that God is there in a unique and privildged way… My heart went out to them. I was so grateful to know the Lord was there, in those Churches which were meant to display and captivate and lead people towards Him – to an awareness and an openess of His loving presence and humble love. Oh Lord, grant to many of them the gift of faith and the keenest of experiences to direct and guide their hearts and minds to You, the great and amazing Lord of all. Grant peace to them in such a way that nothing in this world, not even the grandest of Your churches can ever hope to them, so that they are moved to seek You and be drawn to You because of your Merciful gifts.

My dear freinds, thank you for all your prayers, please know that I am grateful for them and I have been and will be praying for you too! May the Lord be with you and grant you His Peace as well – reminding you of the incredible and unfathomable treasure that we have in the Eucharist!

I will see you in the Mass!

Fr. Michael

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The Season of What?

It is an interesting and sad fact that the season of Advent is almost entirely forgotten and overlooked by even many Christians. Evidence of this can be seen in the Christmas music, not properly or often rightly distinguished from Advent music, already playing on the airwaves and the department store speakers, the Christmas trees and Christmas decorations decorating the public and personal spaces even before the season of Advent has begun, and the continuous greetings by well intentioned Christians of Merry Christmas weeks before the Christmas season has arrived beginning of course with Christmas Day.

I realize that I may appear to be spitting hairs to some. What’s the big deal? To be fair, when I encounter these early Christmas celebrations I rarely will say anything. I only think that the season of Advent is too important to miss. That the more we forget about the season of preparation for the coming of The Lord, for the coming of Christmas, the more we actually lose something of the true character of Christmas and the Christmas season. One might even argue that generally speaking we need to recapture the character and importance of the Christmas season too. I agree, but I also believe that that will not be fully possible without the season of preparation, without Advent.

Think about it. How well can one celebrate or participate in something if they don’t properly prepare for it? For example, what kind of experience would one have it they had a piano recital in one month and spend the entire time leading up to the recital practicing on the electric guitar or voice lessons instead of practicing on the piano? It could get even worse if one thought that the best way to prepare for the recital would be accomplished by painting or some other completely unrelated activity? You get the idea. More than ever I am realizing the importance of the Advent season as s season of preparation for the season of Christmas and for the Lord’s coming again in Glory. It is very problematic then that most people, in fact most Christians, prepare for the coming of The Lord and for the remembrance of His initial coming by going shopping and decorating their homes.

I believe that both shopping for gifts and decorating our homes have their rightful place in our lives and, properly incorporated into the Advent and the Christmas seasons, can even enhance or contribute to the proper and true character of these beautiful seasons. It is also important to remember though that these good things are only secondary to the primary concerns and principle aspects of Advent and Christmas. How much more profound and enriching would our experience of Christmas and the Christmas season be if we truly prepared for the advent of The Lord? If we took great efforts to make straight His coming and removed any obstacles in our lives that hindered our readiness and reception of His coming near? The more we are anticipating the Lord’s return the more we will benefit from the Church’s celebration and reflection on Christ’s first coming on the Holy Night.

I want to end with a beautiful quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church; “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Adventeach year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming.”

God loved us first

God loved us first so we, having received and accepted love from God, are also called to love others first – to forgive others first. As such we should not fight over the head of the table but rather to fight over the towel.

This is a paraphrase from one of the catechetical sessions given us by a Cardinal during  World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I was amazed at the image this created for me, especially having read this again after last weekends readings on humility where Jesus reminds us to humble ourselves rather than exalt ourselves. It is only the one who knows (experiences) that they are loved first that can freely, and without qualification, love others first.