27 September 2023

A Franciscan pilgrimage of faith and discovery

A week before the World Youth Day event in Lisbon, a group of pilgrims from Singapore embarked on a spiritual journey to Assisi. Led by three Franciscan Friars, this Franciscan pilgrimage from 24 to 31 July was a profound quest by the pilgrims to deepen their faith and explore the timeless teachings of St Francis and St Clare, who have been guiding lights for over 800 years.

The pilgrimage had three simple yet profound aspects: to get a sense of where we are going, how we are getting there, and with whom we are travelling:

1. Clarity of Purpose: Just as St Francis and St Clare found their calling in a life of poverty, simplicity, and service to others, we sought to clarify our life’s purpose and to understand the path God has set for us.

2. Continuation of the Journey: The pilgrimage was only a chapter in our greater pilgrimage of life, an experience that we hoped would teach us how to continue our spiritual journey with renewed vigour and purpose.

3. Companionship: We discovered the importance of community and companionship in our spiritual journey. We travelled with like-minded individuals who shared our faith, and provided support and encouragement along the way.

Our journey took us to sacred sites deeply connected to the lives and legacies of St Francis and St Clare:

1. Basilica of St Francis: This magnificent basilica, dedicated to St Francis, is a testament to his enduring influence. It was here that we felt the presence of St Francis, whose teachings of poverty and love for all living beings continue to inspire us.

2. Basilica of St Clare: St Clare’s Basilica is a place of quiet reflection where we contemplated her dedication to a life of prayer and simplicity.

3. San Damiano: This humble chapel was where St Francis received his divine calling. His experience at San Damiano imprinted the image of the crucified Christ upon his heart. Our visit allowed us to connect with the momentous event that set St Francis on his path of service and humility.

4. Basilica of St Mary of the Angels: This is where the Porziuncola, a small chapel dear to St Francis, is situated. The Porziuncola conjures up sentiments and thoughts linked with having a centre, a heart. This place symbolises Francis’ heart, and invited us to ponder who or what is at the centre of life for us.

5. La Verna: Nestled in the serene Tuscan hills, La Verna is where St Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. Francis had a lifelong, burning love for Jesus crucified, and his experience at La Verna imprinted the passion of Christ upon his flesh. Our time here was marked by deep contemplation and a sense of spiritual awe. We are called to come to the Lord with our burdens, our brokenness, and our weariness, and find rest in His loving embrace.

6. Carceri: The hermitage of Carceri, located in the lush forests above Assisi, is where St Francis and his companions sought solitude and communion with nature. It is from this experience and practice of solitude that Francis’ life and the Franciscan movement took root for all time. The development of a regular rhythm of solitude gives birth to a sense of listening and depth in one’s life.

7. Greccio: The place where St Francis arranged the first-ever nativity scene, Greccio is a place of profound faith and celebration that reminded us of the joy and humility of the Christmas story.

Each day, the pilgrims participated in the Eucharist, engaged in faith formation sessions and group sharing led by the friars, and spent quiet moments reflecting on the teachings of St Francis and St Clare.

One crucial aspect of the pilgrimage was the call to “do penance”, a call to introspection.

We were encouraged to examine our lives, seek new possibilities, and embrace new ways of acting that align with the values of simplicity, humility, and service.

Just as the Israelites were led by Yahweh in the form of a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud, we were guided by the wisdom and example of St Francis and St Clare. We welcomed the challenge and the gift of walking this path with one another. We laughed, we cried, and we carried one another’s burdens. Facing the challenges together strengthened our bonds and deepened our understanding of the pilgrimage of life.

The Franciscan pilgrimage to Assisi was so much more than a physical journey; it was a transformative experience that illuminated our spiritual path.

Through visits to sacred places, moments of reflection, and shared experiences, we gained clarity, learned to continue our journey, and discovered the power of companionship. We returned from this pilgrimage carrying with us the teachings of St Francis and St Clare, who inspire us to live lives of faith, simplicity, and service.

Friar Aiden Peter Jr OFM

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