Our pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi, Italy was a spiritual journey that took us to the very core of our Felician Franciscan Heritage. With the companionship of Felician Sisters, ministry leaders, board members, and staff, we embarked to discover the essence of the Catholic faith, deeply rooted in these sacred destinations. This journey wasn’t just about visiting these holy sites; it was an encounter with the teachings and lives of St. Francis and St. Clare, a chance to strengthen our faith, and an opportunity to foster a sense of community among fellow pilgrims.
On our first full day in Rome, we celebrated the Eucharist at St. Peter’s Basilica, the epicenter of Roman Catholicism, and continued to the Immaculate Conception Church, San Giovanni in Laterano, and the tomb of St. Felix. This day marked the beginning of our pilgrimage, as we traced the footsteps of saints and immersed ourselves in the rich history of our faith.
Day 2 was highlighted by the opportunity to attend Pope Francis’ Wednesday audience. During the audience, he spoke about global encounters, with a particular focus on Africa. Afterward, we explored the wonders of Rome and Vatican City.
Our pilgrimage continued with a visit to Cantalice in the Rieti Valley, the birthplace of St. Felix, the first Capuchin canonized as a saint. Known as Brother “Deo Gratias,” he is remembered for his humility, generosity and compassion. (“Deo Gratias!” means “thanks be to God!”) Here, we visited the Church of St. Felix, where he gave life to the miraculous fountain, a place for offering prayers for healing. Our day concluded with a visit to Greccio, where St. Francis popularized the Christmas Crèche – a representation of the nativity. We joined in a Christmas dinner following our liturgy and made it back on the road where we arrived in Assisi by dusk.
Our first day in Assisi, Day 4, began with an exploration at San Damiano, where St. Francis heard his call to rebuild the church. This is also where St. Clare lived with the initial group of sisters and began building her monastic community. Standing in the very place where these two saints embarked on their remarkable journeys was truly a special experience.
Day 5 began with a gathering for Mass and prayers at San Rufino d’Arce and La Maddelena. These are two sites that served as refuges for lepers during the time of St. Francis, further confirming his commitment to serving the marginalized. San Rufino is the cathedral church of Assisi, where both St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized. Our pilgrimage then led us to the Porziuncola, the small chapel St. Francis rebuilt, which later became the epicenter of his movement and where he passed away on October 3, 1226.
On a rainy Day 6, we began at Carceri, where St. Francis found solace in prayer and solitude in the caves of Monte Subasio, a pivotal period in his initial and ongoing conversion. Later, we visited the grave of Don Aldo, a parish priest known for his courageous efforts during World War II, where he successfully hid hundreds of Jewish refugees in Assisi. We also explored the museum honoring several other heroic individuals who sheltered Jewish refugees during that time.
The following day was spent on Isla Maggiore in Lago Trasimeno for a designated Day of Solitude. It was on this once uninhabited island that St. Francis observed 40 days of Lent in 1211. As we embraced the peacefulness of this island, we too had the opportunity to reflect, meditate and connect with the same spiritual solitude that once inspired St. Francis.
Day 8 & 9
In our final days of the pilgrimage, we had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, where we celebrated Mass at the tomb of St. Francis. In the evening, we gathered to commemorate and follow in the footsteps of St. Clare’s departure from her family home to join St. Francis and the brothers. On our final day in Assisi, we dedicated our time to St. Clare. We attended Mass before the San Damiano Cross and paid our respects at her tomb and reliquary.
We are deeply grateful for the opportunities to explore these historically sacred sites, connect with our spirituality, reflect on the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare, and to share in the joy and camaraderie of this journey.
A very special thanks to Sr. Suzanne and Fr. André for their guidance and knowledge throughout our pilgrimage.