Last year I turned 65 on June 1 and on June 13 celebrated five years in Honduras.
To celebrate I am taking a pilgrimage/retreat/vacation for 15 days in Italy (plus three days for travel). I had enough miles to be able to get tickets for only the cost of taxes, though lodging and food won’t be cheap.
I am somewhat reluctant to go and feel a little guilty spending so much money, but at this point I feel it’s something that may be a time of grace.
I’ll be spending the first few days in Florence and Ravenna, looking at art. In Florence I’m looking forward to see Fra Angelico’s paintings in the Dominican Convent of San Marco and the images of Francis by Giotto and others in the church of San Croce. In Ravenna I’m be looking at the mosaics.
But at the center of my time in Italy will be five days in Assisi, which will include Ash Wednesday. The spirituality of Saint Francis has been at the center of my life for many years. My recent re-connection by becoming an associate of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters has deepened my connection with the Little Poor Man of Assisi. I look forward to visits to places connected with him.
I did visit Assisi in 1973, while bicycling through Europe. The highlight for me were the visits to San Damiano (where Francis experienced a call from the crucified Christ) and the Carceri (where Francis spent time in solitude). I hope to get up early several days and walk to these places, hopefully arriving in time for an early Mass. (If it’s too cold, I might take a taxi.)
In Rome, I will probably concentrate on some churches – including the room of St. Ignatius Loyola by the Jesuit Gesù, the mosaics in Santa Prassede and Santa Pudenziana that moved the young Thomas Merton, and maybe a trip to Subiaco to recall the witnesses of Saints Benedict, Scholastica, and Francis. If I can I also hope to get to the church of San Bartolomeo when the San Egidio Community has a shrine to modern martyrs.
In Rome I also hope to meet some friends.
Part will be vacation – I’m looking forward to some good Italian food and wine. But it is also a pilgrimage, a visit to places made holy, a visit to some “thin places,” as Jim Forest notes, “where ordinary matter seems charged with God’s presence…. What marks any thin place is the time-stopping awareness of God’s presence.”
And so I go – my heart heavy about leaving Honduras for this time, but hoping and praying that God may use this time to open my heart even more to His love, so that I may continue to serve Him with the poor of Honduras.
Please keep me in your prayers. May it be a time of conversion.--> “To be converted is to go out of oneself, to walk toward the other, to be a pilgrim.”
Fr. Jaime Restrepo, martyr of Antioquía, Colombia, 1988