Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Talk and More Photos

Happy New Year,

I thought I'd take this opportunity to share the text from my talk on the Pilgrimage and also a link to photos from another pilgrim.

I was asked to speak as part of the Franciscan Orientation that we hold every year for our new hires. It's an intimate gathering of about 20 to 25 people with several people speaking about different facets of St. Francis. Brother Thomas Grady (head of our Campus Ministry) spoke about the life of St. Francis in relation to the College's mission, Professor Francis Green (Chairman of Foreign Languages, Fine Arts, and International Cultural Studies) showed us some his amazing images from Assisi and focused on the artwork. My talk is below (mostly - I tend not to keep to my script):

So why did I want to go on the Pilgrimage?

It was very simple. Here I am working at St. Francis College, but my knowledge of St. Francis himself was limited at best. Sure, I learned about Franciscan ideals and the Franciscan tradition. --Even before I started working as Director of Media Relations it was made clear to me how important it is to try to teach our students to give back --- and most importantly how contagious it is to be good to each other. But it was important to me to learn more about the specifics of these ideals and to find out where they came from. Where better to learn than at the source, in Assisi, on a pilgrimage that allows you to literally walk in the footsteps of St. Francis?

So what did I learn?

The pilgrimage itself was an intense trip with an amazing amount of history and religion. First, you can see from these pictures that Assisi is just beautiful. This is from the valley looking up at the whole city… we went to all the major churches like San Damiano and the Basilica of St. Francis. But everywhere you go in Assisi is history.

The trip gave me the background and context I was looking for, but beyond all the facts, there was one part of the trip that for me, really summed up the meaning of Franciscanism.

We took a trip to a place called La Foresta. It’s a community run by an organization called Mondo X. It was started about 60 years ago by a Friar who wanted to help people beat their addictions. Now they’ve built communities across Italy to help people deal with problems ranging from alcohol, drugs and gambling to bulimia and anorexia.

People choose to enter Mondo X but the leaders of each community also have to agree that the person can be helped. It’s free and totally voluntary. You can leave at any time. But you have to abide by the rules, which is a pretty tight interpretation of a Franciscan way of life.

There’s no TV, radio, newspapers, alcohol, cigarettes or even coffee. People get to write home once a month and their family can respond with a letter as well. But the letters are not private. The leaders read them to look for possible problems and issues that can be worked on. Remember this is totally voluntary.

The day revolves around, prayer, work and coming together to talk and learn about each other’s struggles.

At La Foresta, there are now five men who take care of everything, from cooking and cleaning to growing crops, raising and slaughtering poultry and game, raising bees for honey and general upkeep.

The community leader is Matteo, a young man who was helped by Mondo X and now just a few years later, is helping others.

So how has the pilgrimage changed me?

Seeing Matteo’s story really drives home the value of giving back… of not taking for granted what you have and the importance of helping others. In my interactions with students now, I find myself asking more questions about what they are studying, their future plans and how they are doing in general. I think about ways that I can help them achieve their goals or if not me, who else might be able to help them. It all boils down to one thing for me… Franciscanism and working at St. Francis gives you a license to do good.


And now more photos - these are from Anthony Scardino:


Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Photos

Well, it's taken quite some time, but as the other pilgrims found, it's not easy to keep up the momentum when Assisi isn't the only thing on your mind.

If you already looked through the blog, please look again, I've posted several dozens photos with the entries.

And... here are links to a few photo archives from other travelers:

From Diane Brose: http://picasaweb.google.com/brose.diane/Italy?authkey=Gv1sRgCMqm-qLI75S1fQ&feat=email#

From Jessica Schuster: http://picasaweb.google.com/jesschuster/Italy?feat=email#

From Jenny and Tom Walter: http://picasaweb.google.com/jennytom43/AssisiRomePilgrimage02?authkey=Gv1sRgCPbziIv_gb706gE#

From Nancy and Brian Chapman: http://assisipilgrimage2009.shutterfly.com/ (you may need the password "pilgrims2009" to view it.)

Next week, I'll be doing a short 5 minute presentation on why I wanted to go on the Pilgrimage, what I learned and how it affected me. It's part of our annual Franciscan Orientation for new hires at St. Francis College. It helps to explain the origin and mission of the College.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pilgrim Has Landed

Well, the first batch of pilgrims anyway from St. Francis College and Felician University. Others are still on their way to Chicago before heading to their final destinations.

Now that the trip is officially "over," I think there is a lot of processing to do and of course sharing of the experience.


Another great, group dinner last night at a restaurant down the hill from where we were staying with plenty of wine, food and conversation flowing.

Before dinner we had a feedback session to talk about the trip. Among the highlights people spoke about were the mass inside the original Porziuncola Chapel, the time on the mountains at Carceri and La Verna and lunch at La Foresta with the people in the Mondo X program.

That lunch at La Foresta was the high point for me because it was a real world, living example of how Franciscanism can affect positive change on lives. This group of men had gone from trouble to being part of a productive, responsible community.

We also spoke about what we bring back with us to our various institutions.

Judy, John and I agree that the best thing we can do is to model positive behavior and try to continue and extend our involvement with our students to offer a helping hand and mentoring wherever possible.

The revelry at dinner came to an abrupt end as we needed to wake before 6 this morning to get to the airport. At the first check-point we bid goodbye and exchanged well-wishes with Father Andre and Sister Anne.

Andre is based in Mt. Vernon just north of the city, so I'm sure we will be able to reconnect in short order.

Now it's all about the waiting; at security, at check-in, security again, passport control, for the bus to the terminal and finally for boarding.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stray Thoughts

Rome is kind of a dirty city - maybe because of all the motorcycles or diesel engine cars, I don't know but it feels pretty polluted when you walk around.

I found one Ferrari shirt with a Formula One car on it for the low, low price of 18 Euros - what is this Ed Hardy? I got Adam a Gianluigi Buffon soccer jersey - green with the number 1 and a map of Italy on it. That should work.

St. Peter's Basilica

We spent the morning at St. Peter's Basilica, first with a mass. Under the main nave by St. Peter's grave is a full circle of chapels of all different sizes. There are several services going on at once and you can hear the songs and prayers being recited as they echo through the chambers. Our chapel was built with donations from the Irish.

Afterwards Sister Anne gave us a tour, pointing out a lot of the information specific to the Franciscans; like the statue of St. Francis which is the first one from the main apse. And the statues of Francis and St. Clare among the ones that stand atop the collonades that ring the plaza outside.There are four rows of columns and in most spots you see all of them but if you stand on one specific circle on each side, it looks like just one column... here's a video to show you.

I had read that when St. Peter's was built they didn't want to put anything in there that would fade or deteriorate, so no frescos and limited paintings. Instead, it is marble and metals everywhere But, looking around, it seemed there were a number of large paintings all along walls and in side chapels. However, Anne pointed out that they were actually murals. The Vatican has a color palette of 35,000. On some of the murals, even when looking right up close it's hard to discern the individual stones. I was able to get a picture of a close-up and a mural at full size. I'll post that in a few days.

Francis' connection to St. Peter's goes back to the very beginnings of his conversion. He was on a pilgrimage when he came to the original Basilica and saw that people were only putting in small amounts of coins as tribute and donation to the church. So he made a big show of giving away much of his money, drawing lots of attention and shaming others into donating more. Afterwards, he sees some beggars outside and asks to switch clothes with one. He spends the day begging and feels a large sense of fulfillment in doing so.

I was told not to go to the top of the Basilica because it's basically a crawl space and I'd be hunched over for a looooong time. No argument here.

So after the tour we were set free for our last few hours in Rome and on our trip.

I went over to the Pantheon, an amazing structure and found some risotto. Food is awfully expensive here, even if you don't consider the conversion from Euros to Dollars. It's worse for me because I can't just pick up a slice from a stand-up cart or grab a sandwich. None of those places, that I've found, have anything gluten-free, only restaurants.

What can you do except be happy I live in New York and have lots of reasonably priced options.


OK, what am I missing here?

What do Italians love, besides food?

Soccer and cars, right?

So while I can get any number of soccer jerseys; all with the logos of teams and sponsors, why can't I find one single shirt that has a PICTURE of a soccer ball or a Formula 1 car?

This reminds me of when we went to Paris and could not find one single piece of anything with Madeline on it. They have books, dolls, videos in the U.S. She's French after all.

I think there may be a very profitable niche just waiting to be filled here.