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: