Recently, our Mission Advancement Office sponsored a Pilgrimage to Bavaria with friars Wayne Hellmann, OFM Conv., and Steven McMichael, OFM Conv., as pilgrimage leaders. Several pilgrims knew each other or friars Steve or Wayne, and a handful only had a connection to Mt. St. Francis. One set of pilgrims signed up for the pilgrimage not thinking of it as a pilgrimage, but more as an opportunity to visit and revisit parts of Germany.
For those of us who already knew our fellow pilgrims, the pilgrimage was a time to renew and build upon those relationships. In my case, I had not seen some of the pilgrims in many years, but there was a strong sense of joy in reconnecting with each other. For my fellow pilgrims, whom I did not know prior to the pilgrimage, it was a time of grace to hear their stories and to discover what had brought them on this pilgrimage.
I have been on pilgrimages before: to sites significant to St. Francis, as well as the great Camino de Santiago. In both instances, my encounters with my fellow pilgrims enhanced and deepened my appreciation of these holy places. My pilgrim time in Greccio, Italy, the site where St. Francis received permission to re-enact the Nativity, touched me in a profound manner as I realized the gift that St. Francis gave to these people he so loved, the gift of recognizing their dignity and value in the eyes of the Almighty.
An encounter of serenity and faith: our home away from home, the majestic Maria Eck Friary, nestled in the heart of Bavaria, Germany. This haven of peace served as our sanctuary, a guiding star on our spiritual pilgrimage.
On my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, I was touched by the story of a fellow pilgrim, Paula, who was supposed to make the pilgrimage with a girlfriend who backed out at the last minute. My friend and colleague, Kris Joseph, reached out to Paula, who was going through an incredibly challenging and hurtful time in her life. At the end of the pilgrimage, Paula was grateful to have made the journey without her girlfriend, “I realized that my friend not coming with me was a real blessing as I had time to think and pray; I am so grateful to have had you and Kris with me, as I felt that I could share anything with both of you,” Paula said.
Will, one of our pilgrims to Bavaria, signed up for the pilgrimage as more of a trip than a pilgrimage, but he and his traveling companion, Ann, were blown away by the sharing that took place on the first evening at our “home” for nine days, the pilgrimage site, Maria Eck. Will was so taken by the honesty and depth of his fellow pilgrims. “I felt a peace after that first meeting that I had never experienced before,” Will said. Will was especially grateful for the care and concern which other pilgrims showed to his companion, Ann, who was experiencing some mobility issues. Will and Ann felt welcomed and included by their fellow pilgrims. “I found myself sad when I returned home,” Will said, “I missed the community that we had formed.”
While our pilgrim group prayed at some amazing sites in beautiful Bavaria, the communion and closeness that we felt for one another only deepened the profound impression that these holy and naturally beautiful sites made on each one of us. While some of us
Encountering the diversity of others on our Franciscan pilgrimage. The shared meals, spiritual tours, divine landscapes, and enriching dialogues transformed our diverse group of pilgrims into a true family.
knew each other prior to the pilgrimage, all of us were privileged to get to know one another on a deep level. This marvelous encounter has touched all of us in ways that we are still becoming aware of.
In 2024, let us take you on another transformative journey. I personally invite you to participate in our upcoming Pilgrimage to Ireland, led by friars Steve McMichael and myself, friar Bob Roddy. You will find the details as they become available at https://www.franciscansusa.org/ireland-pilgrimage/. Let us step forward on this path of self-discovery together, sharing our stories and learning from one another in ways we are only beginning to understand. Answer this personal call and join us on this enriching journey to the Emerald Isle. I hope to see you there.
Exploring the Land of Saints and Scholars
A Franciscan Pilgrimage to Ireland
SAVE THE DATE | July 19 – 31, 2024