Pilgrimage, People, Privacy and Patience! Part 2

By Susie Shimmin
Photo by Neroli Duffy

The Pilgrimage

Now the interesting part began. This was a very private journey and experience shared with 80 other people speaking many different languages and from different cultures! Can you imagine that – no I bet you can’t! Nor could I. But somehow it worked, somehow at the end of the 7 days; we were all still friends and had shared an amazing adventure.

Italy chapel art

First stop was Siena – 5 buses – 2 for the Pilgrimage and 3 for the day tour of Siena. I had been there 30 years ago for the Palio (horse race) and here I was exactly 30 years later back in the same place – it had changed, more “touristy” more souvenir booths everywhere, but still beautiful and worthy of a visit.

We journeyed then to Montacantini, near Florence – into Florence the next day to visit the Uffizi Gallery – the highlight Venus Rising … wow there she was in the “flesh”! Then, of course, the perfect man … tall, handsome, perfectly proportioned, silent … the Statue of David …. Wow! Despite some cracks appearing in his ankles and neck he still stands strong and shows the beauty of youth, preparing himself to slay his dweller! This is really something!

Travel day to San Giovanni Rotundo along the Adriatic Sea – great scenery! Olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye can see … I love the way the villages are always on top of a hill with the church in the centre – ever keeping an eye on the enemy! Not to mention the sunflowers, nodding at you and following the sun each day – I think Lanello said that we could see his face in each sunflower – he was everywhere in the consciousness of the sunflowers!

Next stop San Giovanni Rotundo – well this is the highlight for me. After dragging our cases for a long distance (well it seemed long) and down a very steep staircase … we were in beautiful accommodation.

Padre Pio … his church, the one he loved and lived in, his private space, where he preached and heard confession, where he suffered with his stigmata, where he died – what a hallowed place. They can build all sorts of churches beside this little church, but this is where he loved and where he wanted to be. I knelt where his tomb used to be (they had moved his body to the Padre Pio Pilgrimage Church in 2004) and his flame was so strong, so real you could almost touch it. He touched my heart, the tears began to fall and I knew what it felt like to be where a recent-times Saint had been. Thank you Padre Pio, you took a place in my heart and there you will stay!

I did not go to the other churches or the hospital; I needed to spend private time with my experience to truly anchor this new-felt light in my heart.

All too soon, we are off again to Tivoli and then onto Rome … the tour has been a cracking pace!! We have not really had a lot of time to experience and process the holiness of what we are doing – but that will come when we get home. It has been extremely hot, humid and a test on everyone’s endurance. Some people just have to stay home for a day and rest. Some just keep on going and look weary as a result!

Rome – the Sistine Chapel! What a test of endurance that was – we entered a side entrance for groups, were herded in and when the chapel was full, they shut the gate and keep shouting out “SILENZIO, NO FOTOS!” Any sense of being able to soak up the holiness and wonder of this place was gone! We were sardines in a magnificent “tin”! Then the other gate is opened and we were herded out into the heat and humidity of Vatican City. Tired and foot sore, I needed to sit down, rest and take stock of myself. Amazingly there were very few places to sit and certainly no shade in which to take respite.

Church of Domine Quo Vadis on the Appian Way, where, according to legend, Saint Peter met Jesus and asked “Lord, where are you going?” to which he answered, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” At this tiny, little church, we were able to stand in Jesus footprints (copies, the real ones are under the altar of the church.) This was a very moving experience for all those who had the opportunity to do this ….

But, the highlight in Rome for me personally was on the last day, Robin and I went on another double decker bus tour on our own, to reacquaint ourselves with what we had seen three weeks earlier, and to anchor our experience.

We must have passed this little church set back off the street, at least 15 times on our first and second visits here, but this time it beckoned Robin and we entered. It was the day of the Feast of the Assumption of Mother Mary – we entered this holy of holy places, the nuns were arranging the flowers, peacefully and quietly, there were no crowds, the ushers were preparing the church for the festival that evening, they were playing Ave Maria, it was hallowed, holy and a happy place to be. I felt compelled to kneel before one of the 8 altars and for the first time in my life, light a candle for my son, his wife and the soul yet to be born to them! This was a cherished moment in my life for when I return to the Ranch, my son informed me I was going to be a grandmother in early March! Praise God! It was called San Marcello la Corso, on via del Corso. We stayed in this little church for over an hour, resting, breathing, absorbing the wonder of Mother Mary and the gentleness of Her heart, for truly that is where we sat – in her Immaculate Heart.

Then it was time to say goodbye to all our new-found friends – no tears! Just joyful hugs goodbye and promises of seeing each other in the retreats, at the Ranch, on Facebook, by email or phone, however, but we would stay in touch (and we have!).

I would have to add here that I would like to personally give my heartfelt thanks and if I was able, a knighthood to Mark Chapin – Mark, you are extraordinary – your patience, tolerance, understanding, organising and continued smile (although strained at times) showed us the way on this pilgrimage. You were a shining light – thank you!

Our flight from Rome, via Alitalia, was the best of the entire journey … we fell on the food, as this had been one of the greatest challenges of the tour – the food certainly did not suit my normal diet and at times, it was difficult to find anything to eat. However, remembering Saint Francis and Saint Clare, they ate what were a few days of unsuitable food!

We arrived in New York for three days to end a wonderful pilgrimage by climbing 10 stories to the crown of our beloved Goddess of Liberty … the ultimate greeter, standing there for all to see her welcoming torch and smile! Time with long lost relatives, subway adventures, traversing Central Park – then time to head back to the Ranch.

O God, you are so magnificent to have given me this adventure … reticent as I was, it was a reward I shall always remember. And to all of you whom I met, thank you for your heart flame, thank you for sharing your kindness and warmth, we met many challenges together and I think we may have passed many tests together and transmuted many records – you are all wonderful people and will remain in my heart safe and warm!

God bless you one and all, until we meet again.

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