After returning from my semester abroad in Granada, Spain, I returned to Europe for the Franciscan Pilgrimage.

I applied for this pilgrimage last spring and received the news in April that I had been one of the three SFC students who was awarded the scholarship.

I still remember the pure happiness I felt when I heard the news. I took it as a sign that my life was going to turn around.

At the time I was going through one of my most health-challenging years. I had suffered a severe ankle injury for almost half of the year, followed directly by an emergency appendix surgery, and some post-effects of the surgery that led me to see many specialists and another trip to the emergency room.

It was a difficult time, but it was gradual faith that helped me through it.

When I heard about the pilgrimage and what it had done for fellow students, it made me want to experience it firsthand. I wanted to learn more about Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

I desired to find more inner strength and faithfulness. At the end of my trip not only did I receive these things, but I also received much more.

On the pilgrimage we ventured through Rome and Assisi. We visited various sites and learned much about Saint Francis and Saint Clare. We learned how they left their lives and wealth to spread the Gospel and illustrate these values through their actions, such as caring for the sick, poor and those in need.

Rome was a beautiful city to explore. We were able to visit many churches and monuments, soaking in the culture and exquisiteness of Italy’s capital. But it was in Assisi where I began to feel more connected to God and this journey.

In Assisi, we were able to walk where these two saints had walked, understand their stories in further depth and reflect in nature, which is where I found I could best connect with God.

I also had the chance to connect with the fellow pilgrims on this trip.

I truly believe there was a special bond within the group. Even though some of us had different faiths and opinions, we still all came together during this trip and not only felt touched by what we were experiencing, but conversed about personal trails and trusted one another with our vulnerabilities.

After 10 days of being together we knew we were leaving with more than just new travel friends, but with new family.

On this trip I experienced two powerful moments that I feel have impacted me the most; one of these included my visit to Saint Clare’s church and tomb.

Saint Clare was known to cure the sick when she made the sign of the cross, and visiting her church was one of the visits I was especially looking forward to. I believe it was her unwavering faith that gave her this power to heal—and that was what I was looking to find and maintain.

When I arrived at her church, simply being in the presence of where she once was became a curative moment for me. It made me truly feel blessed and thankful.
I reflected upon the chaotic months I had experienced, the great experience abroad, and how I had grown to appreciate my body and health more than ever, along with my amazing family and friends.

My second powerful moment was also in Assisi, as I engaged in a conversation with one of the nuns, Giovanna Negrotto, running the hotel we stayed at.

We began to speak in Italian after she found out I was fluent, and she began to tell me about her life of traveling as a pilgrim through a variety of spiritual experiences and the knowledge she gained of saints of other religions.

She spoke Spanish, French, English, and Hindu and explained to me how her parents had taught her many languages and how much of a blessing it was.

As she told me about her life, the nun had an important message.

Negrotto said, “Study…but don’t study too much…travel. That’s the real experience.”

These words were exactly what I needed to hear, exactly the sign I needed. It told me to do what makes me feel amazing, and as she said ‘makes my heart full.’

I left this pilgrimage with not only with a deep appreciation for life but a new perspective and new faith for the future.

The following is from Marije Jauregui, a pilgrim from last years trip.

It’s hard to explain what I felt and what I learned on the pilgrimage. It lasted only ten days but it was enough to change my perspective and in a way my life.

One moment that really touched me was the last day in Rome when we were walking around the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and I heard a voice singing.
I walked towards the voice and it led me to a side chapel where a priest was celebrating mass. The priest was singing, “Oh Come Let us Adore Thee” in Italian.
This moment reminded of how I used to sing in the choir in elementary school and high school, but because of not wanting to put my time in I stopped singing at mass and didn’t join any choir in college.

“Oh come let us adore thee” was the last song I sang as a solo about four years ago in my high school choir. And as I heard this priest sing the song so beautifully his voice so full of love I began to cry and realized there was a reason that I had happened to hear this exact song in this church in Rome.

It was as if God was asking me why I had stopped singing, why I had put him on the side.

What I learned in that moment was that before the pilgrimage I had thought my faith was fine, that I didn’t need improvement on it, I loved God and I went to mass on Sundays and that was enough, yet in that moment, hearing the priests voice it was as though I was humbled and realized I had been placing God to the side.

I had gone through a tough semester and would sometimes skip mass in order to study more and get an A, yet in retrospect what was an hour of mass going to do to my studying? I had put God on the side but He hadn’t put me on the side because there I was in Rome, Italy a place I had dreamed about going for years.

I visited Assisi, a place that smelled of incense and whose streets had been walked on by Saint Francis and Saint Clare. I had all these incredible memories with me and it’s all because God wanted me there. The pilgrimage lasted 10 days and each day had its own message and impact in my life.

From hiking in silence on Mount Subasio in the sanctuary of Eremo delle Carceri and trying to experience God through nature as Saint Francis did in those very same woods, to visiting a leper colony where we learned about the importance of loving and serving others, each day was an enlightening experience.

When we visited the leper colony we saw how marginalized these people were and learning about how Saint Francis dared to show them love and affection despite the stigma associated with the lepers reaffirmed the importance of never forgetting how Jesus taught us never to hate and neglect others but rather love and embrace our neighbor.
This is especially an important message in this day and age when we see certain groups of people in society ostracized due to their belief systems and ideologies.

Another feeling that truly stuck out was the love we all felt in Italy. We were all pilgrims’ ages ranging from 19 to 24. We were all strangers but by the end of the pilgrimage we all became so close, it was like we were a family.

One day we were all sitting together reflecting on our trip and one of the pilgrims spoke up and said, “That love that we feel right now, that happiness, is God”. Those words really spoke to me because it was true that happiness we felt, that overwhelming feeling of love towards these people that were strangers only days before can really only be understood by experiencing the moment for yourself.

“God is love,” is something that is preached many times but to understand it is what I gained on my pilgrimage and for that I will be forever grateful to St. Francis College. SFC gave me such an unforgettable spiritual journey that I will take with me forever.

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