Everytime I listen to New York States Governor Andrew Cuomo I come away relaxed. He’s a leader in a time of crisis. New York is a big state and I’m a long way from the New York City which is the epicenter of this crisis. Yet, I feel a connection to friends and relatives who live there. I am connected to many people around our country and around the world. In the past week I have found myself thinking of Assisi, Italy where I’ve spent ten or eleven days in the past couple of years. I remember the shopkeepers and our hosts at Casa Papa Giovanni and the Hotel Posta Panoramic where I stayed in May 2019. I have thought often of the shopkeeper where I purchased olive oil and wine to ship home to family. All these people are in my thoughts and prayers.
I have thought of our hosts in Rome at the Casa Tra Nois. How are they? Are they sick? Have they died from this pandemic? What about the pilgrims that I was with the past two years? Are they sick? Are they well? Are they frightened as I am? As horrible as all of this is, it is a reminder that we are all connected. We are one. We are not separate as we might imagine or as some power brokers would tell us.
Governor Cuomo reminded us that we are, “socially distanced but spiritually connected.” Indeed we are. It doesn’t matter what we believe, whether atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Jew, liberal, conservative or whatever we are spiritually connected and in times like this we feel, think and pray for each other. May we continue to send positive energy to each other and our world. Namaste, Shalom, Salaam, Pax, Pace, Peace.
I was in my classroom seven years ago on this day. I was on my way to the faculty meeting in the high school library when I received a text from my son that let me know that we had a new pope elected in the Catholic Church. I’d been following the ballots of the college of cardinals. Just that morning on my way out the door to the school district I had checked the news and there was no announcement.
All of that changed for me and the world when we received word that Jose Maria Bergolio, a cardinal from Argentina had just been elected pope. I had never heard of him but a quick search of the internet revealed that he was a forward thinking person. He was in tune with liberation theology. He would take the church in new directions. Tears welled in my eyes when I heard this good news and later learned that he had taken the name Francis. In a twist of irony he was the first Jesuit to be named pope and he took the name of the popular saint who had been called on to rebuild the church 800 years before.
I just finished watching The Two Popes on Netflix. It’s a great movie and it wasn’t until I’d finished that I realized that today is the anniversary of that great event. I got to see Pope Francis in person when I visited Rome a couple of years ago along with a group of United States Veterans. It was a powerful experience that day to be sitting along with thousands of others in St. Peter’s Square and to hear the Holy Father speak and receive his blessing. It’s an experience I’ll remember forever. I took the picture above when the Pope passed near us in the square.Happy Anniversary Pope Francis!
As we parted company this morning my friend John said, ‘Donald, this has been the good journey.’ Indeed it has and in the space of nine days we traveled over ten thousand miles via jet aircraft, taxi, bus and on foot. In the process we became united with a group of American veterans whose ages spanned at least sixty years. The oldest member of our group was an octogenarian and the youngest were in their mid-twenties.
We are veterans of Vietnam and that era, Iraq, Afghanistan and everything in between. Geographically we came from all over the Unites States. We were diverse in every way and yet we shared the common bond of military service. We who have experienced the horrors of war enjoyed moments of peace that were beyond words. People who never met prior to nine days ago are now united by a common experience of pilgrimage in some of the most beautiful areas of Rome, Assisi and its environs.
Already we are planning how we might share this unique pilgrimage experience with others. If you’re a veteran of military service and you are searching for healing then Veterans of the Military Pilgrimage should be on your radar. Peace and all good.
Next week I’ll be in Rome for the second time in my life. Last year I was able to attend a wonderful pilgrimage for veterans that took us to Rome and Assisi. I’d never visited either before and it was incredibly fulfilling to see Pope Francis, tour Rome, get lost in the Roman hills, see the Lateran Basilica and much more. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I looked out over the Spoleto Valley on the morning of May 21, 2019 I took a mental picture and one with my iPhone too. I was grateful to have spent the last week visiting Italy and trekking on this sacred ground once walked on by the apostles in Rome and St. Francis and his early companions in the Assisi and Tuscany.
While I was there last year I called a fellow veteran and long time friend and told him that he should go on this pilgrimage. He told me then. “I’ll go if you go Donald.” I filed that conversation away and it lay dormant for about six months. In late November of last year I survived another pulmonary embolism and atrial fibrillation. That first night in the hospital I said to myself, “I’m going back to Assisi.” I’m fortunate to have survived not one but two pulmonary embolisms in my life. I called my friend while still in the hospital and said, “I’m gong back to Assisi.” He replied, “I’ll join you.’ In the past six months we’ve been planning and anticipating and next week we’ll be there.
I’m filled with anticipation, excitement and gratitude. I’m praying that my friend John will have a blessed time on this pilgrimage. While I’m looking forward to Rome I’m really excited to be returning to Assisi and returning to Casa Papa Giovanni where we stayed last year. I’m longing to walk again the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare and the early Franciscans. Last year’s pilgrimage was deeply moving and sparked a spiritual and emotional transformation. I came to understand St. Francis not only as the seraphic father of the Franciscan order of which I am a part, but also as a fellow veteran and person who suffered from post traumatic stress.
I’m looking forward to meeting the many other veterans and their spouses who will be joining us. I’m eager to renew relationships with the leaders of the pilgrimage and with the wonderful hosts and people of Rome and Assisi. I’m eager to greet my companions with Buongiorno buona gente.