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I recently returned from a 10 day pilgrimage to Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis, a son of an affluent cloth merchant who lived in wealth until a meeting with a leper changed the direction of his life. St Francis has since become known for his ministry to the underprivileged and his care for nature and animals.

While I recognize that the term “pilgrimage” can sound quite shocking to some, evoking images of devout believers seeking divine intervention, my journey was less about preaching God’s word and more about sitting in the presence of God, away from everyday distractions.

The trip was not just a spiritual journey,

it was also an adventure that pushed my sister and I outside of our comfort zone. We embarked on a mostly unplanned trek, starting in Rome, and relying on maps, public transport and the kindness of strangers to carry us along the way.

Hitchhiking was initially daunting. Standing on the side of the road, thumb outstretched, felt like a vulnerable act of trust. But with each passing car, I practiced forgiving that stranger before I even asked for help. It was a crash course in rejection sensitivity and a reminder that most people are inherently good.

Interestingly, every single person who stopped for us was a man – sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend or brother (one for later!).

We met an array of characters: Felice, the author of spiritual books who opened his house for us; Vincenzo, the grumpy Italian who eventually warmed up to our presence; Nicola, who shared stories of his own travels as he drove us along the highway; the two brothers who took a detour to drop us off in Arrone… Each encounter was a reminder that human connection can bloom in the most unexpected places.

There were challenging moments, too. The fear of getting kidnapped as a stranger’s car passed us twice in the middle of a forest with no reception, the exhaustion of walking uphill for hours with weight on our shoulders… But even in those moments, a strange sense of peace enveloped us. It was as if the physical hardships were stripping away layers of anxiety, leaving us with a raw, unfiltered connection to the present moment.

Praying the rosary three times a day – morning, noon, and night became a rhythm grounding our journey, our daily bread amidst the unpredictability of the road. In the evenings, as we reflected on our days in hostels or guesthouses, gratitude washed over us.

In the absence of modern day hyper-stimulation, we found that the most simple pleasures; warmth of a shower after a long day’s walk, the taste of fruits and vegetables on the road, the sound of church bells echoing through the streets; were so amplified, reminding us of the abundance surrounding us, if we only take the time to notice.

After 5 days of trekking, we made it to Assisi.

The town itself was a haven of tranquility. I felt a palpable sense of St Francis’ presence, not as a saint on a pedestal, but as a fellow seeker who had walked a similar path of doubt and devotion. In the cool solitude of the Eremo delle Carceri, tears streamed down my face as I prayed. Not for answers or miracles, but simply to feel a connection to something larger than myself. It was a humbling reminder that even in our loneliness, we are never truly alone.

Between the blisters and breathtaking views, I found myself contemplating the stories of Jesus and the echoes of those stories within my own heart. I was struck by the humanity of Jesus – his moments of doubt, his reliance on friends, his raw vulnerability. It made me wonder: are our imperfections not also part of the divine? And if so, doesn’t that make our struggles, our falls, and our messy human experiences sacred in their own way?

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

I won’t pretend to have returned with all the answers. What I have found in the depth of my being is a newfound religious fervor and a deep realization that the sacred can be found not just in holy sites, but in the kindness of strangers, the challenges we overcome, and the quiet moments of connection with ourselves and the world around us.

Faith, as the sister in Assisi reminded us, is fragile. It’s a dance between doubt and belief, a constant questioning and seeking. But perhaps that’s the beauty of it. It’s in wrestling, not certainty, that we grow.

So, whether you believe in God or simply in the power of the human spirit, I invite you to consider your own pilgrimage. It doesn’t have to be a physical journey; it can be a conscious effort to explore your inner landscape, to confront your shadows, and to embrace the mystery of existence.