I have trouble putting into words the power and meaning of this trip. Italy is a sensual place to visit. Romantic views, delicious drink and food, generous people, ancient architecture, magnificent art, and simple loving devotion to God steal my words and fill my being with awe. On top of all that I was with my mom. Our shared experience of touring, praying with Francis and Clare, and enjoying the food, people and culture of Italy will be a highlight of our relationship for the rest of our lives.
Each day was its own gift perfectly given. But the highlight for both of us was our time in Assisi. This was the most spiritual place either of us have been. The air is sweeter. The Presence of God nearer. Every road, doorway, chapel, and moment feels like an invitation to contemplate the sweetness of God everywhere. Each day we began and ended with meditation. On our pilgrimages we visited where Francis was born, the church he built, the first monastic residence, the caves he went to be by himself, Clare’s monastery, both their tombs, and the small chapel where Francis prayed and died. At each holy place we sat together in silence guided by our retreat leader. It was a rich spiritual experience.
Italy is also simply delicious in every way. We were fed delicious food by generous people. Meals are served slowly inviting conversation and community. One of our favorites was on a street side in Siena with a view of that fortress city stretched out in front of us, warm sun, and fresh food. Buffula mozerella, ripe red tomatoes, olive tempenade, perfect crunchy bread, pancetta, cantelope…and the freshest olive oil.
My mom made a friend at every turn. She said at one point, “I make sense in Italy, I know why I am the way I am!” As a full blooded Sicilian mom is equally full of the Spirit of many Italians who want to please others, share what they have to give, and live passionately or fully. I cannot enumerate here all the friends she made!
Italy can seem too good to be true with its beauty and cuisine but it is human as well, particularly in Florence we witnessed the ego drive of the Medici family, the powerful presence of the Roman Empire, dry religiosity, and tourist traps but they did not take away from the pure experience of Italy at its best.
There is so much more to say. So many experiences to unpack. I will be pondering and reflecting in gratitude for a long long time.
I leave you with the blessing of St. Francis:
The Lord Bless you and keep you. The Lord show his face to you and have mercy on you. The Lord turn his countenance to you and give you peace…the Our Lord Bless you. Amen.