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Giovanni's experience along the Saint Francis Walk (part one)Your experience along the Walk. Who could describe it better than pilgrim's who have taken it? We are publishing the first part of an interview to Giovanni, a pilgrim who made the Walk last autumn.
The second part of the interview will be published soon.
1. How did you hear about the Saint Francis Walk?
I learned about the itinerary by chance. One morning at the end of August 2004, I met a colleague of mine. He knew that I had done the Way of Saint James so he told me about the Saint Francis Walk and gave me the address to the website. I visited the site right away and read about the main attractions on the paths.
My colleague had done the Saint Francis Walk two months before so he gave me some useful tips and showed me the map of the paths. I contacted a friend in Milan and I proposed the idea to him. He and another friend from Rome accepted to do the tour of the Sanctuaries in mid October.
2. Why did you decide to do the Saint Francis Walk?
I have always had the highest esteem for Saint Francis of Assisi and so I visit his lovely and very unique town whenever I can. I must have visited Assisi at least fifteen times even though I have often had to rush through it for lack of time.
Saint Francis is as fascinating today as he was during his own lifetime. He is always youthful because he is one of the only truly pure and above all “Evangelical” people that have ever existed. Few people have experienced Christianity so fully and so radically.
When I saw that the itinerary passed through places that he had visited and lived in during his life as a “ragged saint”, I wanted to Walk it too in the hopes of receiving direct experience from these places and I’m happy to have done it.
3. Can you tell us anything that happened during your journey along the Saint Francis Walk that you remember with particular pleasure? Actually, it’s quite difficult to choose a particular event because there were many pleasant moments during the Walk. We enjoyed the hospitality at Limiti di Greccio and Poggiobustone; many of the tracts along the walk were very nice as were the views of the places dearest to Saint Francis; the explanation of the La Foresta Sanctuary by a youngster from the “Mondo X” community was also memorable.
I’m sorry I didn’t have enough time to recite Vespers with the Franciscan community in Fontecolombo and above all I regret not staying overnight at the Centro di Spiritualità Madre Cabrini having already planned to return to Rieti.
I do remember one particular episode that happened near Limiti di Greccio that was quite significant. It was the evening of Friday, October 15 and we were walking from Rieti and Fontecolombo towards Greccio. Due to the rain and the late hour, we took the wrong road near Contigliano.
We had no idea where we were or where to go when in the dark we saw the headlights of a car in the distance. We stopped the car to ask information which we readily received from a young woman, a teacher in town. To our amazement, the woman invited us to get into her car with all our baggage despite the fact that we were soaking wet. She did not even worry about the fact that we were in an isolated place.
We accepted her offer and arrived at our destination in time talking along the way about the Walk and the stops along the paths.
Thinking back about it with my travelling companions we came to the conclusion that where we’re from a young woman, at that late hour, in that isolated place and in that situation would never have picked up three total strangers. It must mean that trust still exists here or that doing the Saint Francis Walk inspires trust.
4. How would you describe your spiritual experience along the Saint Francis Walk?
I would describe it as a “wonderful experience” in that the places along the paths and the Sanctuaries we visited - Fonte Colombo, Greccio, Poggiobustone, the Sacred Cave, the Beech Tree…, the La Foresta Sanctuary…- are a vivid memory of Saint Francis of Assisi. Retracing his steps and stopping in the same places he did is evocative and has a unique fascination about it. Even the natural beauty of the countryside together with the kind hospitality of the people makes this experience all the more deep-felt.
It’s nice to think about Saint Francis, to place oneself in his situations, to imagine his suffering and to share his joie de être knowing that God loved him. It’s true that the main source of happiness is not being without problems, worries, pain and suffering (and Saint Francis was afflicted with many) but is living in poverty evangelically, or rather entrusting yourself to God’s care.
It was also interesting to relive some of the experiences tied to the history of the Franciscans such as the Nativity in Greccio, a pleasant early sign of Christmas to come.
5. How would you describe the experience of being in contact with nature that is offered by the Saint Francis Walk?
As I said before, the natural beauty surrounding the paths along the Walk is extremely beautiful and also quite varied. There are forests, hills, lakes… the river…; you can encounter sheep herds and other animals; there are tiny churches and large ones… And everything is immersed in the normal life of modern civilization.
The views offered during the entire Walk, in particular the one towards Greccio and Terminillo, are numerous and extremely beautiful. Even though our time was limited, we were able to get a good taste of and appreciate the very peaceful and relaxing nature.