Grace Harwood (Ipswich, Queensland, Australia) (published 24/10/2010)Walking the Cammino di Francesco was one of the most significant experiences of my life. My husband and I embarked on the journey together after having spent time in Assisi and La Verna. The ups and downs of the journey were a wonderfully physical expression of the journey of life.
One of the most significant experiences of my life
We were at times challenged by lack of clear signage, and yet each time, we were rescued by angels along the way. People stopped in the midst of their day, or came out of their homes to call to us and direct us along the right path. Only once, did we not get where we planned - we did not get to the faggio... decided to take the shorter but steeper route, and discovered it is ridiculously badly signed for those choosing the route upwards from Poggio Bustone. We ended up in the Italian wilderness, and after several hours of climbing turned back... but in the end, we know we had an incredibly franciscan experience in the forest. The light was unusual, we could hear nothing except the sounds of creation, and we were at peace with our God (even if we were lost.)
We began our journey in Rieti, travelled to Fonte Colombo, and on to Greccio where we stayed at noah's Ark B and B. Our hostess could not have been more helpful and despite our lack of Italian and her non-existent english, we got by. The lodgings were lovely, breakfast was amazing, she would not hear us say no to providing lunch for the next day's travels (thank goodness, because it was 6 hours into our walking before we found anywhere that sold food or drinks), and she arranged dinner in town (explained that we didn't speak Italian to the owner, drove us in to town... and the restaurant owner drove us home).
After experiencing the Sanctuary at Greccio we headed down into the valley. A long hot day, where the sounds of the bells were absent (we really really missed them), and where although we could see our destination from the start, we wound our way up and down the valley becuase there is only 1 river crossing. late in the afternoon, we arrived at the foot of the other side of the valley and wondered if we'd make the climb into Poggio Bustone. We did. It was steep but we made it. This little village perched on the side of the mountains was our home for 3 nights. People didn't speak english, we stood out as outsiders in this tiny community, but they couldn't have been more hospitable. We spent time in the Sanctuary, but the church was in the midst of restoration work, climbed to the Sacro Specio (absolutely magic place), got lost looking for the Faggio, and enjoyed watching the men play cards outside the bar in the afternoons. The final day led us back to Rieti. Cantalice was a vision as we turned the corner, and yet we knew that we had to drop to the valley and ascend the many many steps through town to the church at the top. Again, angels pointed us in the right direction (soneone tried to send us back to the bottom, but we knew they were wrong and sought other advice). once we were through Cantalice, we knew we were almost finished climbing. In fact the last real climb was in to La Foresta Sanctuary where Francis spent time towards the end of his life when he was very unwell. What a beautiful little community. Then down into Rieti where we shared a celebratory drink, enjoyed a shower and got dressed up to go to dinner and Mass at the cathedral (it was lovely to get dressed in a skirt after days of trudging and sweating). once it was over, we wished we could keep walking. For me, this was one of the most franciscan experiences of my life. Not just the sanctuaries and caves, but the walking... so franciscan and so very special. we make life so much more complicated than it needs to be, and the things which draw us to God are right there in front of us all the time. Tools to be used and which we learn from. By walking we cared for (and at times stretched) ourselves physically, spiritually (francis always went up, which at times we cursed him for, and yet, we sooooo get it), emotionally (blisters took a toll on my husband's feet. he was a great trouper and I just kept telling him that suffering was very franciscan:); accommodation websites told us people spoke english - they didn't... and then apologised. Hello, I'm in Italy, I should be able to speak italian; I almost cried when we arrived in Poggio Bustone to discover that the accommodation we had booked was back down the hill, the man didn't speak english, and we had no idea how to get there... the bar owner offered to drive us once he worked out where it was, but in the end we stayed in town - to save walking up and down everyday, and the accommodation was great, and the meals were wonderful. we were well looked after even if at first I was so tired I just wanted to cry) etc. We met wonderful people and were blessed by their generosity of heart, home, possessions and time.
We will return next year with a group of young adults to walk most of the same section we walked this year... and we can't wait. It is no wonder Francis loved the area. It's a thin place. God is very close.