Or, “Roamin’ to Rome”
ORTE, Italy – Coming from Kentucky and Tennessee, Florida and Ohio, Maryland and Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania, a group of 50 pilgrims from the eastern United States gathered in Rome to join hundreds of thousands of others expected to witness the beatification of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II.
Most in the group – coordinated by The Catholic Review and other Catholic newspapers from Wilmington, Del.; Arlington, Va.; Washington; and Cincinnati, Ohio; with spiritual leadership of a priest from Fancy Farms, Ky. – had never met before convening in the Rome airport, but they quickly developed a camaraderie.
They quickly learned to respond in this octave of Easter to Father Richard Cash’s declaration, “He is risen,” with the response, “He is truly risen!”
Our Italian tour guide explained the difference between
• tourists, who take pictures, but who often miss the experience of the culture they visit;
• travelers, who desire a deeper experience than tourism when they visit other places, and take the time to explore and understand the places and people;
• and pilgrims, who visit, sometimes seeing sites that tourists enjoy, and soaking up experiences as travelers do, but whose primary goal is to have a spiritual awakening along the way.
Even in the first few days, in the land of St. Francis and St. Clare, the group began to experience the purpose of pilgrimage, with the clarity of context I first heard last year from Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore, when he referred to a passage from Paul Elie’s book, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage”:
“A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken in light of a story. A great event has happened; the pilgrim hears the reports and goes in search of the evidence, aspiring to be an eyewitness. The pilgrim seeks not only to confirm the experience of others firsthand but to be changed by the experience.
“Pilgrims often make the journey in company, but each must be changed individually; they must see for themselves, each with his or her own eyes. And as they return to ordinary life the pilgrims must tell others what they saw, recasting the story in their own terms.”
Already, our pilgrims are telling their own stories. Stories of their experiences with the spirituality of St. Francis and St. Clare, or their own connection to the life and faith of John Paul II, and why it brought them to take this journey, despite the projected crowds. Estimates at this point are wildly uncertain, ranging from 300,000 to 2 million other pilgrims, with stories of their own. People are already reported to be camped out on the Via della Conciliazzione in front of St. Peter’s Square the afternoon before the ceremony (later confirmed to be true by the time I was able to get to an Internet connection to post this).