Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Going for the Gold

If I offered you two gold bricks, provided you went to Rome to get them, would you go? I thought so.

“Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give you.” Not bricks but friendship with two foundation stones of the Church—Peter and Paul. Between Oct. 19 and 30, 2015, you’ll be able to walk, first in the footsteps of Sts. Peter and Paul in Rome, then of the saints of the Pauline Family in the foothills of the Alps: Alba, Susa, Turin, and Milan, with a stay in Assisi on the way. The itinerary includes the Wednesday General Audience with Pope Francis. Daily Mass, Eucharistic adoration, and group prayer with the Word of God will be led by the Daughters of St. Paul, as we commemorate our centenary year, and by Fr. Michael, Goonan, SSP.

In Rome, we’ll visit some famous sites, but also places connected with Peter and Paul that most pilgrims never see. Once in Piedmont, northern Italy, we’ll pray at the birthplaces of Fr. Alberione and Mother Thecla, Bl. Timothy Giaccardo, and Mother Scholastica Rivata, the first Sister Disciple of the Divine Master—places where the Society of St. Paul and the Daughters are active today. As a bonus, the Shroud of Turin and the rooms of Don Bosco are also on the agenda.

Alba: Cooperator Rae Stabosz learns the art of bookbinding.
The price covers roundtrip airfare, 4-star accommodations, group transportation, fees, and most daily meals. The total: $3,400. We need 20 pilgrims to get the trip at that price, but we don’t want more than 30. It’s a personal encounter, not a mass tour.

I’ve been talking with a lot of prospective pilgrims these days, people who think they might like to go. However, besides the usual concern about not having enough funds (do we ever?), some have had questions and a few concerns. You too?

I’ve never been on a pilgrimage.
Read: “How do you pray for eleven days?”

We don’t. Well, we do, but not in the way you think. A pilgrimage is a trip to a sacred place, undertaken in a holy way. Because it’s sacred, we’re doing it with Christ even when we’re reveling in a gelato or a work of art. He makes everything, even the inconveniences, holy. When we love him in all that, we’re praying. Isn’t “pilgrimage” a great metaphor for our whole Christian life? As one person put it, “It’ll be like a retreat, but fun!”

Farewell of Peter & Paul before martyrdom
I don’t know if Peter and Paul, or the Pauline Family, are enough of a draw for me.
While Fr. Alberione insisted that everyone regard St. Paul as the Family’s father and founder, he “interpreted” the spirit of the Apostle of the Gentiles for modern times, a boon for any believer. It takes only a glance at history to see that without Paul, most of us would not be Christian today. Without those revolutionary Paulines, sharing Jesus in today’s world would not be what it is. That claim alone merits a lot more than a pilgrimage.

I don’t know anybody.
By the end of the first day, that’ll be a moot point.

We each bring something personal to a pilgrimage. It’s surprising, though, as we listen to each other, how much we’re alike, how connected by the same spiritual desire, and how we value the same basic things. The group prayer on the Word of God also leads to this discovery. It opens our eyes and hearts to the good in each other. I know that from community shared meditation. It’s too easy to relate to people on the basis of what we need or need to get done. Taking 15 minutes to listen to one another talk simply and faith-fully opens us to who they really are and want to be. A pilgrimage isn’t just about the places we visit, but the people we meet along the way, beginning with our fellow pilgrims.

Still worried? Bring somebody!

It’ll be so beautiful, and then I’ll have to come back to my hum-drum life.
Going to Palm Beach for vacation in January and then returning to five feet of snow—that’s just depressing. A pilgrimage is not the same. Yes, it feels like heaven, but it doesn’t just drop us again into the back alley of our lives. It sheds light on our situation, strengthens our resolve to keep God steadily present in the midst of chaos, and offers us grace to be and do what we’re meant for.

I don’t like to travel; I’m a homebody.
Nothing wrong with that. But if as a result, you feel that your life, especially your relationship with God, might be on autopilot, it’s a good sign that you need to dare a little and step out of your comfort zone. There’s something to be said for walking away from the familiar. We’re in a different space. We’re paying attention, because everything is new, so we see and hear God in, literally, “extra-ordinary” ways.

I don’t want to be tied to a group, a timetable, or someone else’s interests.
If independence is your thing, you may do better on your own. That said, pilgrimage organizers relieve us of the details we’d have to sift through otherwise, like accommodations, transportation, and translation. If we get sick, the trip’s medical coverage pays what’s needed, and the group leaders never leave us to fend for ourselves. Free time is built in too. We may want to meet up with a relative, explore on our own some afternoon, or dine out. Out of consideration for the group, people try to be on time for prayer, the bus, a meal. But in many other instances flexibility rules. It’s Italy.

I’m worried about ISIS. What if…?
We’re not going to Afghanistan. The World Synod of Bishops is meeting in Rome while we’re there. Alba’s International Truffle Festival will be in full swing, as well. (It runs on Saturdays and Sundays, so we’ll miss the crowds.) If there were any real danger, these events would be canceled. Frankly, we run a greater risk getting into our cars every day.
This pilgrimage is a hands-on opportunity to breathe the air that the first Christians and first Paulines did. It can shed light on how the spirits of Peter and Paul formed the spirit of the early apostles of the New Evangelization, and how they live on today, building the Body of Christ especially in the realm of media. The heroes of the past become real and present. Scripture becomes the real Word of God as we meet the two men who wrote half the New Testament. The Church is bigger than our local faith communities, while making these smaller groups even more beloved. Here we find the saints of today who, in one time and place, thrive on the universal faith that has changed the world.

“Tell me more!” OK:, then contact me, Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, at 210-393-6079 or The deadline for the refundable $500 deposit is August 23.
Photos: St. Peter's Basilica: Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP; bindery, Sts. Peter and Paul farewell, truffle market: Margaret Kerry, FSP.
Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation.

1 comment:

Maryann Toth said...

As a cooperator who took a very similar pilgrimage with the Daughters of St. Paul and other cooperators a few years ago, I second all of Sister's comments. If you are looking for a beautiful spiritual experience, want to tour through Italy and have fun along the way, I highly recommend this trip!