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In Pursuit of Saints Francis and Clare View Comments
By Christopher Heffron

Assisi is a pilgrim's paradise. Seemingly untouched by the frenetic bustle of modern life, it's a place of peace and beauty that quiet the mind.

THE SWISS AIR flight from Zurich to Rome is the last stretch on a journey that’s proven one thing: I am simply not built for long flights. I’m taller than average: long on legs, short on tolerance for tight spaces. Sleep is impossible and sitting still for hours is a chore.

It’s my mind, though, that is my true adversary: Every time I’m in the air, Don McLean’s “American Pie” plays in my head like a cerebral iPod with a grudge. But all fears and discomfort vanish as our airplane descends over a spectacular Italian wheat field ablaze with a gold I have never seen. I know I’m not in Cincinnati anymore.

I have been selected, along with 28 others, to participate in Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs’ Assisi and Rome experience. We are also slated to visit La Verna, Greccio and other places that touched Francis and Clare.

A few of the people on this trip I already know, but most are strangers. In the coming days, we will become a family of ragtag seekers on a unique experience.

Our group assembles at Terminal C of a crowded airport in Rome. Here we are—drained and disheveled huddled close to Sister Joanne Schatzlein, O.S.F., and Father Joseph Schwab, O.F.M., our guides for the next two weeks.

Some pilgrims introduce themselves and make friendly small talk. Others look too tired to utter a word. I fall into the latter category: I can only sit on my luggage and ponder what the next two weeks will bring.

And all I can do is smile.

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Christopher Heffron is the assistant editor of this publication. He attended the June 2009 pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome.

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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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