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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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Giles: Despite the fact that much about St. Giles is shrouded in mystery, we can say that he was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages. Likely, he was born in the first half of the seventh century in southeastern France. That is where he built a monastery that became a popular stopping-off point for pilgrims making their way to Compostela in Spain and the Holy Land.<br /><br />In England, many ancient churches and hospitals were dedicated to Giles. One of the sections of the city of Brussels is named after him. In Germany, Giles was included among the so-called 14 Holy Helpers, a popular group of saints to whom people prayed, especially for recovery from disease and for strength at the hour of death. Also among the 14 were Sts. Christopher, Barbara and Blaise. Interestingly, Giles was the only non-martyr among them. Devotion to the "Holy Helpers" was especially strong in parts of Germany and in Hungary and Sweden. Such devotion made his popularity spread. Giles was soon invoked as the patron of the poor and the disabled.<br /><br />The pilgrimage center that once drew so many fell into disrepair some centuries after Giles' death. American Catholic Blog The ascension is about the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. If the Christ is the archetype of the full human journey, now we know how it all resolves itself in the end. “So that where I am, you also will be” (John 14:3).

 
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