I was at St. Peter’s Basilica yesterday afternoon – together with the participants of the summer course on Ecumenical and Interreligious Movements. I’ve been here so many times before and it’s good to be back – after 15 years. There were a lot of people – but it was difficult to distinguish the tourists from the pilgrims. Well, one can be both.
The most moving experience for me was going below the basilica and visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the other popes, especially John Paul II and John XXIII – my favorite popes. I said prayer before their tombs. Unfortunately, taking pictures of the tombs was prohibited.
I believe that what matters most is visiting the tomb of St. Peter and the popes after a long journey, and not just seeing the beautiful basilica and the works of art of Michaelangelo and Bernini.
In the middle ages, there were three major centers of pilgrimage – Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Pilgrims would often go on a long journey – usually on foot – to reach these places. Now, it is easier and faster to get to these places. And it is difficult to distinguish the tourists and the pilgrims. At least at the Santiago de Compostela only those who have journeyed on foot (at least 100 km) or by bicycle (at least 200 km) can get the pilgrim’s certificate. This is what I will be doing next month – journeying barefoot along the 800 km trail of the Camino Frances starting at the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains and ending at the cathedral where St. James is believed to be entombed.
In a pilgrimage, what matters is not just the destination but the journey. The journey is both inner/spiritual and physical/geographical. The long physical/geographical journey moves the pilgrim to an inner/spiritual journey. This means moving at a slow, relax pace. There is no need to rush.
At 7:43 this morning I took the train to Assisi. By 10:15 I was already at the Assisi train station which was still 3 km to the old town. Instead of taking the bus, I just walked up. It was quite cold when I reached the Basilica of St. Francis and was in time for the mass. After the mass, I prayed before the tomb of St. Francis. I prayed for his intercession -that I will be able to run/walk barefoot on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month – following his example.
After the mass, I walked around the town of Assisi – visiting the Basilica of St. Clare and the church/convent of San Damiano. Walking barefoot on the streets of Assisi was very pleasant, the pavement was smooth – except the rough road to San Damiano. I was very conscious of the fact that this was the same road that Francis and his followers walked on – barefoot.
I visited the room where St. Clare died and also her tomb. I prayed for a very special intention, remembering a special friend who is now in a Poor Clare monastery very far away and whom I have not seen for over 5 years.
It rained in the afternoon but I kept on walking around town. At 4 pm, I walked back to the train station to catch the last train back to Rome.
Being in Assisi brought back memories of the last time I was here – in 1994. Instead of taking the train from Rome to Assisi, I walked for six days carrying a backpack and tent, sleeping under the stars at night, and reaching Assisi on the Feast of St. Clare. I slept at the doorstep of the basilica of St. Clare that night and the following day took the train back to Rome. It was after that experience that I dreamed of walking on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela someday. This dream will become a reality next month.
I arrived here in Rome yesterday morning. After a couple of hours of rest, I went out for a 4-hour walk around the city and came back in time for the mass at the shrine of our Mother of Perpetual Help in the afternoon. I went to bed early, trying to shake the jet lag.
Very early this morning I ran for two hours along my favorite running route: the Colosseum, Terme de Caracalla, Circo Massimo, Capitoline hill, etc. I was filled with memories of the runs I did here during the four years that I was studying in Rome (1991-1995). This was also where I trained and ran the marathon in 1995. The same beautiful view – what is different is that I am 15-19 years older and I am doing it barefoot (which I thought would have been impossible then). There was one famous runner who ran barefoot in Rome before – during the Rome Olympics in 1960 – and this was Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian runner who won the marathon. So this morning, I felt that I was running in the footsteps of Abebe Bikila. Now I can feel the freedom and the joy of running barefoot. Running on the ancient cobblestones is not really difficult or painful. So this is what I will be doing everyday while I am in Rome for a month. This is my final training for my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago in Spain next month.
After spending four weeks as a hermit in the mountain of Busay overlooking the city of Cebu, I finally descended the other day. My journey as a pilgrim is about to start. I will be leaving for the airport a few minutes from now. In a couple of hours I will be taking the flight to Rome, Italy.
It’s been 15 years since I left Rome after finishing my doctorate at the Gregorian University in 1995 . I will be returning as a pilgrim to the city which I love so much – bella Roma! I will also attend a summer workshop on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue.
From Rome, I fly to Madrid on July 10 and from there find my way to the French village of St. Jean Pied a Port at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains where I will begin my 800 km running/walking pilgrimage across Northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I’m excited and also filled with anxiety, wondering if I can – like Francis of Assisi- do the pilgrimage barefoot. I brought my pair sandals, in case the temperature rises over 35*C and the road becomes scorching hot and I will have to use it until it is safe to walk barefoot again. But definitely no shoes. I am relying on Divine Providence to enable me to complete my journey safely. I am also bringing my ultralight tent so that I can sleep under the stars.
Rome and Santiago de Compostela – here I come! Buen Camino!
Explosive news spread like wildfire yesterday, causing a great furor throughout the city: that the Americans have landed at the Marshall and Wake Islands and Guam, occupying them. Another portion of it: that Rome has fallen; that Gen. Franco has resigned.
Like all other previous news, it was partly true and partly false. For instance, it is not true that the Spanish chief executive has resigned, yet Tokyo talks about Anglo-American pressures and manipulations on Spain to make her give up her neutrality and demand the resignation of Franco. Rome has not yet fallen, although Allied forces are nearing its gates.
There are landings on the Marshall Islands, but not on Wake and Guam. An occupation of Wake and Guam would be critical for the Philippines since these islands are virtually at the gates of our country and would therefore place us within bombing distance of the Americans.