In the Footsteps of St. Paul
Relying on Providence, Franciscan friars and laymen took a pilgrimage last summer through Italy where the Apostle of the Gentiles traveled long ago.
To honor St. Paul of Tarsus during the Jubilee Year dedicated to the Apostle, a group of itinerant Franciscan friars and laymen from northern Italy did something unusual yet very Christian: They went on a pilgrimage without any money, food or belongings, passing through areas in Italy made famous by the Apostle of the Gentiles.
The pilgrims were led by Friar Giorgio Auletta of the Franciscan Itinerant Friary of Roncajette near Padua, Italy. After nearly three weeks of relying on Providence, he spoke with Edward Pentin about the group’s experiences this past summer.
Could you tell us about the pilgrimage you took?
We were a small group of brothers and also laity who made this pilgrimage in honor of St. Paul. Some of us began the walk on Aug. 3 and finished on Aug. 20. Others joined us along the way.
The route went from Pozzuoli [a town just outside Naples] to Rome, passing through well-known sites in Rome, churches such as San Paolo Alle Tre Fontane [St. Paul at the Three Fountains], places that are famous in the life of St. Paul.
We traveled as itinerant poor people, so we had no money; we had to ask for food. Often, we would meet other poor people, and at times, we would be received by the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucault or the Missionaries of Charity.
More often, we’d have to beg for food; otherwise, we had nothing. In this way, we tried to spread the Gospel, to trust in Providence, to convey the joy of the Gospel. We would often be very welcomed also in convents and monasteries. But it was a short time, just a few weeks in the year.
Of course, living in this way, we got asked questions, and it’s an occasion to teach those who don’t know the Lord. It’s a chance to share the Gospel, to teach people we meet on the street — also by way of example, not only through words.
How many went on the pilgrimage?
We were five friars and three laypersons.
What was the exact route that you took?
We went from Pozzuoli, then to Cisterna [the Three Taverns], because it was there that St. Paul was met by a band of Roman Christians, and then on to Rome and all the places that St. Paul visited there [a total distance of around 170 miles]. Sometimes we would hitchhike and get rides.
What prompted you to make this trip?
We wanted to make a pilgrimage made in poverty to experience life dependent only on Providence. It was an occasion to live the Gospel, to spread the Gospel and proclaim it — both of these things.
And you met many people?
We’d meet people passing along the way. We [the friars] were dressed in our habits, and many were curious about us.
What were the biggest challenges for you?
When we got a little lost, the sense of being away from what was familiar and safe, but also trusting in Providence, abandoning oneself to God. There were quite a few things that concerned us.
There was plenty of time, however, to pray. We had many opportunities during the day to pray, to pray for our safety and for those fundamental things — there was certainly a need to pray.
Did you sometimes find you hadn’t enough to eat?
No, that never happened. We always had abundance. One of us actually returned home having put on a kilo of weight.
How did it help your faith?
This kind of experience always helps because it touches you; you sense the nearness of God and God’s providence regarding the little things in life.
This sense of Providence is probably the greatest thing. So this helps one’s faith a lot, and also, it helps one’s conversion — it’s a helpful instrument for conversion.
Would you do it again?
Yes, certainly, but every year we do several such pilgrimages. The next one will probably be in another place, and we’ll go somewhere at short notice and without much planning. It will be closer to our Franciscan friary near Padua.
Your charism is to be itinerant friars?
Yes, that is our plan for life.
Edward Pentin writes
- December 7-13, 2008