Jerusalem and Nazareth parishes in the footsteps of Saint Francis in Italy

Over a hundred parishioners went on pilgrimage in Italy from July 4th to the 11th. In the program: Assisi, La Verna, Florence, and Rome.

On Friday the fourth of July, the friars Feras, Amjad, Raffaele and Jad left their parishes to accompany 106 parishioners from Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Ramleh. Organized by Donato Amato Tours, the pilgrimage was conceived as a mixed group, from couples with children to elderly people. With red scarves around their necks and song booklets in their bags, the pilgrims were eager to see the places from the life of Saint Francis that they so often hear about and discuss in their Franciscan parishes of the Holy Land.

After arriving in Rome, the group went directly to Assisi, where the Eucharist was celebrated in Saint Mary of the Angels basilica, close to the chapel where St. Francis died in 1226. The next day was devoted to discovering the rich Gothic patrimony of Assisi, with the Basilica of Saint Francis in first place. The parishioners admired the many frescos of the first Italian masters, including Giotto’s “Life of Saint Francis in 28 Scenes”. Then they visited the Basilica of Saint Clare, the first female disciple of Saint Francis, and Saint Damien church outside the city. In the evening, many of the parishioners took part in a torchlight procession. “It was not part of the program, but the serenity of Assisi invited us to prayer, so we joined the crowd for a prayer vigil, Christians of East and West together,” described Hania, a pilgrim from Jerusalem.

From Assisi, the pilgrims traveled to Umbria on the 6th of July, to the neighboring sanctuary of La Verna in Tuscany. On this rocky mountain that rises to 1,283 meters (4, 209 feet), they drew a little closer to Saint Francis. It was here in this distant wilderness that Francis so loved, that a hermitage was created. The saint would go there every year for long spiritual retreats. In 1224, a short time before his death, Saint Francis received the stigmata in this place that then became an important sanctuary. Today an abbey and a Franciscan convent receive pilgrims who come from all over the world.

After the quiet and wooded landscapes, the pilgrims headed for Florence and then Rome and its urban frenzy. On the program were visits to the Coliseum, squares and fountains, but above all the four major basilicas of Rome: Saint John Lateran, Saint Mary Major, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Outside the Walls. On her return, Hania shared, “I admire the strength and ambition that it took to build such churches. Even the smallest of them is larger than the biggest basilica in the Middle East! In such buildings, you feel like you are in the presence of God: small and human.” It was an opportunity to discover the existence of many relics and to become aware of how special Jerusalem is, and even more, the influence of the Holy Land on the entire western world. An older pilgrim doesn’t stop repeating, “The guide didn’t stop referring to Jerusalem, the Mother Church… and it is ours!”

Such reactions are the joy of Father Feras, director of the pilgrimage and de facto interpreter for a large part of the guided visits. “We made such an intense, rich pilgrimage because our parishioners know one another well, which is a big help; they didn’t stop taking care of each other. We left as a ‘Franciscan family’, if I may, nourished by the values of tolerance and peace that Saint Francis advocated.” The idea was once again put to the test when the pilgrims returned to find a Tel Aviv of deserted streets and a Holy Land yet again plunged into the torment of violence.

A presentation of the pilgrimage will be offered in the coming weeks, allowing time to sort through the many photos taken by the pilgrims and friars. Some of them can be seen in the gallery below. Special thanks to Giuliana.

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