Isabel Dubert & Killian Beeler, Contributing Writers
On a chilly Saturday in Assisi, the spring ‘13 Rome class decided to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis and hike barefoot to the friar’s hermitage above his hometown. Led by Dr. Andrew Osborn, who seemed skeptical as to whether the Spring Romers would be able to bear the whole hike shoeless, the enthusiastic group made it to the friar’s refuge, some with blistered feet, others with bloody toes, but all with new calluses and an appreciation for the suffering St. Francis endured in imitation of Christ.
On the way up, the pilgrims prayed the rosary and the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy together and marveled at the beams of sunlight that pierced through the cloudy sky onto the peaceful city and countryside below. Once at the hermitage, the Spring Romers lay down at the side of a statue of Francis, smiled, and basked in the beauty of the world around them.
On the way down the hill, a couple of us were walking with Selena Puente and listening to her as she mulled over her own experience of hiking up to the hermitage. After wrestling for a while to find the appropriate words to describe it, she reflected, “The hike reminded me that even though there are many amazing things we can do with our lives, the most unbelievable part of life is the fact that we are, indeed, alive. We tend to get caught up in the act of existing, but sometimes knowing we exist is a miracle in and of itself.”
Afterward Josh Elzner, who was instrumental in first kindling our class’s zeal to go up the mountain barefoot, expressed uncommonly well his original intention in sallying forth on such a unique journey, and what it meant for him to make it. The night before at dinner, he had heard about some pilgrims in the past who had attempted the hike barefoot, and he was inspired to follow as fully as possible in the footsteps of St. Francis – to take on his spirit, almost. Josh recalled how Dr. Osborn had initially been teasing the 20 or 30 students who had decided to take up the challenge. He insisted that they were not going to do it, that they would be running back to their shoes before they were halfway up the hill.
For Josh, the experience of hiking up to St. Francis’s hermitage was connected with the previous day’s climb to St. Benedict’s cave. He commented, “It was entering into the sphere in which the saints lived, the sphere of love. It was this which could urge someone to live in a cave for three years, to reject the relationships and comforts of this world, and to enter into this one relationship, to walk up into a mountain and pray with your brothers, to be touched by a love that is not of this world.”
At St. Francis’s hermitage, as in the cave of St. Benedict and during morning prayer and Mass with the Poor Clares in Assisi, Josh could feel the faith palpably. He regarded all of these experiences as experiences of love, a love shown by the individual students’ reactions to the pain of little sharp rocks piercing the tender soles of their feet and of their stubbed toes as they bled onto the pavement.
“You can imagine this world with all of its busyness and trivialities,” Josh said, “and its joys too, and you live inside the clouds of this world, and all of a sudden they break, and you can see the sun of Divine Love shining through from the Face of Christ. And you want to grab hold of that and surrender yourself entirely to that love.”