Assisi and the pilgrim spirit

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After spending roughly two and a half weeks getting our bearings in Rome, the first class trip occurred last weekend. The spring Rome class got on a bus and ascended the hills of Italy to reach the fabled town of Assisi. 

While the trip itself was phenomenal and a nice change of pace from being on campus, I think I speak for all of the current Spromers when I say that most of us enjoyed the trip for a far more significant reason. 

When walking through the town, one feels as if they have been transported to an entirely different world. Smooth, winding cobblestone streets, towering basilicas and Roman ruins are a few of the trademark encounters of this truly beautiful town. Though Rome is an incredible city with its monumental historical sites, it is also heavily modernized, being very big, very loud and at times overwhelming. 

With Assisi, one experiences a great sense of calm yet shock at how quiet Assisi is. You can actually hear yourself think as you wander up and down the streets. The locals were incredibly friendly and hospitable, and even at night people could easily stroll through the almost silent city without needing to have their guard up. A friend of mine had no problem using an ATM despite it being 1 a.m. There is an overwhelming sense of peace when one is in Assisi. 

Yet its signature feature is the religious significance of the town. Assisi is the home of the universally adored St. Francis of Assisi, who promoted a life of radical renunciation of the world to inspire greater devotion to Christ. Assisi is proud of its Catholic heritage; every corner you turn is bound to show an image of Our Lady or a crucifix, especially the famous tau cross of St. Francis. 

Religion is not just an addition to the busy lives of the city’s inhabitants. Rather, it is life itself —  truly remarkable integration of the spiritual with the secular. 

This spirit inspires a sense of purpose when touring the town. One does not go to Assisi as merely a tourist, but instead as a pilgrim. While the gelato shops and souvenir vendors are obviously must-sees, there is a higher purpose to this trip. 

Assisi is a perfect demonstration of the effects that the beauty of Catholicism can have on a community. It unifies the people in a spirit of prayer and devotion, keeping the fire of St. Francis burning bright for generations. UD students are encouraged to participate in the spirit of Assisi through prayer and the veneration of the trailblazers that put Assisi on the map.

One particular way I experienced this was through a difficult hike to the hermitage of St. Francis. The walk was through the hills and forests of Assisi and almost entirely uphill, presenting a challenge for even the most seasoned hiker. 

Yet getting to the hermitage made the challenge beyond worth it. You feel a sense of tranquility and stillness that cannot be replicated anywhere else. What’s more is that you form a new link in an enormous chain of Catholics from all over the world who have completed the same journey.

In a way, UD helps preserve a part of this pilgrim spirit. You will often hear about UD being “dead.” Routine complaints from many UD students are that there’s not enough activities on campus during weekends, not enough going on during the semester, and even not enough enrolled students. But I think this is a tremendous reason for why UD is the way it is.

Part of the blessing of attending UD is that you are more than a student. You are also a pilgrim, growing in your knowledge and dedication to God and pursuing the good life, developing virtue and living rightly within the cosmic hierarchy that God has established. It is a journey you make towards a destination leading you to become a more faithful citizen of the City of God amidst the City of Man, to use Augustinian terms. We should cherish this spirit, while in Irving and while making our pilgrimage in Rome.

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