Next week I’ll be in Rome for the second time in my life. Last year I was able to attend a wonderful pilgrimage for veterans that took us to Rome and Assisi. I’d never visited either before and it was incredibly fulfilling to see Pope Francis, tour Rome, get lost in the Roman hills, see the Lateran Basilica and much more. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I looked out over the Spoleto Valley on the morning of May 21, 2019 I took a mental picture and one with my iPhone too. I was grateful to have spent the last week visiting Italy and trekking on this sacred ground once walked on by the apostles in Rome and St. Francis and his early companions in the Assisi and Tuscany.
While I was there last year I called a fellow veteran and long time friend and told him that he should go on this pilgrimage. He told me then. “I’ll go if you go Donald.” I filed that conversation away and it lay dormant for about six months. In late November of last year I survived another pulmonary embolism and atrial fibrillation. That first night in the hospital I said to myself, “I’m going back to Assisi.” I’m fortunate to have survived not one but two pulmonary embolisms in my life. I called my friend while still in the hospital and said, “I’m gong back to Assisi.” He replied, “I’ll join you.’ In the past six months we’ve been planning and anticipating and next week we’ll be there.
I’m filled with anticipation, excitement and gratitude. I’m praying that my friend John will have a blessed time on this pilgrimage. While I’m looking forward to Rome I’m really excited to be returning to Assisi and returning to Casa Papa Giovanni where we stayed last year. I’m longing to walk again the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare and the early Franciscans. Last year’s pilgrimage was deeply moving and sparked a spiritual and emotional transformation. I came to understand St. Francis not only as the seraphic father of the Franciscan order of which I am a part, but also as a fellow veteran and person who suffered from post traumatic stress.
I’m looking forward to meeting the many other veterans and their spouses who will be joining us. I’m eager to renew relationships with the leaders of the pilgrimage and with the wonderful hosts and people of Rome and Assisi. I’m eager to greet my companions with Buongiorno buona gente.