Franciscan Spirit Blog

Roamin’ Catholic: A Journey of Healing


It’s been said that you can never truly understand someone until you walk in that person’s footsteps. That belief could not have been truer than it was eight years ago when I went on a pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. Just a few months before I was set to leave, my mom unexpectedly passed away. Suddenly, my focus was not on my upcoming pilgrimage, but rather on my grief.

One day, as I was packing for my trip, I came across a pair of my mom’s gym shoes and tried them on. Surprisingly, they fit, so I decided to take them along with me for the journey. In some small way, it was a way for her to be with me.

When our pilgrimage group first arrived in Assisi, I wondered what I would be able to get out of the experience. My head and heart didn’t seem to be open to the experience and I felt immensely guilty for that. After all, what a great gift and opportunity this was. For the first few days, I looked around at all my fellow pilgrims and the way they were connecting to the various places related to St. Francis and St. Clare’s lives. I was jealous and felt disappointed that I wasn’t feeling the same way.

And then, we visited the chapel of San Damiano. The leader of our pilgrimage encouraged us to close our eyes and touch the walls of the chapel and try to imagine what Francis might have felt that day. That’s when it hit me. Surely, Francis must have felt a wide range of emotions as he stood in this very place—fear, uncertainty, sadness—all emotions I was feeling.

A new and probably frightening journey lay ahead of him. There were no answers, no instructions for how to move forward. But he knew he had to; he felt it deep within. And then St. Clare followed in his footsteps, stepping out into her own personal unknown, but knowing she was being called to this new life.

I looked down at my shoes—my mom’s shoes—and realized that on this pilgrimage I was following in Francis and Clare’s footsteps. I just needed to follow them. Each place we went to carried its own meaning both in their lives and mine.

We traveled to the mountains of La Verna, where Francis would retreat for periods of solitude and reflection. In the same spirit, I found myself retreating to the chapel where we were staying and letting my grief wash over me. Clare’s strong conviction and persistence reminded me of the three determined and principled young women my mom and dad had raised. As a mom of daughters myself, it encouraged me.

Our visit to Rome spoke to my mom’s deep devotion to her Catholic faith—and renewed mine.

Every step I took on the pilgrimage seemed to not only bring me closer to Francis and Clare, but also to my mom. In the years since, I have continued to walk in the footsteps of Francis, Clare, and my mom, carrying the lessons I learned during that time in Assisi and Rome deep within my heart.

For more on Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, click here or the image below!

Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs

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