The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, in collaboration with the new Pope John Paul II Center for Interreligious Dialogue, planned a day trip to Assisi on 27 October 2011 to join Pope Benedict XVI and world religious leaders – and a few secular agnostics – in a day of pilgrimage toward peace.
Our group included seven from the Lay Centre, six Russell Berrie Fellows and alumni, and one who could count for both. Additionally, we were joined by Rev. Tom Ryan, CP, of the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Anna Maria Kloss, wife of the Austrian Ambassador to the Holy See; and seven other pontifical university students, including two from the Gregoriana’s late Interdisciplinary Center for the study of Religion and Culture.
We were 24 people representing 16 countries, including: Austria, Belarus, Bosnia i Herzegovina, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Rwanda, Turkey, the U.S., and Venezuela.
Our day began at 0500, enough time to get up and ready for an 0600 departure by bus, for the 3 hour drive to Assisi.
The journey started out in the dark. As the sun rose, you could barely see the road ahead because of the fog. The scene recalled John Henry Newman’s hymn, Lead Kindly Light
Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
In this time of political crisis and social upheaval, many feel surrounded by “encircling gloom”. In such circumstances, how important it is to journey together, to make an effort to seek justice, to seek truth and to commit ourselves to peace.
The schedule of the day was relatively light. At 1030 the morning session at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, in the valley below Assisi proper, lasted for a little under two hours. We then made our way up the hill to a restaurant near the Basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare) for lunch. After lunch a leisurely stroll took us to the other end of town, to join a World Youth Day in miniature going on in the lower piazza before the delegates arrived.
At one point, just before the delegates arrived the afternoon program, one of our company had gone looking for water. We wanted to find him before it was too late to re-enter the piazza, but were barred from exiting by security as the delegates who were coming on foot were about to arrive. As we watched the nearly 300 religious delegates enter the piazza, wondering where Muhammad had gone, he appeared in the middle of the delegates procession, engaged in deep conversation with a professor from Sarajevo! It looked so natural, that security did not even think to stop him.
Assisi Impressions and Reflections – Gayatri Wedotami
From the very beginning, our pilgrimage has started with love and hope of peace. On the bus, Muhamed, our Muslim friend from Bosnia was sitting next to Avner from Israel. Alex, our Eastern Catholic friend from the US sat beside me. Alex and I were actually the grandchildren of two enemies in the past. His grandfather had served for 40 years as a Dutch soldier in Indonesia (it was then Dutch East-India). Meanwhile, my grandfathers and my granduncles had fought against the Dutch for the freedom of Indonesia.
Assisi 2011 was also a important day for me as an Indonesian, since the representative for the Muslim community for the speech in Basilica St Maria Degli Angeli was a Muslim leader from Indonesia, Kyai Haji Hasyim Muzadi.
Assisi Impressions and Reflections — A.J. Boyd
There is no question that it was a beautiful day, and inspiring simply to bring all of these people together as a witness for peace, the positive contribution of people of faith to the world, and even of the potential to overcome the modern myth of a necessary animosity between “people of faith” and “people of science.”
With some time to spare in the evening, our group split in various directions, some to shop, some to wander, some to pray. About ten of us wandered up to the 13th century Church of Santo Stefano, a beautifully simple church whose bells were said to have miraculously pealed at the moment of Francis’ death. As the Christians prayed in the front of the church, some of our Muslim pilgrims prepared for their own evening prayer, at the back of the church. As we finished our prayer in the Church of Santo Stefano, instead of walking out past the praying Muslims, most stopped and waited as respectful observers. It was just a few minutes, it was spontaneous, and it made the day a genuine pilgrimage of truth, for peace.