By Peggy Mattson

In A Retreat with Francis and Clare, Murray Bodo states that “A pilgrimage is a retreat into the soul as well as an outer journey. …Pilgrimage is going forth and retreat is going within.”

The idea of a Diocese of Juneau pilgrimage to Italy was initially considered last fall. It became a scheduled event in April when we contracted with our tour company, Illume. This month, Bishop Edward J. Burns and ten other pilgrims from within and ouside of Alaska will be traveling to Rome, Assisi and Rimini, Italy, October 28-November 6th. We will celebrate Mass at special churches each day, attend a weekly papal audience and blessing from Pope Francis, kneel before the San Damiano crucifix that changed the life of St. Francis, visit the hometown of Fr. Pasquale Tosi—an early Jesuit missionary priest to Alaska —and see a labyrinth in San Vitale that was installed in 1540.

A nun walks near the Basilica of St. Francis in the early morning in 2011 in Assisi, Italy. Pope Francis will visit the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, on the saint's feast day, Oct. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (May 23, 2013) See POPE-ASSISI May 23, 2013.
A nun walks near the Basilica of St. Francis in the early morning in 2011 in Assisi, Italy. Pope Francis will visit the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, on the saint’s feast day, Oct. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

In my own part-time work at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center bookstore these last few months, I had the opportunity to speak with people who came from all over the world to see and encounter our magnificent glacier, Alaskan scenery and wildlife. I am looking forward to taking part in our diocesan pilgrimage to Italy. Our group will be more than tourists as we encounter the Italian culture, history and monuments. We are going as pilgrims to encounter the shrines, treasures and landmarks of our faith. We will journey in the footsteps of St. Peter and St. Paul, Fr. Tosi and St. Francis and St. Clare to meditate on their lives and to deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.

In preparation for this trip I have attempted to learn a few words in Italian and have researched the places and sites we will be visiting. I’ve read St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and the First Epistle of Peter included in, The Smiles of Rome – a Literary Companion for Readers and Travelers, edited by Susan Cahill, and read Lessons of St. Francis, by John Michael Talbot. To learn more about my Catholic faith and some of the churches that we will be visiting, I watched Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism video episode 5, The indispensable Men: Peter, Paul and the Missionary Adventure, and episode 6, A Body Both Suffering and Glorious: The Mystical Union of Christ and the Church. The journal that I will be using on this pilgrimage is from a monastery in Kosovo, a gift from my son who was deployed there several years ago.

We go as troubadours and carry the song in our hearts, “We are a pilgrim people, we are the church of God. A family of believers, disciples of the Lord. United in one spirit, ignited by the fire. Still burning through the ages, still present in our lives.”

St. Francis greeted each person with, “God give you peace!” May we go as instruments of God’s peace and return as pilgrims transformed.