Friday, March 28, 2008

Andiamo - 1st Day (2/29/08 - 3/01/08)

At 5:50 p.m. in the afternoon, eighteen bright-eyed American pilgrims departed Philadelphia International Airport, prepared for their landing on the shores of Italy the next morning, in search of Augustinian heritage and inspiration. Our leader and chaplain Fr. Joe Farrell, O.S.A, had briefed his pilgrims extensively on the terrain, local customs and the Augustinian history we would soon experience first hand.

This day was special in many ways, but most especially because on this very day the youngest pilgrim – Chrissy – was celebrating her eighth birthday (oh the perils of being a leap-year baby). To celebrate in a very special way, she invited her mother to come with her on the trip. Kathy Faistl was a wonderful addition to our group. Exhausted by their in flight revelries, the weary pilgrims dozed off as our winged chariot sped us through the night to Italy.

Morning came, and Milano was before us. We successfully made our way through Italian customs and were met by the first of our friendly hosts – bus driver Giancarlo. A modest ride took us past some of the modern yet unattractive architecture of Milano to our lovely hotel, La Villa Ciardi in Barzago, Italy, about 40 minutes outside of Milan. Having arrived early in the day, Fr. Joe kindly gave us a few hours to rest and recover from the overnight flight.

Some of us slept, others walked, and we all looked more alert at our first Italian meal, a delicious lunch -complete with three courses - at our hotel. The pasta cheese crepe was a big hit, but there was considerable debate about the origin of the meat dish. Some said veal, some pork, but careful observers noticed that there were virtually no rabbits chewing the veggies in the garden the next day. Oh my!

Refreshed and revitalized, we piled on our bus to visit nearby Cassago Brianza, reputed site of Cassiciacum, where St. Augustine and his friends, his son and his mother, went to prepare for Augustine's baptism following his conversion in the garden.

They stayed at a “country house . . . at Cassiciacum, where we found rest in you from the hurly-burly of the world” (9.3.5). Since Augustine told us in the very first pages of his Confessions that “our hearts are restless until we rest in you, oh God,” this was obviously more than just a relaxing country getaway. This is what he had been searching for his whole life. And we were there!

It was a beautiful spot. We examined pictures and documents that showed us, to our amazement, just how much this area looked like the scenery of Augustine’s birthplace in North Africa. We were so inspired by the enthusiasm and devotion of the members of the Association of St. Augustine – who were and continue to be dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of Augustine in that holy place.

Most impressive was the President of the Association, Mario Colnago, full of energy at 91. Giuseppe, member of the Association of St. Augustine, spoke excellent English and delivered an inspired talk on Augustine, the nature of community so important to him, the renewal of spirit and the healing of mind and heart that he and his friends may have sought and experienced in this very place.

The museum they have established on the life of St. Augustine and the artifacts they have collected deserve attention from every student of Augustine. But, what was so striking to us all is that the Association is comprised entirely of lay people who are committed to the legacy of St. Augustine and the Augustinians. They have genuine enthusiasm for Augustine and for keeping his legacy and presence in Italy alive. We were pleased to receive from Mario and Luigi Beretta a substanital collection of the Association's publications and medals from their commemorative celebration in 2000. Their warm and generous friendship was an experince that we will treasure always.

The grounds adjacent to the musem offered pilgrims opportunity for contemplation and reflection. After walking the grounds, strolling the hillside with a spectacular view of the Alps, and wandering through the ruins of the stable area, we moved to St. Bridget's Church for the first Liturgy of the pilgrmage. We listened as Fr. Joe’s recalled Augustine's legacy - seeking the companionship of friends, reflecting on the Scriptures, teaching and learning through thoughtful discussion - always growing closer to God. The homily provided a perfect context for our trip and challenged us to become Christian pilgrims for life.

We felt the holiness of the place, which is filled with art and statuary dedicated to Augustine. More practically, we learned that the churches of Italy in early March are, well, freezing!

We were well bundled up after Mass for our walk to our dinner hosts, arranged by our Augustinian friends, and enjoyed that most Italian of all foods, pizza! We learned a little bit about the Association’s expression of the Augustinian tradition of charity in helping battered women as we shared food in the “rec room” of the shelter they sponsor.

And then, just when we tired pilgrims were dreaming of our beds, we were whisked off to coffee and dessert at a very nice cafĂ© in the little town. Revived by expresso, we rallied, enjoyed our first Italian desserts, and only then decided to call it a night. Giancarlo brought us safely back to La Villa Ciardi for a good night’s sleep. Walking in the footsteps of St. Augustine this day had touched us all, the first of many such experiences during our pilgrimage. “Childlike, (we) chattered away to you, my glory, my wealth, my salvation, and my Lord and God” (9.1.1).

Thanks to pilgrims Kathy and Immer for providing this record of the first, very long, but very rewarding day of our pilgrimage, and to all who have shared photographs for this entry.

No comments: