Pilgrimage to Italy

For the second time since 2013, a group of pilgrims left Springfield, Missouri, to explore and respond to sites in Italy. The resulting goal: deepening their knowledge of western religious traditions and the influences of political situations upon them. In turn, the travelers’ personal spiritual journeys were enriched.

Eighteen members and friends of National Avenue Christian Church arrived in Rome on May 26, with stopovers in La Verna, Ravenna and Venice prior to a return on June 4. The group, focused on the theme of “syncretism,” or the blending of religious traditions, was led by Dr. John White, Professor Emeritus of Loyola University, Chicago, and Dr. Etta Madden, Professor at Missouri State University. Their expertise in early Christianity and American travelers to Italy, along with the groups’ collective knowledge, enhanced visits to Rome’s earliest sacred sites, Ravenna’s numerous mosaics, and Venice’s eastern-influenced architecture.

Lodging in monastic guest houses, such as the Sanctuary La Verna, associated with St. Francis of Assisi, and traveling a uniquely-organized itinerary distinguished the days from a typical vacation tour. 

Responses during the trip varied: awe at the layers of now-underground worship sites at Rome’s 12th century Basilica of San Clemente, including the 3rd-century altar to Mithras and 4th-century Christian frescoes; awakening to the mystical elements of apse mosaics at Sant’Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna; surprise at the serenity of the Sanctuary La Verna. As one traveler said, “I could have stayed there all week. Just the beauty, the history, experiencing the places that St. Francis prayed and meditated so long ago.” The striking contrast from Rome’s urban filth, poverty and noise to the Umbrian mountaintop and silence of all but the birds moved many to reflect on nature’s place in spirituality, our own privileges, and what some like Francis have done in their attempts to shift political powers to the ends of social justice.  

Of course, breaks from the group routine to cycle in a pine forest reserve, enjoy sand and sun on a beach, attend an opera, or savor food and drink contributed to the pilgrimage experience.     

Interested in arranging or participating in a trip? Contact ettamadden@mchsi.com.    

Story written by Etta Madden,
submitted by Wanda Hedenberg.