By Nicholas Clay, Hilbert Senior, Sports Industry Management Major
Jeff Papia, Director of Mission Integration and Campus Ministry at Hilbert College, experienced the lives of St. Francis and St. Clare during an 11-day Franciscan Pilgrimage to visit many of the places that Francis lived. Jeff traveled with other affiliates of the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities (AFCU), through the Franciscan Pilgrimage Program for Educators, Alumni, and Staff of Franciscan Colleges and Universities.
“Joining other members of the AFCU to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare was an experience that will remain with me forever. Standing in those sacred places made us feel as if we had a personal relationship with Francis and Clare. I learned more about the Franciscan movement in 10 days than a book or lecture could ever provide.”
The trip began with a three-day stay in Rome, where the group visited two major sites, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. John Lateran. The pilgrims attended a mass at the Altar of John XXIII, which was followed by a tour of the Basilica. The following day they listened to the Pope during his weekly Papal Audience, in which the AFCU group was announced over the loud speaker as each visiting organization is broadcasted. Jeff snapped this photo with his phone, as he was just five feet away from Pope Francis.
Following their stay in Rome, the group moved on to Greccio, where in 1223, Francis celebrated Christmas and began the practice of displaying the Christmas nativity scene.
Following the brief stop in Greccio, they spent the remaining eight days in Assisi – the city where St. Francis and St. Clare were born. Jeff and the group toured the tombs of these two Saints and several places around the city where Francis had worked and lived. They visited San Damiano, where Francis prayed and heard the voice of Christ say, “Francis, go, rebuild my house.” He restored this church by begging for stones in Assisi. They also visited the Porziuncula, which became the center of the Franciscan movement, where Francis obtained the Pardon of Assisi and now, we celebrate the Feast of the Pardon each year. This is also where Francis died on October 3, 1226.
“At the tomb of St. Francis, during the Prayer of the Faithful, one member of each institution named their college or university aloud,” Jeff said. “It was a privilege to pray for Hilbert College at the tomb of St. Francis.”
As Jeff reflects on his journey through the eyes of St. Francis and St. Clare, he holds the memories, which will last a lifetime, close to his heart.
“My most memorable experiences were the celebrations of Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the tomb of John XXIII, inside the Porziuncula, and at both the tomb of St. Francis and the tomb of St. Clare,” Jeff said. “Thousands upon thousands of people visit these spots every year, but we had the opportunity to be still and pray with our community of fellow pilgrims.”
He continued, “On a personal note, my wife and I have had a devotion to St. Francis and St. Clare for our entire lives. To share this experience together, particularly at San Damiano, is a grace and a blessing we could have never earned or deserved.”
“Finally, I went on this pilgrimage expecting to discover more about St. Francis and I certainly did. However, in a surprising way, I ended up discovering St. Clare and hope to bring her life and her spirit back to Hilbert with me.”
Tomb of St. Francis
Jeff with his wife, Maria
St. Peter’s Basilica