Pilgrim updates: From the Alps

Mendicant pilgrim Ann Sieben is leading four men across Europe on foot for World Youth Day. Every week, we are updating you on their progress via their pictures and journal entries, which they are sending us throughout their journey. You can read the introductory post here


15 June

Sanctuario di Madonna della Corona

From the Apennines to the Alps, we’ve upped our pace this week. Even the Italians say, “There’s no much to see in the Po Valley”, However, everything is [something] to the rest of the country which, as we are discovering, is full of history and artifacts both secular and religious.


Even in the Po, we encountered such as Bologna and Mantua, noted even by Shakespeare. Focused on our destination, we crossed the Valley–14 kilometers—in three days, walking as much as a marathon a day. Such distances would have seemed impossible on day one, but such distances are now standard; our bodies are conditioned.

Kilometers add up and people we meet are impressed to know that we started in Rome and are incredulous to hear that it has all been on foot.

The pilgrimage group is walking from Rome to Krakow, and sending us updates along the way! Photo provided.

The pilgrimage group is walking from Rome to Krakow, and sending us updates along the way! Photo provided.

We are increasingly independent during the day, often walking alone for extended periods. Sometimes we cross paths during the day, and we certainly reunite during the evening at our pre-determined meeting place. We’re not a tour group, we’re independent pilgrims. As a result, our experiences are varied and individual at times, and yet share common themes ranging from receiving hospitality from strangers to finding places to swim during the day. The individuality provides for spontaneity.

The image of the Alps–at first viewed through a haze, continued to grow steadily and is now beneath our feet. We’ve entered the foothills and the next phase of our journey.


Another themes of our trip has been unity in the midst of diversity. For example, we’e visited three shrines this week and each honored Mary, but but each under a different title and with different traditions. Certainly the members of our group are diverse. We come from different parts of the USA and the world, bringing with us different personalities and perspectives. We are commonly asked where we all met or how we came together, yet it’s simply a matter of having a common goal. Another example of pilgrim magic.

Seven hundred and eighty two kilometers later, and nearly a month of living together, it’s hard to believe that our group gathered for the first time at the Vatican on day one.

COMING UP: Pilgrim updates: Week one

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Mendicant pilgrim Ann Sieben is leading four men across Europe on foot for World Youth Day. Every week, we are updating you on their progress via their pictures and journal entries, which they are sending us throughout their journey. You can read the introductory post here


25 May
Piedi Luco
“A pilgrim never goes back”

Walking out of Rome–motivated, a little scared–Rome wasn’t the destination now. We would not return on this trip. Kraków pulls us forward.

A pilgrim never goes back.

Both humble and remarkable, our send-off pilgrim Mass in the Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa, opposite the bones of St. Peter himself in his basilica, set our pilgrimage in motion.

It was to be a day of crypts. Spontaneously, we visited the tomb of St. Agnes in the crypt beneath a 5th-century church, built on the catacombs of the earliest of the Christian presence in Rome.

Equally unanticipated, we spent the night in the crypt of the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maddelena in Montorotondo. “Cold as a crypt” is a useful quote.


The city became the countryside, the royal became a trail–Sabina, Umbria–the walk has progressed. We’ve not always eaten particularly well, or slept well, or been fully embraced, but we have received what we needed when we needed it: A lesson of trust in God’s providence.

And this is only day five. People are good, in fact goodness overflows.

We ascended into ancient hilltop villages–the figs not yet ripe, but the cherries bursting–and found our way to the ancient Benedictine abbey of Farfa–where pilgrims are well-received.

Our journey progressed but we stepped back in time to a fortress town, still with a breath of life, Montenero, stoic and silent.

The sun was setting and we reached San Sebastiano–unnanounced–yet we knocked, the door was opened, the town embraced us fully. A stone lean-to on the wall of a 12th century church was our home for the night, a corner fireplace warmed us, pizza, wine, fruit tart came to us by the populous and priests. We were fed equally by an Italian nonna, who stood on watch as we ate breakfast in her kitchen, all the food hand-prepared.


Through the forests into Franciscan paths, we went where he went, sat here he sat, we walked where he walked.

“I understand now, standing in his cave, what St. Francis did, what he meant, when I walk in his footsteps,” said Ricardo when he emerged from the cave where “Laudato Si” was written.*

The discipline of the pilgrim routine pulls on our patience, the habits are not yet fully formed, yet the insistence of our pace moves us ever forward.

130 km from Rome.

*The song written by St. Francis, not Pope Francis’ encyclical.

1 June

“Vale la Pena”  

A homiletic phrase shared last week in reference to us during Mass, has now come to life. Long distances over consecutive days, complicated by afternoon thunderstorms, have all been “worth the effort.”

Our trail varies greatly. Some days we’re on bike paths, other times on back roads. Our extremes range from bush-whacking to walking along the highway. Some days we walk separately and alone, others in pairs or as a group.


We have experienced a range of accommodations and have learned that having a bed, hot water, and kitchen access is the ideal pilgrim situation.

No two days are the same.

We are continuing to form our pilgrim habits and are settling into the routine, allowing us more freedom to speak with those we encounter along the way, accept their hospitality and participate in their traditions, as we did on the occasion of Corpus Christi: A Eucharistic procession in Terni and a festival of flowers in Spelco.

We’ve encountered more pilgrims this week, particularly concentrated in and around Assisi. From different origins, with different methods and different comfort-levels we have enough in common to recognize each other. “Salve” is the pilgrim greeting. It seems we gain a common inspiration from the saints Assisi has raised. The way this town draws people to itself from all walks of life, not just pilgrims, is a strong testament to the power of Francis’ simple but profound witness–more by action than by words, and those of his followers and companions. St. Francis was a pilgrim!


Indeed, not just in Assisi by throughout our journey so far, we have walked in the footsteps of Heaven’s greatests, both those widely known, such as St. Valentine in Terni, and those lesser known, such as St. Margaret in Cortona, whose eerily in corrupt body lies behind the altar of the Basilica adjoined to the convent where we’re spending this night.

Each saintly encounter reinforces the transcendent meaning of little lesson, “Vale La Pena” as earthly struggles have earned them eternal joy. The pilgrim trusts that it is all worth the effort.

We broke 300 kilometers today and entered Tuscany.