Today’s post is from the last day of our pilgrimage, The Way of Saint Francis of Assisi. This post is coming late. Eleven days late to be exact. By no means does its delay reflect the incredible journey it was.
Another day of off and on light rain was the forecast for today. Not what I had hoped for on my last day of walking and the day we would enter Vatican City and complete our pilgrimage. Good thing the forecast was wrong.
What could have been a dreary, awful day turned out to be wonderful.
We took the bike path along the Tiber River into Rome. The path was a bit overgrown and the weight of the water on the bamboo leaves made the branches arch onto the path. We had to dodge and duck through the leaves. It wasn’t terrible for walking, but it made it seem a lot less like a city bike path and more like a jungle.
Our group started this trip as three and today we are eleven. I didn’t know any of these friends (except Ed) before I walked the Camino De Santiago last year, but by the end of that journey, we were a Camino Family. We knew at the end of that journey that we weren’t finished, but I had no idea this is where we would be today.
During this journey we would often start at different times, walk in different small groups and leap-frog with one another, occasionally walk alone for a bit, throughout the day.
Today we decided to walk the final part of our pilgrimage together as a group, a Camino Family, into Vatican City. It is said, “It doesn’t matter who arrives first, that we arrive together is the most important”. And that is what we did. After 210 miles of hills, challenging rural trails, long hard days on asphalt, lunch stops with amazing views, blisters and blisters on those blisters, laughing, more hills, sore feet, sore muscles, swollen legs, singing in the hills, aching backs, wrong turns, miles of vineyards and olive groves, ancient hill top villages, the most wonderful hosts and with the best pilgrim friends we all made it to the end together. The Basilica in Saint Peter’s Square in the middle of Rome.
We took our time, enjoying each others company, taking too many photos and making sure we didn’t miss a thing. All of a sudden, there it was. The dome of the Basilica way off in the distance. We were almost there. I couldn’t wait, but at the same time, this was it and I didn’t want it to be over. The end of this amazing journey.
We left the Tiber River bike path and headed up the steeep steps into the bustle of the city. The blue and yellow Way markings that were on trees and rocks were now on the pavement with the markings of many other pilgrimages, all ending at the Basilica.
Here we are in front of St Peter’s Square, our group of eleven plus Angela from Germany who joined us the last couple days. We did it.
Now to get our final stamp at the Basilica. We arrived at a little after 1:00 and went to the Pilgrims’ Welcome Office just to find out that the Sacristy in the Basilica closes at 1:00. We would need to return tomorrow for our final stamp.
The priest at the Pilgrims’ Office stamped our passports and gave us a brochure with instructions on how to get to the Sacristy in the Basilica the next morning. He also gave us a Testimonium (the certificate of completion) just in case we weren’t able to get it the next day.
I was happy to have the Testimonium, but this was pretty anticlimactic. Without checking our Pilgrim’s Passports to make sure we completed the journey as required, he gave us each the paper and told us we could fill it out later. I’m looking forward to getting mine at the Basilica in the morning.
Ron and Trisha booked a wonderful AirB&B for our stay in Rome. Trisha and I decided to take advantage of the TINY kitchen and make a meal for our group. While Susan and Gayle wandering the streets of Rome in search of dinner wine and Lemoncello, they ran into our pilgrim friends from Holland, Sandra and Esther, and invited them to join us for dinner. How fun! We have a small kitchen but a big table and by using the coffee table as a bench, we made space for two more.
We were tired of eating out and Trisha and I found another common bond. We both like grocery markets in foreign countries and cooking for hungry people. Ron and Ed joined us on our quest to find a market and buy food for dinner. They may not be as fond of shopping as we are, foreign markets or not. But together, they could support eachother during our search for perfect ingredients and make it a good time.
This dinner was fun, especially when it turned into a talent contest. Gayle and Ron sang a song they had been practicing while walking, Sandra and Ed ended up with a push-up competition (Ed won, but dang, Sandra is a machine) Trisha and Ron did a lively traditional Scottish dance that Trisha used to teach her students. The only thing that would have made it better was a kilt. Then, Craig calmly stood up, took off his sweatshirt, and in a very controlled manor slid down into full splits. Left, right and center. He was clearly the winner but didn’t finish there. The finale was a headstand with splits in the air. Wow, he’s 68.
After a good night’s sleep, we headed to the Basilica in search of the stamp and Testimonium from the Sacristy. This was by far the most challenging part of the pilgrimage. Not physically, but it sure did take determination and stamina. After being turned away at several areas, most of the group headed to the Swiss guards at the left of the Basilica. I decided to go to the right, where the brochure the priest at the Pilgrim Welcome Center gave us suggested. The line was huge, probably three hours long. A officer noticed I was holding my Pilgrim’s Passport and the desperate look on my face and told me to follow him. He didn’t speak English, but somehow knew what I was after. I followed him to the front of the line, through closed gates with “no entry” signs, through the security check points, past the Swiss guards, through the Basilica and into the Sacristy. I took pictures of him in front of me, but another guard saw and made me delete them all in front of him. The Sacristy was calm and peaceful with just a few monks and nuns walking silently.
I finally got the Basilica Stamp and the completed Testimonium from the Sacristy. What a great feeling.
Now my pilgrimage down the spine of Italy on The Way of Saint Francis of Assisi is complete. What an adventure, following the routes that Saint Francis once took, stopping at places where miracles occurred so long ago.
I could not have done it without my camino family. Maybe I could have, but it wouldn’t have been the same. This is a very different journey than the Camino De Santiago. I think I would have been very lonely without the companionship of friends. We rarely met other pilgrims on the route and towns were far and few between. The spiritual aspect was wonderful as I read and learned of the importance each area held.
I am already planning my 2018 journey.