To be a pilgrim

Published: Wednesday 14th January 2015

ACU travellers have recently returned from a 15-day guided pilgrimage to Italy where they explored important historical, religious and cultural sites and had the opportunity to see the Church’s living faith, heritage and traditions first hand.

Organised by the Directorate of Identity and Mission, the pilgrimage is an initiative for staff to further engage with the Catholic mission and identity of the University.

Director of Identity and Mission Father Anthony Casamento csma said that the key to a pilgrimage, rather than a holiday or tour activity, was for staff and students to walk on a journey of discovery about what it means to them to be working in a University that is so heavily grounded in the traditions and living culture of the Catholic Church.

"More than just a ‘getaway’, a pilgrimage presents an opportunity to get closer to God and to visit places of significance to the history and traditions of the Church. For ACU, we go on pilgrimages with prayer and community to refresh our spirits and deepen our faith," Fr Anthony said.

The end of a long year with Christmas approaching is not an obvious time to take off overseas, but for Tatum McPherson-Crowie the timing was ideal to take a journey of discovery and reflection.

“It was exactly what I needed although I didn’t know that’s what I needed before I went. There was meaning on many layers for me to reflect upon and to apply in my life. It was just synchronicity – a very spiritual experience,” she said.

It was her first trip to Italy and her first pilgrimage, and the experience did not fail to inspire Ms McPherson-Crowie, Liaison Librarian at ACU’s Melbourne Campus. Attending vespers at Monte Cassino Abbey and visiting the sanctuary at Mount La Verna were among the highlights of her trip.

“It’s difficult to describe, but in both places there was the combination of the natural setting and then the spiritual component of the site, combined with the history that touched me so much. At Mount LaVerna one could truly get that sense of sanctuary. There was a sense of tranquility and peace in that location.”

Another chief highlight was the rapport the group formed while away. “It was so delightful. People go on a pilgrimage with different purposes and want to have an individual experience as well as participate in a group activity, but we managed to balance that. There was a lot of communication, mixing and the forming of friendships. People interacted well together.”

The group of 18 included 11 members of staff, five “friends of ACU” (family, friends and associates), and two students. They came from several of the University’s seven campuses and were of various faith backgrounds and beliefs.

In two weeks, the group visited Assisi, Florence, Siena, Loreto, Monte Cassino, Pietrelcina, Lanciano, San Giovanni Rotondo, Monte San Angelo, and finished in Rome. They viewed masterpieces of the Renaissance, clambered into catacombs and explored ancient ruins.

All the pilgrims said that as well as an audience with Pope Francis in Rome, one of the high points of the trip was the chance to come together each day as a group and celebrate Mass in a range of places from simple chapels to grand basilicas and contemplate what they had experienced each day.