We sat in a restaurant in Rome, our group filling the entire room, with opera singers serenading us. It was the farewell dinner of our pilgrimage, and the table was piled with food and local wine. I was drained from travel and ready to head home, but also not ready to leave. I’d asked the person beside me to pass the rosemary focaccia, and there was a cacophony as she tried to lift the platter. “Oh, just use your hands,” I said. “We’re family now.”
We’d spent a week together on the bus. We’d traveled from Assisi, to Orvieto, to Tuscany, to Rome; we’d stood on chairs together in St. Peter’s Square for a better view of Pope Francis. We’d celebrated Mass together every day. We’d prayed at the tombs of St. John Paul II, St. Francis, and St. Clare. We’d eaten so much food, from pizza and pasta and antipasto and meats that tasted delicious that we didn’t even recognize.
I didn’t know anyone going into this pilgrimage. I’m very shy with new people, so I didn’t expect to connect right away. And it wasn’t instantaneous. I sat in the back of the bus, and hovered on the outskirts of the group. Many of them knew one another already. But all it takes is one person to say, “What are you doing for lunch?” And then you find yourself at a table for four in Assisi, trying to decipher an Italian menu while learning one another’s names.
Over the course of the week, we became a family.
I’m still processing this trip as a whole. A lot happened, both internally and externally. I learned a lot about the early Church, and a lot about myself. I was surrounded by wonderful spiritual guides, and beautiful people who I connected with despite my initial shyness. I took over eight hundred photos that I am also still processing. On our final day, I took my journal and headed for the Vatican. I’d planned to sit inside St. Peter’s Basilica to write, but the line for security was wrapped around the square. But the sun was out, and it was almost too warm for a coat. So, instead, I sat on the stairs outside to record my thoughts. I was there for a long while, looking around, even after I had finished writing.
“We’re family now,” I had said at dinner, accepting the piece of focaccia. Later, the room grew silent as the opera singer belted Ave Maria. There were tears and resounding applause as she bowed. I looked around at my new spiritual family, at our piles of empty plates and platters, and I loved them.