Assisi Archives - St. Stephen's University

Tourizing a Culture: Juxtaposition of Tourism and Pilgrimage

By | 2017, Europe | No Comments
Tourizing a Culture… interesting title, you may say. This guy has issues with tourism. Does he not understand that he is a tourist himself on this European excursion.The answer is that I do have an issue with tourism, and I do not consider myself a tourist. I’ll explain. Okay, so, it may be true that I fit the tourist stereotype with my camouflage backpack, cutoff jeans and water bottle (that leaks when you lay it on its side). Whether or not I look like a tourist, I don’t feel like one (or I don’t like to feel like one). What defines me as an other-than-tourist is my disposition of heart.

Okay, so if you’re not a tourist, than what do you define yourself as? A hillbilly lemming or a student just wanting to complete his BA? Though both terms may be moderately accurate, I define myself as a pilgrim.

What’s the difference then between being a tourist or a pilgrim? From my experience on this European adventure, and from many academic discussions with profs and peers on this topic, I have concluded a pilgrim to be a giver and a tourist to be a consumer. As I mentioned, the defining feature between a tourist and pilgrim is disposition of heart. The monks of Montserrat, Spain, define a pilgrim “as a person on an outward journey with an internal quest“.

A pilgrim intentionally seeks inner transformation through geography, place, culture and its history.

A pilgrim has to outwardly seek experience other than his or her own with an intentional curiosity and with a desire for inner transformation. She then can encounter place, culture and history as gift.

A pilgrim allows his experience to transcend his spirit, while a tourist allows their experience to expand their photo collection and trinket accumulation while encountering cultural history from a place of ignorance. Tourists ignorantly rob culture of its voice and history by making “cultural experience” a sport.

“A pilgrim has to outwardly seek experience other than his or her own with an intentional curiosity and with a desire for inner transformation.”

It saddens me to visit historical hallmarks such as St. Paul’s cathedral in London, England, and the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, as being caterers to tourism rather than sites of pilgrimage.

Visiting Assisi, Italy, we were greeted as “dear pilgrims” by a Fransician priest, Fr. Klaus. It hit me that my being here was not to seek out what I could consume from Assisi, but to listen to what Assisi wanted to say to me personally in relation to the whole of humanity in its wonderful difference. It is apparent that Christ spoke to St. Francis through the iconographic crucifix of San Damiano, asking Francis “to rebuild my Church that is falling into ruin around you”. I waited in the silence of San Damiano and there I heard the place and its history speak. It spoke the same words “rebuild my Church”. Because I did not go looking for what was lost to me, I was found.

This place and culture revealed to me my internal quest. After this experience I stepped into a “tourist” shop with a pilgrim’s heart and carefully chose a San Damiano cross as a reminder that I, like St. Francis and so many other pilgrims of beauty, am meant to rebuild Christ’s Church (an expression of love) by sharing the gift of love with all those I meet and think about. As I approach life, cultures and humanity in this way, I hope to become a competent giver and not a tourizer.

From Top to Bottom

By | 2014, Europe | No Comments

Along the trip there were not a lot of opportunities to spend time alone. When you’re camping with thirty other people there are not many places to hide. Because of this constant group immersion, a little ‘me time’ can go a long way. This is why I chose to fly solo during our day in Assisi, which also happened to be my birthday. We spent the first part of the day in San Damiano, which is the church that St. Francis repaired and lived in for some time, now serving as a monastery for Franciscan monks. After a liturgy and some quiet reflection on the hillside, I felt primed and ready for a day of introspection. I took off on my own and walked up one of many large hills in the city. Something about the human condition seems to drive us to high ground. I often feel this incessant need to reach the highest peak or tallest building, and so I continued on streets that would lead me further up. Eventually I reached a fortress that I had seen from the streets below. I stood there amidst the birds looking down on miles of Italian countryside.
From there I meandered back down to the city and found a trail that took me lower still through many switchbacks and hills that would lead me to the fields that I had previously seen from the fortress in the sky. The end of the trail brought me to a small chapel beside a river. This was not a place to cross off a list of tourist destinations, I’m not even certain it had a name. I entered the humble church on that Pentecost Sunday and sat in one of the pews. I was the only person there, but I did not feel lonely. In that small building I took a break from the world, and was allowed to simply be.

kind of like buttons.

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I don’t think I am an emotional mess; I’d like to call myself ’empathetically emotionally aware’.

Confession: I have cried almost every single day since returning home from Europe.

I cry in beauty.

Watching my brother coach his son’s soccer team. When I heard about a ‘young Mother’s’ meeting at our Church continuing to meet together long after the formal meetings ended. Reading about a coastal town in Italy that has been setting a trend of welcoming refugees in with open arms. Every time I put on the Les Miserables album.

I cry in anguish.

Listening to a friend talking about his wife’s struggles through cancer and radiation. Learning about the incumbent divorce of close friends. Reading about the reality of Tunisian refugee camps.

An event didn’t used to grasp my attention unless I personally identified with it.

In Dachau we saw a crematory that had disposed of tens of thousands of denigrated human bodies. In Dresden we toured where the all-consuming inferno had swallowed up the whole town. In Paris, we stood near where the guillotine had sat. In Assisi we learned about one man’s life lived for peace. In Munich, we learned about Sophie Scholl and her sacrifice for freedom. Just when human life seemed irredeemably disposable, it became more precious than ever.

My perception of institutionary Christianity took a beating on the trip, yet my adoration and appreciation for people – Christian or not – bringing about the love, peace, and graceful equality of the Kingdom of God grew to overflowing. Life is so precious. Life is too precious not to share it.

Travelling Western Europe expanded the boundaries of my ‘self’. At least, I’d like to think that my identity was enlarged; I have been introduced to my history, my roots; my heritage. I’ve become aware of my shared history, shared roots, and shared heritage. With this and the realization that life is too precious not to share, I think I’ve adopted a clearer purpose and meaning for life.

I’m not saying one has to cry to be ’empathetically emotionally aware’. I hope I can grow to process through life without looking like an emotional mess, but for now I appreciate my tears as a God-given way of expressing my joy and pain, and I don’t want to lose them, not yet.



kind of like buttons. disposable? precious.

[Nicola Gladwell is currently slack-lining and reading the first volume of Les Miserables for stress-relief as she battles through post-trip academia and looks for a job that’s hopefully pertinent to her IS degree. She has a lovely habit of collecting discarded buttons and calling them gifts of grace. She misses her friends and professors, yet is grateful for the near-completion of her first-rate liberal arts university education at SSU!]




In Lieu of Travel

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

After finally coming home to a bed and the real North American life that lay dormant during my weeks traipsing through Europe, I discovered a sense of restlessness and impatience that lurked at the edge of my now, having a real mattress, very deep sleep. Before this, I had travelled across North America, but I had never been further than the shores of the Atlantic. Now I have seen Rome, Paris, and London, the great cities of our Western World. I have been infected with the travel bug. Along with this knowledge and cultural experience, I want to see more.
I miss the steady breathing of a tent mate beside me. I miss lying down after walking for miles during the day, grateful for that flimsy thermarest. I miss questioning everything and frustrating the teachers that would walk beside me in this experience. I miss pondering the meaning of what it is to travel and truly experience what is around me, as well as the meaning of pilgrimage and am I really on one, rather than using that simply as an excuse to participate in glorified tourism.
These cultures, these experiences, have shaped me. I come home with a new worldview, and a new mind. Assisi taught me to renounce entitlement. Rome taught me that power falls. Paris taught me that beauty is found in the least expected places, and so is pain. And the battlefields of the world wars taught me that remembering the past is one of the most important things I can do for my generation. Wisdom is experienced and knowledge is making itself  heard through the heart and eyes of a perpetual student.
I pray that I will be wise.


Reflecting on St. Francis

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

You could almost hear the sigh of relief as we arrived in Assisi, the
self proclaimed peace capital of the world. After Rome, our group was
thankful for the laid back, quiet, and empty (relatively speaking)
campground of Assisi.  We spent a full day in Assisi and were
challenged to find some space by ourselves for reflection. Some found
it laying on the grass in an olive grove, others while sitting in Mass
at St. Francis Basilica or at a cafe, or wandering down quiet streets
and ally ways. It certainly felt like a ‘thin place’ gathered as a
group singing ‘Lord Make Us Instruments’, St. Francis’ prayer set to
music by alumni Holli Durost, at the place of St Francis’ conversion,
San Damiano.

We were welcomed in Venice by Shelley Perry, Shelley and Kendall
Kadatz, a new team of leaders for  the second half of the trip. We
were also welcomed by some rain in Venice, bringing us indoors for our
last chance to eat authentic Italian cuisine, shop for local Venetian
glass, tour the islands by water bus, and seek some shelter at one of
the magnificent cathedrals or museums.

Currently, we are en route to Austria where the hills are alive with
the sound of music… (It’s sing-a-long time on the bus!!)


Angela Stanley (for the Europe 2011 Leadership Team)

My pilgrimage through Assisi

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Today I roam Assisi alone. The city is on a mountainside, overlooking miles of farmland. After our visit to San Damiano church, where St. Francis himself first took up his ministry, we individually began our hikes back up to the city of Assisi. For the first time on this trip, I truly felt my pilgrimage coming to life. As a descendant of both German Catholics (mother’s side) and French Huguenots (father’s side), my journey has been one of truly attempting to dissect identity, specifically my own.

During my journey through Assisi, I encountered three South Korean girls about my age, who were self-proclaimed tourists. Through conversation and sharing with the one who spoke English, I learned that she too was a Christian, and we connected on many levels. I spent about half an hour with these tourists, and what I found changed much of the way I view tourists. They took their time everywhere they went, and were in awe at the beauty they witnessed. They greeted every nun they passed with respect. Though they weren’t on a proclaimed ‘spiritual journey’, they too are finding parts of themselves in travel; enjoying the world. I find that many of us, in travels, come to despise tourists.

Just as I can be both a descendant of Huguenots and Catholics, we are all inextricably bound in each other’s humanity. Just as St. Francis knew: we should learn to love, and not to judge. Where there is hatred, let us sow love.

– Madi


By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Tonight, in Assisi, I am contemplating peace and am overwhelmed by a sense of blessing, a new realization of the incredible gifts that God gives us, ones we are not deserving of in the least. Here is a little cross-section of my trip so far in poetics:


Triangles and tree trunks,
The perspective of a lifetime.
Tomorrow will be just like today,
except not at all the same, and quite thrilling.
Speedos on the beach,
It’s sunnier than it has been.
Everyone’s chillin.
Beers, frisbee, the roar of the nearby waves
breaking onto the beach
The Spaniards Dream


No self-respecting exploration of Italy is complete without ?Gelato, and we were fortunate enough to be in town for the Florence Gelato Festival!!! Madi, her friend Priscilla, and myself all loaded up our gelato sampling cards and went to town on those little guys!!! The flavors were exotic, and every bite as rich and fresh as the first. We discovered such whimsical flavours as mushroom, rosewater, ginger-pineapple (excellent), pear and red pepper, almond biscotti, and red wine! Delicious, one and all, but our collective favorite was a white wine and florentine cream, which was positively sublime. Food is one of the best ways to experience a country’s culture, and the Italians have stolen my heart by way of my tastebuds.


The Pantheon is currently an active church, and the following is a blessing that was displayed at the entrance as I was toured around Rome by Greg and Dan:

“I beg you, Mary,
Throw me a flower,
So that I may scent it’s perfume.
This is like the token of love
That made me suffer so.
Throw me your bouquet;
Not now and not ever
Will I be satisfied with you.”


I led a “gathering” time, in which a lone white bird made a conspicuous appearance, and Madi and I played and sang the song Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard. We added a verse, turning it into a prayer, and this remains my constant creed:

“Lord please meet us
We invite you
Let your will be done

Here today and
in tomorrow,
Keep and cover us”

This I also pray for you, dear reader.
Until next time,

European Slackline

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I travel Europe like I walk my slackline: in one outstretched hand I hold the contradiction between a growing understanding of my religious institutional heritage and my personal faith (ever in process). I grapple for balance on the thin wire and can only balance myself with my other arm – this hand, held palm up, gratefully holds the growing knowledge and appreciation I have for Saint Francis of Assisi, whom I have been reading about since we left Home Sweet St. Stephen.

St. Francis of Assisi: I feel as though I am a pilgrim striving for more understanding, more insight, and more experience. Now, having just left three overwhelming days in Rome, I find myself in a small cafe/bar with the peaceful lights of Assisi at night glowing on the nearby hills.

In one hand I hold St. Peter’s Basilica, in contradiction and in tension with my rebellious ‘I listen to Rob Bell pod-casts’ faith; in the other I hold a man who kissed the feet of corrupt priests, knowing it was his role to love rather than judge (knowing his own frailties full well).

I have challenged myself to better understand my religious heritage this summer: an obligation? a responsibility?

Keep us in your hearts as we struggle with whats been laid on ours.

Peace. From Assisi.

 – Nicola