Outward bound

The time has come again to look to the open road and set ourselves upon the task of becoming pilgrims once again. This time it is not as taxing as it has been in the past as we will only be slinging our packs for a couple of weeks. We set out next week for Greece to follow the path of the apostle St. Paul as he preached his way through Turkey and Greece. We are fortunate to find ourselves in good company with our now retired Archbishop, John Vlazny, leading this pilgrimage. He is a good friend and a remarkable human being. We are well pleased to be in his company once again. So our plan is to spend two weeks on pilgrimage in Greece and Turkey, and then split from our group in Athens to head for Rome and then Florence to eventually find our way to the sanctuary where St. Francis received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ). From the Santuario della Verna we will walk to Assisi and then on to Rome following the Way of St. Francis. We only have two weeks to do this so we might have to skip a stage or two. But we will see how it all goes.

When we arrive in Rome we will spend some time at the Vatican and then head directly to Santiago de Compostela where we will assist the Camino Chaplaincy as volunteers at the Cathedral for the month of June. We hope to be back home on July 1st. Robin has her mind set on a grand Fourth of July party, and we also must make preparations for our annual feast of St. James celebration (July 25th) at our home parish of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, Oregon. This has become a very popular event for our local pilgrim (APOC Portlandia Chapter) community. We celebrate mass then have a wine tasting in the courtyard following the mass. This year we are going to add a new treat and offer, along with the wine, freshly sliced jamón Iberico as an appetizer. It should be a fun event, and if past experience holds true, we will also be offering pilgrim blessings and concha shells to a large number of local pilgrims setting out on the camino. So that is what lies ahead. It is a time of both reflection and service which is just the way we like it. For now it is the usual chaos as backpacks compete for space with around town clothes and camino essentials. Robin is always very fashionable. I am trying to catch up (sort of). But guess who carries the (fashionable) excess. That is what husbands do (joyfully). We are off again!

Please remember that the Camino Chaplaincy offers daily mass, in English, at the cathedral in Santiago, from Monday through Saturday at 10:30 am and on Sundays at 9:oo am in the Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Soledad from May 2nd through October 15th, 2016. Please come and join us. All are welcomed.


Friday in Athens

Robin and I enjoyed an uneventful flight to Athens via Amsterdam. Our itinerary included a 9 hour flight from Portland, OR, to Amsterdam, a 4 hour layover, and a 3 hour flight to Athens. No problems at all except not a wink of sleep. But that is how it goes. Bleary eyed we made our way to the baggage claim area, and grabbed our duffel off the carousel, and out the door we went to meet an old friend and shipmate that I had not seen for 20 years. He lives in Athens and was very happy to pick us up. He was off to visit his daughter in Sweden the following day so are reunion was limited to the time we had driving into the city. Eventually we squeezed through the thickening traffic and found our hotel which was quite near the Acropolis Museum. We offered our thanks, said our goodbyes, and shuffled into the hotel. It was Friday the 22nd, about 4:20 pm, and fatigue was rapidly getting the best of us. We did manage a small rally after a shower that led us down the street to a lively area of bars and restaurants. A good dinner and a couple of drinks finally rang the bell and we were off to bed. The rest of our group arrives tomorrow.

Robin is still smiling
View from our hotel


Two weeks later

For the past two weeks Robin and I have made a grand tour of Greece. The wifi has been spotty so posts to this blog have not been possible until today. We are now back in Athens at a nice hotel with good wifi and so I am now catching up a bit. The short version of how we wound up here in Greece begins with a desire to follow St. Paul’s travels in this country. Our former Archbishop of Western Oregon, +John Vlazny, has been leading our pilgrimage and is always a delight to travel with. He has a talent for brief but thought provoking homilies that always seem to touch our hearts in a positive way. We have visited numerous churches and monasteries, celebrated daily mass in churches, hotels, at archeological sites, and even in a bar aboard ship. We swung through Mykonos on our way to Turkey where we visited Ephesus and the house where St. John the Evangelist cared for Mary, mother of Jesus, during the last years of her life. The extensive ruins of Ephesus, once a major trading port, were stunning. We also visited Pátmos, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation. Our travels then took us to Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini before landing back in Piraeus and continuing on to Corinth where St. Paul preached in 51 and 52 AD. We pushed on to Olympia, Patras (where St. Andrew converted the city to Christianity during the reign of the Emperor Nero), and Delphi (located high up on the cliff sides of a breathtaking valley), and finally back to Athens where I now am sitting.

Our travels went smoothly for the most part. Robin cantored at all the masses even when our group caught and shared a cold that left half the group coughing and hacking (including Robin). The history of Christianity in this country is amazing as is the reality that Greece was truly the cradle of civilization. We saw lots of ruins, and antiquities that helped us understand how advanced the early Greeks were. Their engineering, and construction skills, their artistry and design capabilities, and their system of government all remind us, and humble us “modern” people, how much of what we claim as our own in the modern era was in existence thousands of years before Christ. So in short it was a remarkable journey. Pilgrimages can be, and usually are, somewhat challenging. I think that is why many feel attracted to this type of travel. Spiritual nourishment particularly in this day and age is  ever more necessary. The pilgrim road, regardless of location, always seems to awaken us and lead us in some new positive direction. For that we are always grateful. So this pilgrim journey is now done, but another is beginning. We fly to Rome tomorrow and then will go by train to Florence. After a few rest days in Florence we will make our way to the Sanctuary of La Verna where St. Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ. It is from this sanctuary that we will begin walking the Way of St. Francis to Assisi and then onwards to Rome. Another pilgrim road beckons and onward we go.  

Mary’s house at Ephesus      


Archbishop Vlazny at mass in Corinth          




Church of St. Andrew in Pátras          

Greek Orthodox Church near Delphi    


Monastery near Delphi


Looking down from Delphi    



Temple of Apollo at Delphi          

Robin at Delphi


Life near the Vatican

Palazzo Cardinal Cesi courtyard

Robin and I arrived in Rome last Friday afternoon after an uneventful flight from Athens. A cab dropped us off at our hotel which was just at the verge of St. Peter’s Square. Even at this hour there were still many people walking to and from St. Peter’s. We settled the cab and ducked through a heavy green door and into the cool shadows and peaceful courtyard of the Palazzo Cardinal Cesi Hotel. The motorized front door swung closed sealing out the all the commotion just beyond it. A bit later we took a swing through the neighborhood looking for a place to eat and discovered that quaint street side cafés were now almost exclusively trattorias/pizzerias. We slipped into one and enjoyed a sidewalk table eventually filled with pretty marginal fare. On the bright side the ambiance was fine and the wine did not disappoint. We passed the evening chatting with a young Belgian couple about the upcoming presidential election. Yes, they wanted to know all about Donald Trump. Ugh! Sayings goodbye to our Belgian friends we slipped quietly through the shadowed side streets and eventually found our way back to and through the green door and the off to bed. Robin has been battling a very persistent cold and cough that has really drained her strength. Bed and rest seemed the best strategy.    Robin has a girlfriend who has worked 15 years in Rome with the United Nation’s World Food Program. We had reached out to her and set a dinner date for Saturday night. She is the woman who introduced me to Robin 23 years ago and we always enjoy her buoyant spirit and easy going manner. So with a dinner date in hand we chose to just spend Saturday afternoon roaming around the city. As luck would have it we turned down one street, for no particular reason, and after a block or so Robin is having am Oh My God moment. Just a few paces ahead of us she has spotted a woman she knew from our Cathedral Parish in Portland. We clogged the sidewalk as we said hello to her and her husband. She is studying theology here in Rome and has an apartment just across from where we met them. After a bit of catching up we were underway again heading for Piazza Navona and a bite of lunch. Later that night we caught up with our friend for dinner at a new Korean fusion restaurant out beyond the Borghese Gardens somewhere. It was a a very fun evening. Good food shared with a good friend is always a winning combination. Sunday morning flooded into our room as the shutters rose to greet a very blue sky. Today’s plan was to attend mass, shift some luggage to a nearby hotel that will be our home for a few days after we return to Rome on the Way of St. Francis, and then head off to the train station to catch a train to Florence. The plan worked splendidly including one unexpected deviation. We discovered that Pope Francis would be praying the Angelus at noon from his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. We had to be there. So with all else done we entered the tidal flow of pilgrims streaming up the Via Della Conciliazione towards the Vatican. It was a sight to behold, both colorful and chaotic, as thousands of pilgrims accompanied by banners, balloons and bands pushed ahead in hopes of catching a glimpse of Francis and sharing in his prayer. Of course all this foot traffic made our eventual trip to the Termini Station a bit of a problem as the roads were plugged and cabs couldn’t get through. But, a timely tip led us to a taxi stand just clear of the crowds and with the Pope’s healing prayers still echoing in our hearts we were soon crossing the Tiber heading towards Termini and the next leg of our journey. We are now in Florence after a 250 kph train ride and marveling at the Duomo. We will attend mass at the cathedral tomorrow, but for now it is time to do the washing, get a bite to eat and then off to bed once again. We start walking on Wednesday, and are anxious to begin.   


Sunday mass near St. Peter’s    

Our chariot arrives in Florence
View from our hotel bar


Florence and several thousand new friends

Credential stamp at the Duomo

Our first full day in Florence hammered home the reality that tourism is big business. A leisurely mid morning breakfast prepared us physically but not mentally to weather the storm surge of tourists (us included) that clogged every artery in the city. Why do we do it? Many countries fully understand how criticali it is to their economic survival to attract their share of the billions of dollars of tourist spending that continuously circles the globe. Florence clearly understands how important visitors are to the future of this remarkable city. All this being said, and having first hand experience fighting the local economic rip tide, I can see a future where virtual tourism might have a place. But, for now we are part of the throng, trying to keep our heads above water. So, although we bemoan the crowds (which we are part of) we did eventually find peace in the the sacristy of the Cathedral as a local priest stamped our credential that officially began our Camino, The Way of St. Francis. We additionally added to our credential by getting a stamp in the bookshop in the Basilica of Santa Croce. We have booked tickets for the Uffizi for tomorrow and after that we will be in the exit mode.  Our plan is to hire a driver and make our way to the Sanctuary of St. Francis at Chiusi della Verna, about a 1.5 hour drive from Florence. We could go by train or bus but then we would not have much time to enjoy the sanctuary. So, while the cost is significantly higher, we feel that time at the sanctuary is more important. Robin and I are are truly ready to hit the road. Our hearts yearn for the peace of the pilgrim road. Rain is in the forecast for most of the coming week. Perhaps this will help wash away the distractions that seem to constantly find their way to our door. I think back to Rome and praying with Pope Francis, and feel curiously called to that simplicity of faith. We spend a lot of time and money trying to shape our lives into something that they were never meant to be. Finding peace in who we are, and witnessing the gifts, which at first might seem small and unremarkable, come to fruition opens us to the grace of God, which I have found is the greatest gift of all. 











Basilica Santa Croce





Dying St. Francis feeding the Friars          

Heading home at day’s end 


Dropping in on St. Francis

Day broke cloudy and mild over Florence as Robin and I sat down at our hotel to our last alfresco breakfast. We drew in the final views of the Duomo then headed to our room and shortly thereafter we were weaving in and out of the morning rush as we made our way to the bus station and our ride to Bibbiena our first port of call on the way to La Verna. We had contemplated hiring a taxi but the cost was off the charts so an 8 euro bus ticket worked just fine. It was remarkable how quickly our view changed as we cleared the city limits and found the beauty of the nearby hill towns. We rumbled along, snaking around hill tops and down into valleys, but the trend was definitely upwards. A few more zigs and zags brought us to the village of Bibienna. It was here that we were supposed to change buses to connect onward to La Verna. As the next bus wasn’t due for over an hour we decided to see if we could find a taxi to go from here to the Santurario. As it worked out we found a nearby cafe, and in that cafe was a counter girl whose sister had just walked in. We explained our need to the counter girl who handed us off to her sister, who said sure she would drive us to the Santuario for the same price as the taxi.  So off we went. The girl driving turned out to be a professional cyclist who rode for a couple of Italien teams. She has been competing all around the world since she was 18. She is now 27. She is a local and knew just where we wanted to go. Before we knew it we were dropped off at our hotel and 15 minutes later we were climbing a leafy cobblestone path to the Santuario della Verna. I must comment on the degree of change from Florence to the quiet path we found ourselves on. It was an extraordinary transformation. Florence presented a surging crowd always seeking some advantage, La Verna provided beautiful scenery and welcoming bird song as St. Francis would have appreciated. The climb up was only 800 meters, but the physical distance was not an accurate correlation as to where are spirits were lifted. The Santuario is all steep angles in the approach leading to a level plaza with stunning down valley views. We had a general look around and then found our way to the porter’s desk in the pilgrim accommodation area. There we got another stamp for our credential. It was then back to visit the Chapel of the Stigmata, the cave where St. Francis prayed and meditated, and of course the Basilica. Our timing was such that upon return to the Basilica we we’re able to join the monks in their twice daily prayers and procession to the Chapel off the Stigmata. The quiet of this monastery, the rhythmic chants being intoned, and the realization that this hill top has been sacred ground for centuries for the pilgrim faithful, all combined to make this a much cherished experience. As we headed back down the steep path to our hotel Robin and I were reminded of how much we hungered to be in this very place. St. Francis was very much a man of peace and his legacy continues not just here on this sacred ground but around the world as people realize that peace in our hearts is what transforms us. It was here in this late afternoon amongst the gathering mists swirled by the valley winds that Robin and I felt truly connected to that sacred lineage, and felt blessed to be here. What a remarkable day and what a beautiful way for us to begin to walk our Way of St. Francis. Peace is with us. Thanks be to God.  

The path to the sanctuary

Entrance to the Sanctuary




Chapel of the Stigmata
Main altar in the Basilica
Entrance to the cave where St. Francis slept
Interior of cave
Monks processing     

The path is steep

Wondering what St. Francis thought

Our stay at the Albergo La Verna, right on the path to the Santuario, was a great prelude to our first day walking the Way of St. Francis. Our lodging was clean and quiet and the food was great. But, that is the part about the body that fades with time. The real joy that followed was simply being somewhere where St. Francis also set foot. So after a delightful breakfast we shifted into the full pilgrim mode, and set out up the steep path to the Santuario from where we would officially set out. The wind was up, but the rain held off, and we felt great elation as body and soul, once again found common ground in this place of peace. Bird song and the music of wind in the trees kept us company as we made our way out of the Santuario and set off for the small town of Pieve Santo Stefano, our destination for today, 16 kms uphill and then down into a valley. Temperatures were in the upper 50’s F to the mid 60’s, and the path was damp but not too muddy. We just reveled in the beauty and clicked off the kilometers as the day slipped past. The Appenine mountains are indeed beautiful. The early part of the the day was spent ascending so great views were abundant. As Robin and I made our way along we wondered what St. Francis was thinking about as he walked along these same paths. As a man who appreciated nature I feel certain that whatever was on his mind he too would have had many moments where he just reveled in the beauty set around him. How could he not. We arrived in San Stefano at 2 pm, and checked into the hotel of the same name. We saw no one today, but a few pilgrims have now checked into our hotel. Day one has shown us that this is a quiet route (thank God) and my guess is that those walking it will tend to be of a quieter nature as well. But, I must say that today was simply a gorgeous walk. Let’s see what tomorrow brings. St. Francis pray for us.  

Leaving the Santuario






San Stefano

The hidden path

The boulevard portion of the trail above the hidden path

The hidden path conjures up visions of internal spiritual journeys filled with challenges and unexpected gifts. It is why I find walking pilgrim roads so satisfying. As one walks along there is simply time to delve into the inner part of who we are while still having to cope with the outer part that is always admittedly more mundane. But the inner journey offers the possibility of great delights and joys. The author of our guidebook also loved this phrase as he used it exactly as stated to lead us out of San Stefano and onward to Sanselpocro. The phrase caught our eye as we were flipping the pages in our book and closely following our departure route this morning. The guidebook clearly stated that upon reaching the clearing look for the hidden path that leads downhill. In my opinion a guidebook is not meant to be a mystery novel so a hidden path should be replaced with something like the obvious path, but my protestations drifted away on the wind. So we were in the clearing and the only obvious path one can see is the one the book says not to take. What to do? For a start more patience was required to sort beneath what wasn’t visible to try and find something that was that might set us straight. A bit of tall grass did show some crushing, but only just. Could this be it? Robin and I probed a bit more and honestly there was nothing there that a goat would walk on, but we decided to give it a go as there was nothing else. Our first steps sent us sliding down to where the wanna be path stopped literally at a cliff edge. The path was now about 8 inches wide, sloped towards the cliff edge and was surrounded by toe tripping scrub. Heart rates bolted for the stratosphere as we gazed down over the cliff to the rocky river bed 100 feet below.  At this point we could only continue along this precarious traverse until either we fell into the river or found safer ground further along. Onward we went looking like we were walking through a minefield. One missed step and the results would have been the same. But, as I am now relating this bit of excitement it shows we found our safe ground and in fact made it all the way to Sanselpocro without any further drama. However I must admit that from now on when I hear the phrase “hidden path” I will remember this day, and it will not be my inner journey that comes to mind.  Epilogue. We are now safely booked into the Hotel Pazzo Magi in Sansepulcro (where a connonade of thunder is now raking the city) where a large warm room has sheltered us from the rain and hail that we just barely dodged. A quick dash outside into the rain yielded a 2005 Brunello di Montalcino and some wild boar salami. This Is holding us over as we await the dinner hour (8pm). Pilgrim progress to be sure. Buonasera.  




Pilgrims from Seattle en route to Assisi

The jump to Gubbio

It was never going to be possible for us to walk all of the Way of St. Francis this time as we have a commitment with the Camino Chaplaincy in Santiago for the month of June. So Robin and I are taking the time that we have to enjoy a sample of this route from the Santuario La Verna to Rome. Today we made our first jump from Sanselpocro to Gubbio. We had received some information from our hotel host last night that was close to what we needed but not exactly. After a night of rain day broke with mostly cloudy skies, but as the morning wore on a spot of blue sky actually appeared here and there. We made our way through Sanselpocro as a Saturday market was setting up. We noticed that the town had a prosperous look about it. Nice shops and restaurants seemed to be the norm, and the town appeared clean, and tidy. Following our given instructions we passed through the city walls and turned left for the train station. As we approached the station the prosperous look took a turn for the worse. Not only was the station in sad shape but the rail cars we noticed as we entered town yesterday afternoon were not graffiti covered derelicts, but graffiti covered active duty trains. A notice above the closed ticket window mentioned something about the bar next door so we shuffled over there looking for information and a ticket. The counter lady spoke good English and sorted us out on how to connect to Gubbio. We fell in with a German couple who had started the Way of St. Francis in Florence but decided they needed a rest day so they also were in the hunt for tickets to Gubbio. We all hopped aboard at the appointed time and off we went into the countryside enjoying what view we had through the spray painted Windows. We eventually found our way to the small town, Umbertide, where we were to connect to by bus to Gubbio. The bus was not scheduled to arrive for another three hours so we got together with our German companions and shared a cab. It all worked out fine. We all piled off at our hotel which was close by the Tourist Office. We checked in and the German couple set off for the Tourist Office in search of lodging. What quickly became apparent was that Gubbio holds an annual festival on May 15th that packs the town. The good news for us is that as the throngs of festival goers pass into Gubbio through the city gates tomorrow we will be passing outbound at the same time. Sorry to miss the party, but we are talking way too many people. The Tourist Office arranged a room for us for tomorrow at an agritourist place about 12 kms from here. It was our only option as pushing on beyond that would have been close to a 40 km day, and Robin and I were not up for that. So, a short day tomorrow which is fine as it is forecasted to be a wet day, and then we have two stages left to reach Assisi. Once in Assisi we will focus on how best to walk to Rome given the days we have left. All is well that leads us to a bed for the night. So from under the covers we wish you buona notte.  







What we will we be missing tomorrow


Now this is peace and quiet

St. Francis and the wolf

Gubbio was bursting at the seams with festival goers as Robin and I made our way out of the city. We dodged traffic and crowds as we closed in on the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittorina (dedicated to St. Francis and where Legend has it he tamed a wolf). We paused and offered our prayers to this wonderful saint and then continued on our way down the rifle barrel straight Via Piaggiola to the village of Ponte d’Assi and then onward to our destination for tonight an agriturismo, Il Beccafico, which is about 13 kms from Gubbio. As each day’s walk begins there is always some time required to settle in to the challenges of the day whether that be terrain, weather or whatever. I thought today’s hectic start would require a bit of time for Robin and I to find our groove, but oddly enough by the time we reached and paused at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittorina, a moment of quiet settled upon us. It was surprising as we were still well within the city limits, but St. Francis offered us his peace and we grabbed it. As we ambled down the Via Piaggiola (today we mostly ambled) we simply enjoyed the silence that followed along with us. The day’s walk proceeded uphill and down. We met two Austrian pilgrims, who sensing the peace of the day dropped back, and allowed us all to enjoy the silence being offered to us. Rain was in the forecast but it held off as we made our way through the Umbrian hills. Spectacular views appeared as we gained elevation. Prayers were said and all God’s gifts were well received as we continued on reluctant to have this day’s walk draw to an end. It was simply a unique time of quiet beauty and reflection. Robin and I fell into and out of conversation as each of us had things to ponder on this remarkable day. Topping our final hill for the day we once again were gifted with spectacular vistas as went as slowly as we could down leafy lanes towards our bed for the night. Today’s walk redefined peace and quiet for me. We found ourselves alone on this beautiful country road with lush valleys to the right and left. My head could not spin around quickly enough to take it all in. It was a bit of never never land found in Umbria. It was just too perfect to believe, but there it was. What a day. Eventually we arrived at the turn in for our lodging for the night. A barking dog (a small one) greeted us and then our hosts. They are a wonderful couple. She is Japanese and he is Italian. They have a large home with a view that Walt Disney could not have improved on. So Robin and I are now relaxing and awaiting dinner (8pm). The laundry is done, a cold beer is in hand, and the miracle of this day continues to resonate. As a footnote, peals of thunder are now echoing off the hillsides and the rain, that was held in abeyance is now washing away our footprints. Were we even here? Was this even possible? Could it be just a dream? I think I just saw St. Francis wink at us. Peace and quiet indeed. Assisi is now one day nearer. All is well. 

Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittorina  











Il Beccafico    

View from the front yard    
View from the front yard      

View from the back yard
Back to the front yard    

Day’s end