If you’ve ever been out of the country on one of our major patriotic holidays, you might have felt a little homesick. This happened to me and a group of teenagers and their families several years ago when we were in Assisi on the Fourth of July.
I’ve been leading pilgrimages to Italy for about 20 years now, and people tell me I’m a good planner. Before we left the United States, I had purchased small American flags for each person on the tour, knowing that when the 4th came, we’d want to celebrate in some way. With the help of a couple of older teens, we put together a prayer service that focused on peace. How could we not pray for peace in one of the most peaceful places in the world?
On the evening of the 4th, we gathered in the piazza just outside the doors of the Basilica of St. Francis. This beautiful church, whose cornerstone was laid in 1228, overlooks the valley below. Sitting in a big circle, everyone holding their American flags, we prayed for our country, our friends and family back home, and for our troops throughout the world. Most importantly, we asked for St. Francis’s intercession that peace would settle down upon the world, even if it were just for a moment.
We had hardly gotten our “Amen” out when something quite remarkable happened. We heard a familiar “boom,” and looking over the wall of the Basilica, we could see fireworks being set off on the other side of the valley. The display was not big, and it didn’t last long, but it was a thrill my fellow pilgrims and I will never forget.
As we walked down the hill and back to our hotel, none of us talked much. It was as if St. Francis himself was celebrating with us, and we were trying to take it all in, realizing what a blessing it had been to spend that particular Fourth of July in Assisi.
Have you ever been away from home on a special holiday, birthday, or anniversary? How did you celebrate? How were you able to connect with God through the experience?