On way to canonization: First stop, Assisi
"It looks like California to me," says Patrick Kellogg, while peaking outside the window of the bus heading to the medieval town of Assisi (about 150 miles West of Rome) April 23 in the afternoon.
The weather is similar as in California as well: 38 degrees centigrades reads a small screen on top of the driver´s seat. Even some graffitti can be spotted on some of the concrete structures along the way.
It was 3:35pm when the group of 52 pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles hopped on the bus after traveling 10 hours from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, where they took a 20-30 minute walk to catch the plane for the final leg of the trip to Rome´s Airport Leonardo Da Vinci, popularly known as Fiumicino, a nearby town.
"Just remember this is not a regular trip, this is a pilgrimage," Luigi, the Catholic Travel Center tour guide, who will acompany the group for the next eight days, emphatically tells the pilgrims. He has been leading tours throughout Europe for the last 14 years, but he tells The Tidings that this one is special because of the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, which is drawing millions from all over the world. At Rome´s airport all languages could be heard.
A silence fills the bus when Luigi, the Catholic Travel Center tour guide who will acompany the group for the next 8 days, announced that the bus trip to Assisi, where Saint Francis was born and is buried, will take another three hours.
"But you can enjoy the countryside," Luigi says as a way of consolation, "or you can rest, sleep," he suggests candidly.
The initial murmurs of the pilgrims slowly disappear as the pilgrims start closing their eyes despite the beautiful scenery.
"After the buffet dinner you´ll have time to rest," Luigi promises, "and tomorrow you will be fresh as babies."
Along the E-45 freeway, one of the largest in Italy, according to Luigi, the grass is a pleasant green that as a painting, perfectly combines with the light blue sky featuring cotton-candy white clouds.
Firenze, Settebagni read the exit signs on the road, until we cross the region of Perugia, the capital city of the region of Umbria ---one of the main cities during the Etruscan period --- known for its millionaire mansions, some owned by Hollywood celebrities.
Assisi is a city surrounded by white walls, perched in one of the hills of Umbria, and home to nearly 1,000 people (the region of Umbria holds a population of about 25,000). Olive trees provide pleasant shadow to all the streets that lead to different tourist destinations, including the St. Francis Convent and St. Francis Church where the saint is buried.
It has been two long days, since the 52 pilgrims left Los Angeles April 22, but all are willing to sacrifice the sleep and rest to visit the city of the saint that revolutionized the world, a visit that is adding to the anticipation of the historic canonization.
A good night sleep and prayer helped "cure" the jet lag.