Here is Sr. Virginia’s story about her trip to Rome for the canonization of Charles de Foucauld. Our hearts couldn’t be happier that God in His great mercy allowed Sister to represent us. She was also able to visit Assisi, home of St. Francis.
Our pilgrimage to Rome was organized by Father Leonard Tighe. He has been involved for many years with the Lay Fraternities of Saint Charles, striving to spread information about Charles de Foucauld’s life and spirituality. Father Tighe has also led many tours in Italy and the Holy Land.
There were eleven in our group – nine men including four priests, and a retired nurse who roomed with me at the hotel. After splitting up into smaller groups to explore the wonders of Rome during the day, we dined together in the evening at a good, inexpensive restaurant with outdoor tables. The waiters didn’t seem to mind that we lingered long into the lovely evenings. There was a kindly spirit of friendship among the people in our group. And the breadth and depth of their knowledge of the Church and Brother Charles were impressive.
The canonization, which took place on Sunday, May 15, in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, was a grand and festive event. Saint Peter’s square was filled with people from every continent, many of them wearing emblems connected with one of the candidates for sainthood. Huge images of these brand-new saints were hung on the façade of the basilica.
Pope Francis said of Brother Charles: “The new Saint lived his Christian existence as a brother to all, starting from the smallest. He did not have the aim of converting others, but of living God’s freely given love, putting into effect ‘the apostolate of goodness.’ Brother Charles, in the hardships and poverty of the desert, remarked: ‘My soul is always in joy.’ . . . Dear sisters and brothers, may Our Lady grant you to cherish and nourish the same joy, because joy is the clearest witness we can give to Jesus in every place and at every time.”
On Thursday three of us went early to explore Saint Peter’s Basilica. It is vast with enormous marble columns of many colors, and filled with gigantic figures and murals and paintings. Yet there is a tenderness within the grandeur, each work of art filled with love and longing. Small gatherings were celebrating Masses in side chapels with sweet voices singing in different languages. Shafts of cool morning light flowed down from Heaven, the marble floors were the colors of precious stones, giant angels gazed down from the tops of pillars, and everywhere we saw magnificent images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of Jesus Christ, coming in love and power – beautiful, active, dynamic, merciful.
Father Tighe told us that, after Charles’ life-changing reversion to the Catholic faith, he wrote out the four Gospels entirely, in longhand. “He wanted to know everything about Jesus so he could know everything about God,” Father said. “Foucauld is a window into Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
Followers of the spirituality of Charles de Foucauld displayed orange scarves to identify themselves. Here is a group of nuns on their way to the canonization. I am not sure, but they might be Little Sisters of the Consolation of the Sacred Heart and the Holy Face.
On Sunday, May 15, 2022, ten people were canonized by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s square, in front of the magnificent Saint Peter’s Basilica. Charles de Foucauld is pictured at the bottom of the third panel from the left.
A thanksgiving mass honoring Saint Charles was held the next day at the splendid basilica of Saint John Lateran. Founded in 324, it is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica of the Western world.
We did some sightseeing around Rome, including the Trevi Fountain. Here are my kind and resourceful roommate, Susan Trzcienski, Father Lenny Tighe who led the pilgrimage, and me carrying a bag we were all given bearing the image of Charles de Foucauld, which, along with Father’s t-shirt, attracted other Brother Charles followers as we walked around the city.
The bus ride from Rome to Assisi was lovely – green fields and vineyards, stucco houses with tiled roofs scattered throughout the rolling hills, small drifts of orange-red poppies translucent in the sun, bushes of warm golden yellow flowers.
This is the view from the bottom of the hill of Assisi. Four of us walked together up its winding narrow streets, shopped a little, had lunch and gelato (delicious ice cream in many flavors), and visited churches.
Along the way, we were captivated by the views through narrow openings and layers of arches and flowers and stairways, the bricks and cobblestone streets all sharing the same range of warm yellow-gray and soft red sandy colors. Though it was a long walk uphill, we didn’t seem to get very tired – it did indeed seem more like a pilgrimage than a tour:
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth.
My favorite church was the tiny Portiuncula (above), one of the churches restored by Saint Francis. It became the place where his order was founded. It seemed to me like Francis’ glowing heart in the vast gracious space of Our Lady of the Angels, the basilica built around it to accommodate the many pilgrims who came to Assisi after his death.
This is a detail of the beautiful six-part fresco in the apse of the Portiuncula, painted by the priest Ilario da Viterbo (1393). The exquisite Annunciation is surrounded by scenes from the saint’s life, including St. Francis Throws Himself into the Thorny Brambles, St. Francis Accompanied by Two Angels, and the Apparition of Christ and the Virgin, Accompanied by 60 Angels, with St. Francis Offering Roses, among others.
When we try to imagine the joy of eternal life with God, our minds are opened and hearts are warmed with a blessed hope when we recall the sweetness and holy charm of Assisi:
One thing I ask of the LORD;
this I seek: To dwell in the LORD’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the LORD’s beauty,
to visit his temple.