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Finding Francis

Posted by Administrator (admin) on Jan 25 2017
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By Sister Nancy Celaschi, OSF

“Now, what are you doing?” is a question I’m frequently asked by fraternity, family and friends, but with various forms of inflection – sometimes stressing the “now,” other times the “what.” The answer is simple: My new ministry is working with the Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs in the administration of pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi – about 30 of them each year.

That translates into a number of different roles: Banker, pilgrimage leader, copy editor, reservations guru and crisis manager. However, typical of Franciscan spirituality, it means developing relationships with people in many areas and even different nations. 

The tellers at the Vatican Bank know me as Suor Nancy. However, since the accounts are in the name of the Friars Minor, some of them call me Fra Nancy, the first woman since Lady Jacoba to claim the title. The formerly cranky hotel manager in Paris where we stay twice a year with groups from Louisiana now smiles and waves when he sees us coming. 

Crisis management is my least favorite role. Once one of our staff members was deathly ill and in such great pain that he could not even get out of bed to unlock the door. When his partner asked what she should do, his response was, “Call Nancy.” I ended up accompanying him to the hospital, talking to the doctors at 3 a.m., being notified when he went into a coma, and contacting his provincial to make arrangements to honor his living will. Thanks be to God he pulled out of the coma, spent a month in Villa Betania, returned to the United States and lived another year. Compared to that, a staff member’s recent request to “rent two wheelchairs for use on Rome’s cobblestoned streets” wasn’t difficult at all.


“Each pilgrimage feels like unwrapping a gift … one never knows what to expect.” 
Sister Nancy Celaschi


In 2017 we have 30 pilgrimages to Rome and Assisi scheduled. Some of them are “off-the-rack” pilgrimages to the Franciscan places, while others aim at giving an understanding of Franciscan spirituality to people in leadership positions in Franciscan sponsored ministries. 

Then we have “designer” pilgrimages, made to order for special groups (healthcare institutions, Franciscan university faculty, U.S. military veterans, and high school and college students). We also have programs designed for special occasions, such as a pilgrimage this coming year in honor of the eighth centenary of the birth of St. Bonaventure. Of the five pilgrimages I am scheduled so far to work with this upcoming year, three of them will take me to Paris. 

The pilgrimage program is built on the spirituality of place. We reflect on the life of Francis and Clare and their early companions, where the events took place and help the pilgrims apply these values to their own life. We use conferences and rituals to impart the message. The most powerful ritual is a reenactment of the “funeral” of the leper in 13th Century Assisi, which really brings home the shock effect of what Francis describes as the turning point in his conversion – when the Lord led him among the lepers and he did mercy with them. 

One of our favorite pilgrimages is for U.S. military veterans. Mostly Vietnam-era vets, they reflect on Francis’ experience as a soldier, a prisoner of war, a veteran possibly suffering from PTSD, and a “pacifist.” The staff includes a retired military chaplain who was under fire in Faluja and a psychologist who works with veterans. Generous donors have helped to keep the costs of this pilgrimage down, as it has been a truly life-changing experience for the veterans. 

Usually, the 20 to 40 people traveling together never met before, and some form lasting friendships. However, the dynamic is always the same – being in close proximity with strangers in an unknown land with different languages and many expectations. This creates challenges for pilgrims and group leaders alike. All aspects of pilgrimage ministry are a challenge, but rewarding by far.

Pilgrims listen intently as Sister Nancy Celaschi explains the significance of San Damiano. Photo courtesy of Brother Bob Rodde, OFM

Last changed: Mar 01 2017 at 1:21 PM

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