On the morning of Tuesday 11th April 2023, Community of the Passion member Lya Vollering set off from Canterbury to begin walking the 1,800km pilgrimage trail known as the Via Francigena.
Ninety-six days later, Lya reached the end of the trail: Rome.
It can be hard to condense such a thing down into words. The act of travelling, on foot, for that long, is in itself a sort of meditative experience, something not easily conveyed. Nonetheless Lya graciously shared an ongoing diary of her journey, which you may have already seen in part.
Below, Lya shares her concluding thoughts (for now!) from nearly fourteen weeks’ eco-pilgrimage.
My body seems to know already what my head is finding hard to accept: no more walking. I woke up at 6:10am, which hasn’t happened for months. I have been waking at 4am or 4:30am, but never much later. No more walking. No more need to be out there as early as possible, so as to be finished before the worst of the heat.
The heat has also given me a gift, though: getting up before sunrise. This has allowed me to watch it rise while walking, while the world is still quiet. It has been one of the treasures of this pilgrimage. I now understand why monks and nuns use the early morning for prayer. It feels like a very ‘thin’ place. It is when I have had my conversations with God. God never said much, but was always there. I think God is everywhere—even in the pile of filth!
Over the last couple of days, I have been thinking about what this pilgrimage has meant to me. The order in which I mention some of the meanings is arbitrary, not hierarchical:
1. We are nature
We talk about visiting nature and loving nature as if it is separate from us. However, we are nature. What we do to her, we do to ourselves.
2. We are one family
There is only one earth community that encompasses the whole of creation: brother breeze and sister spider. When we gather from our different walks of life and break the bread, Christ is amongst us. Division, of any kind, is not from God.
3. We need diversity in all aspects of life
The biodiversity witnessed on this journey has made my heart sing. I was also amazed at the incredible wide ranging creativity of the Italians. I enjoyed the wide diversity of people I met.
It concerns me how the food I came across lacked such diversity. Pizza places abounded in France, along with kebab parlours and snack bars. These were often the only cheap places for food.
4. The choice of living ‘simply’ is utter richness
To need so little that I could carry it all on my back has been such a joy. I lost so many things on the way but found that I could do without them. I have been wearing the same T-shirt and shorts for months. Although I find pleasure in wearing something else too. It is the knowledge that I don’t really need it that is liberating.
5. Look (and love) beyond dislikes
Some pilgrims have the need to boast about their achievements, the distance they have walked, the many hikes they have completed, the marvelous encounters they have had. I struggled with that, but then, when I spent more time with them, there was always another side too. There was a vulnerable or a very generous dimension to people. Love is not just a feeling; it is also a choice.
I have learned to love more. I have learned to love myself more and to accept the scars I carry; to leave the hurt behind the ‘mountains’ and not to dwell on it any more. I have felt overwhelmed with love for pilgrim companions, wild flowers, butterflies, trees, beautiful art and churches. I have also learned to choose to love, and to not always rely on a feeling of love.
Hostels were often not open until 3pm or even later. During the last couple of weeks, I would arrive in places between 11am and 1pm, which meant I had to wait for hours before being allowed entry. I tried to wait in the shade, sometimes in a cafe. This was a chance to catch up with my writings and messages. This waiting could be a helpful time for unwinding. When the heat came, there was more waiting and resting. It was too hot for sightseeing. Waiting taught patience and the importance of simply being rather than doing.
7. Listen to yourself and be faithful to your own journey
There are as many ways of doing a pilgrimage as there are pilgrims. Some walked long distances, some short ones. Some did a lot of sightseeing and others didn’t. Some slept in hammocks, others in hotels. It was important for me to find my own way of doing things. It meant making the choice to walk alone, but to meet up with others in hostels. Sometimes, it meant spending time in churches and attending mass. It felt important to be up very early and to greet the day and welcome God.
I wrote in one of my entries that I am grateful for gratitude. I still am. Gratitude gives depth and joy to life. There is always something to be grateful for. The heat gave me more insight into the burden of global warming and climate change. It also gave me the early morning starts. Gratitude makes my heart expand and enables me to love more.
I would like to finish with expressing my gratitude to all of you who have encouraged me, followed me and prayed for me on the way. I never walked alone: you and the great Creator were with me. I thank all the creators that crossed my path: the butterflies fluttering in front of my feet, the spiders making their delicate lacework, the wild boars with their young ones, the deer, hares, swifts, larks, cuckoos, the ants on a mission, wild flowers, trees, grasses and all the not yet known ones.
Thank you also to the pilgrims that walked with me for longer or shorter distances: Astrid and Albrecht, Pauline, JoopMaris, Lyn, Lars, Dominico, Viviane, Jaco, Hilde, Silas, Maryanne, Jean, Ken, Darryl, Nicolo and Felipe. There is always the danger that I will forget a name. I hope I haven’t! If I have, please forgive me. I am not less grateful. You have all enriched my pilgrimage.
This journey has come to an end, but a new one has started. May I take with me the lessons I have learned.
Once again thank you all for walking with me!
An exclusive extract from Rev'd Sue Parfitt's new book on Christians, Civil Resistance and the Climate Crisis - out soon via Lab/ora Press.
Jul 26 2023
Thanks for following Lya on her journey along the Via Francigena to Rome. Here she shares her reflections on the final week of her eco-pilgrimage.
Jul 18 2023
Lya Vollering details her thirteenth week walking along the Via Francigena, through Italian towns full of history.
Jul 11 2023