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Monday, October 12, 2015

First Italian National Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage to Norcia’s Benedictine Monastery

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Dom Cassian Folsom Dom Cassian Folsom
The Dom Cassian Folsom Interview

(Norcia, Italy) A three-day pilgrimage “in the footsteps of St. Benedict, accompanied by the traditional liturgy, took place in Norcia in early July. It was the first initiative at the national level of a pilgrimage based on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite which was organized by the Italian national branch of the Summorum Pontificum International Coordination Committee CISP. It is true that there are already one-day pilgrimages according to the Extraordinary Form in Italy but only at the regional level, like the one to Our Lady of Oropa in northern Italy and others in Tuscany and Puglia respectively.

But this time the Italian branch of CISP decided on Norcia as the focus of a three-day pilgrimage because of its important symbolism as the birthplace of St. Benedict, the father of Christian Europe. But Norcia is also a remote and secluded place, with neither a train connection nor a nearby highway, and therefore going to Norcia is a difficult effort.

Some 40 people from around Italy heeded the call of this pilgrimage, and gathered the evening of the first day for compline in the basilica with the Benedictine monks. The idea was to have this pilgrimage spiritually led by the Benedictine monks in Norcia under the guidance of their superior, Dom Cassian Folsom.

The following day the pilgrims gathered on the outskirts of Norcia to proceed to the “hard part” of the pilgrimage: a 12-km walk through the surrounding mountains from Norcia to the hermitage-sanctuary of St. Eutizio, where monks already lived as hermits or in small communities at the time of St. Benedict himself. But most of all, the pilgrims participated in all the religious services performed by the monks in the last two days, including Sunday holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form in their basilica in Norcia.

It’s a really incredible fortune to be able to rely on these Benedictine monks, who are always more than keen to support those who are determined to promote the traditional liturgy. Their assistance and cooperation was really fantastic, not only in liturgical and religious terms with the celebrations of Masses, compline, vespers, homilies and spiritual conferences, but also in practical terms with logistical arrangements, including the supply of picnic food for the pilgrims after their arrival at the complex of St. Eutizio.

Dom Cassian Folsom has graciously agreed to share some of his thoughts and impressions on the pilgrimage and related issues with readers of The Remnant.

Alberto Carosa (AB). First of all, can you tell us how the whole idea of this wonderful pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Benedict in Norcia came about?

Dom Cassian Folsom (DCF) A few months before the pilgrimage, Marco Sgroi and Giuseppe Capoccia of the CISP national committee came to Norcia, met with Fr. Benedict and me, and came up with this proposal which sounded very good, because we wanted to support not only the international Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage initiative, but especially the Italian group, to give their members a bit more support, enthusiasm, energy. So we were very happy to welcome them.

(AB) And what is your reaction after the fact, so to say—were you happy with the spirit and response of the group?

A. It was a fairly small group, but perhaps it was better to start that way, maybe thirty or forty people or something like that, but a wonderful group, a very cheerful group. I must say that the pilgrimage was the right length, we had a nice sack lunch afterwards, beautiful Mass in a beautiful church, spirit of prayer, so I think it was wonderful and I am very pleased.

(AB). Don’t you think this pilgrimage, due to become an annual event, could be an ideal opportunity for a specific prayer: the revival of Europe’s Christian roots, due to the fundamental role played by St. Benedict and his order in this regard?

A. That’s a good reason for this pilgrimage to be centered in Norcia, especially because it is St. Benedict’s birthplace. I think that our society and the Church today are rather similar to the society and the Church in St. Benedict’s day. And if we pay attention to how he responded to his situation, maybe we can respond better in our situation. So I think St. Benedict is an important figure for this pilgrimage.

(AB). Correct me if I am wrong, but didn’t you already elaborate a bit on this crucial topic in your homily at the Mass in St. Eutizio, when you explained the symbolic significance and implications of the physical pilgrimage?

A. That’s right. I focused on the description of St Benedict in the Dialogues of St Gregory which says that he “dwelt with himself”, viz. “habitare secum” in Latin. But he was able to achieve that status of spiritual maturity (to know yourself is not easy), because he had years of ascetical training and so I was trying to say that the physical pilgrimage is a symbol of the interior pilgrimage that we need to undertake with the goal of spiritual maturity. Being able to dwell with yourself is a mark of progress on the spiritual journey.

(AB). Therefore the pilgrimage as not an end in itself, but a sort of preparation for the soul to be able to enjoy the beatific vision, so to say.

A. Yes. I also drew on another story from the life of St. Benedict. When he was an old man and near death, he had a vision during the night of the whole world gathered up as if it were a single ray of light, which expressed that he was ready for heaven by then because he had the vision of the unity of the whole created world. So spiritual maturity is not for its own sake, but for God’s sake. We need to move forward so as to always develop our relationship with our Lord. So in this pilgrimage there are various stages and St. Benedict in his cave dwelling with himself represents a certain stage of this spiritual maturity, but having this vision of the whole world in the single ray of light is a very high degree of spiritual perfection. So, our pilgrimage has to keep going. None of us is there yet, but we have wonderful examples that show us the path to follow.

(AB). So this is an essential feature for one’s spiritual life.

A. Absolutely. I hope that our pilgrimage can inspire people: inspire those who are just starting out on this spiritual journey to take the step of conversion, and inspire those of us who are already on this spiritual journey to give us encouragement, because we can get tired. To use the image of the pilgrimage, you get tired of walking sometimes, you have to stop to take a rest, but you want to get to your goal and we want to get to our goal in the spiritual life as well.

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