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Center for Catholic Education at UD

Pilgrim-People Even Still: A Reflection on Unexpected Grace

By Emma Grace Geckle

“Life is a pilgrimage. Each moment is to be lived in depth, because each moment contains God, hidden within it.”

Banani Ray, Glory of OM: A Journey to Self-Realization

In 2017, as a first year student at the University of Dayton, I applied for a program through the Honors Department called Chaminade Scholars. Going into the application process, I knew one thing about the program: you get to go to Italy, specifically Assisi and Rome, the summer before your senior year. Oh boy did this sound appealing! As I moved through the application process, I learned so much about the program and ultimately fell in love with it entirely. The pilgrimage, I learned, is the culmination of all the academic preparation, retreats and faith formation, and vocational growth the cohort goes through in the two and a half years leading up to it. I was accepted into the program in February of 2018, along with 13 of my fellow classmates. Our cohort was set, and we began our Chaminade Scholars faith journey together. 

However, in March of 2020, we received the news that our pilgrimage would not be happening as we had thought. With the coronavirus tearing through Europe, deeply affecting Italy, and making its way to the United States, it was deemed unsafe for us to go through with the trip. To myself and my 13 cohort members, this was devastating. I’ll admit we hit many of the stages of grief— denying it was happening, bargaining with the hope of just changing the timing of it all, and eventually accepting that this was the safest decision for the good of the group. Even still, I was in prayer through it all. God, why is all of this happening? How can any of this bring about grace? Our classes and retreats as a cohort had often been centered on being pilgrims, around our vocation as pilgrim-people. What could this mean for us now?

For a lot of people I’m sure, but certainly for myself, the onset of life changes in response to Covid19 transformed my faith life and, in a lot of ways, it wasn’t necessarily a positive shift. I felt distanced from God, from relationships with others, from feelings of hope and peace. On top of this, I was disappointed in the loss of a pilgrimage I had been looking forward to for years. It’s fair to say most of my prayers in May, around the date of our would-be pilgrimage, were prayers of frustration and hopelessness. There seemed to be so much suffering and pain going on in the world and God’s presence became less and less clear to me. 

In heartache, I entered into a moment of pleading. God, open my eyes to see more clearly the good you have set before me. In response, I remembered so many of our cohort discussions about being pilgrim-people, how you do not have to be on a physical, tangible pilgrimage in the middle of Europe to be on a pilgrimage. You are always on a pilgrimage. Your life itself is a pilgrimage. Right now, I told myself, you are in the valley. It is dark and you are lost, but this is all a part of your journey.  A pilgrimage is marked by the pursuit of an intimate encounter with the living God, and, in my prayer, my weeping, and the sacredness of suffering, I continuously encountered Him. Whether I be in Italy or in America, in the Sistine Chapel or in my bedroom, my pilgrimage continues on. 

I am still in the midst of a quest for understanding where grace can be found. In a time of uncertainty, unrest, and unpredictability, I think we could all use a quiet, Italian pilgrimage. However, I find grace and peace in knowing that my pilgrim status remains, even in Dayton, Ohio.


 Edited by Elena Niese 


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