Gerry Gallacher & Margaret Thomas reflect on the prophetic pilgrimage that was undertaken last autumn to Assisi by a small group of pilgrims from the four countries of the isles in response to a prophetic word given at the Newman consultation in 2005 and what they felt God said to them through it.
Origins and prophecy
The pilgrimage started with prophecy. In 2005, at the Newman Consultation, we were praying for unity between the four nations when Fr Pat Collins gave a prophetic word that people should go on a walking pilgrimage to Assisi in 2007. Margaret Thomas, who lives in Wales, took the initiative and issued an invitation in Goodnews which led to a pilgrimage from 27th September to 5th October 2007. It was only after arrangements were finalised that she realised this would mean we were in Assisi on Francis feast day (4th October) in the 800th anniversary year of his conversion. The Lord was taking a hand in arrangements and this became more obvious as things progressed, and particularly in Assisi itself.
Twelve people signed up for the walking pilgrimage including Fr Paul Emmett, a retired priest with a Franciscan background, who celebrated Mass for us on the way. Three more participants, all Anglican Franciscans, joined us later in Assisi. The Sion community in Brentwood helped us catch our 5am Flight from Stanstead to St Egidio airport near Perugia by providing overnight accommodation and, as the pilgrimage began, there was great uncertainty about its purpose. Maureen O Beirne, from Ireland, said she decided to come after reading these lines in The Word for Today - If God is directing you to your own Zarephat or anywhere else that doesnt make sense to you right now, dont argue. Go, because His promises hinge on your obedience. This was the spirit in which each of us undertook the pilgrimage. We went without knowing why we were going or what to expect, only that we were going in obedience to a word.
The walk took us from Gubbio (where Francis tamed the wolf) to Assisi, 35 miles along the Sentiero Francescano della Pace through the beautiful Umbrian countryside and, though the forecast was for clouds and showers, the weather was sunny throughout. Some modern help was deployed in the shape of a support car and an occasional bus when time was getting the better of the walkers. We have countless memories of the journey, and no time to tell much of it here; suffice it to say, it was demanding and continually surprising: we learned to expect the unexpected and to go without food and with insufficient water for long periods - in hot sun; and it was tremendous fun. We prayed and sang and talked and were silent and struggled and collapsed - the walking wounded - in the evenings. It was totally different from any pilgrimage we have experienced before.
The hand of the Lord became very apparent when we reached Assisi. He had provided us with a small self-catering residence containing a tiny chapel in its garden and all this in an isolated spot halfway down the hill at San Damiano. The residence was basic and owned by a large retreat house nearby. Now this was during the week of St Francis feast day. Assisi was full to overflowing, but we found this residence vacant. Extraordinary. Fr Paul said Mass in the chapel and reserved The Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle throughout.
Rebuild My Church
On Wednesday morning, the day before the Feast, many of us went down to the 7.30 am Mass inside St Damiano itself. The first reading that day, 3rd October, was Nehemiah 2:1-8, which struck us powerfully and seems to be the key to the pilgrimage. Nehemiah asks the king let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it. The king, with the queen sitting beside him, gives permission and the necessary material help.
San Damiano was the church in which St Francis heard the Lord speak from a crucifix and say, Rebuild My Church. And here we were in that church and hearing the same call! As we discussed this together later, Margaret said she had originally intended staying in Santa Maria degli Angeli but the only accommodation she could find was the wonderful small residence here at San Damiano. Furthermore, back in 2005 when she asked herself, Why Assisi? the answer that came was, Rebuild My Church though, at that time, she was not confident in her discernment. Two of us had also been receiving this call to rebuild the temple, one for over a year in his prayer group and the other personally for a few years. It seems clear that The Lord brought us to San Damiano to give us this message.
We felt we received other important prophecies while praying together in Assisi. These included:
- Be together. Listen to one another
- after praying and singing in tongues three of us were powerfully aware of Gods closeness to us. Two felt weighed down as by a heavy weight (but this was not an unpleasant feeling) and the third felt overwhelmed and amazed by the strength of the love of God and electricity pouring down from above and through her.
- the following day (the feast of St Francis) one person received a picture of outstretched hands holding a large basket full of presents, together with the words: I have given you all the gifts you need - you only have to unwrap them and use them. Immediately, the two who had felt weighed down the previous day recognised that this was directly connected.
What does it all mean?
On returning from Assisi we discussed the meaning of it all. We feel that the cross of San Damiano and the whole of the pilgrimage was saying rebuild my church. This is a call to the individuals involved but we suggest also to all of CCR. It seems to us that we are being told that God gave CCR all the gifts needed in 1967 and we only have to keep opening them and using them for the renewal of the church. This requires unity (be together and listen to each other) both in ecumenical terms and internationally. We need to let go of materialism without changing our position in life. We evangelise where we are: at work and at play, in church and out of church, and we do so as ourselves, introverted or extroverted: all are needed. There may be a call particularly to reach out to children and young people. We are not to expect a renewal of the renewal or a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit but are to keep opening the great gifts that were given in 1967. God has given us all we need and He gives the opportunities - which will increase as people turn to us more and more in the future. We pray that we may all be set free from any discouragement at the current state of Christianity in our lands. Set free to live in Gods time, the present moment, and to EVANGELISE.