There is a group of the Scouts of Europe in our parish in Benicassim. This year they invited us to go for an international meeting organized during the summer in Rome. Not knowing much, and without deeper reflection, we agreed sight unseen. The preparations lasted quite a long time, although their style surprised us, especially as the date of departure was getting closer and neither we, nor the Italian group, knew many of the details yet. Eventually, together with Sr. Karolina, we embraced this spontaneity and began to look at it as the adventure of a lifetime. Day by day, we came to know more details: that we would walk with backpacks and all the other equipment: tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, sometimes even food for 2 days; that we would have tasks for each day; that girls and boys would walk separately… etc. Our group chose the trail of St. Benedict. Having arrived in Rome, we went to the furthest point which was Cassino and from there we walked 12 to 25 km a day, approaching the Eternal City. Veronica was responsible for the Spanish group, which included eight girls from the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Community and two CSFN Sisters: Sr. Karolina Szpak and Sr. Michalina. Pawlak. In the Italian group, there were two communities with 2 leaders and about 26 people.
Day 1. Monte Cassino.
We reached the town of Cassino by train from Rome and headed to the place designated for us to stay. We left our backpacks, repacked them into small ones and headed towards the Benedictine Abbey on Monte Cassino. One of our girls had stomach problems at night and in the morning Sr. Karolina was asked to go to the top of the hill by bus… the rest of the group walked. According to the plan, climbing was supposed to last about 2-2.5 hours, but the noon heat noon slowed down our march. We arrived at our destination before 3 pm. In the abbey, a Brother was waiting to show us around the museum collections, containing manuscripts and other treasures of literature collected over eight centuries. Tired and hungry, we honestly were waiting for when the trip would be over to sit, relax and eat lunch. And this had to be cooked, so without looking for a more convenient place, we spread out in the parking lot, pulled out our gas cylinders, pots and foodstuffs and prepared a delicious pasta. We then went by a bus prepared for the scouts to a park, which was to be our campsite for that night. We pitched the tents, went to the store to shop for food for dinner and the whole next day. We used the installed washbasins to refresh ourselves a bit after a hot day… and it began to rain during dinner. A heavy downpour started. At night it changed into a thunderstorm. We had the impression that the lightning was striking somewhere nearby, and it was pouring, pouring and pouring.
Day 2. Cassino-Roccasecca.
At 4 am, apart from the rhythmic striking of water droplets on the tent, now there was also watering of the lawns… we were wondering what else could happen on the first day of our trip. After 5 am, the wind blew so strong that it began to pull out the pegs of the tent, which began to collapse. In the end, we left at probably the last moment before it got soaked and before the wind folded it in half. But an hour later it began to clear, the wind blew away the clouds and the sun came out… and with it all the scouts hiding in different places with their soaked backpacks and their contents. Our backpacks were somehow dry, but some just pulled out things that were dripping with water. After a short consultation and a few phone calls, there was a small change of plan for our wandering that day. We decided not to go through the mountains, where there were still storms and rains, but to take the train directly to the next accommodation point, which was in Roccasecca. From the train station to the gym where we were supposed to spend this night it was 7 km uphill, so we had a good walk that day. And also the next day, as it was Sunday, in the evening we walked to the local church for Mass. There was a lot of space in the room. We could spread out our wet clothes, sleeping bags, backpacks and tents. There were also bathrooms and showers, so we were happy to perform “ritual ablutions”. In the afternoon, there was the visit of Mr. Angelo who shared with us the story of Roccasecca, and its connections with St. Benedict, but not only. We also learned that it was the birthplace of St. Thomas Aquinas. In the evening, after dinner, the Spanish team prepared a “velada”, their traditional recreational evening with games and activities. The night passed peacefully, quietly and dryly.
Day 3. Roccasecca-Santopadre.
In the morning, we went for a half-hour walk to the upper church of St. Thomas and afterwards, we took our backpacks to set off on the next stage of our journey. That day we were also joined by another group from Sicily, with Selena. This time Veronica asked me to go by car with one of our girls who had a problem with her ankle. Knowing that Mr. Angelo can take us by car to the stop for the next night, all the girls took advantage and left their tents with us. It was said to be a quite intense and demanding day-trip. Our adventures, however, did not end in Cassino. On the way, our guides left too early from the asphalt road for the potential trail and at the last moment, the last climbers were stopped by Mr. Angelo… there were shouts, screams, unsuccessful attempts to call those who were first and who were quite far away… Eventually, they came back, tired and, to put it mildly, dissatisfied with the organization. Mr. Angelo saved the group by delivering drinking water. Once again he explained where the correct route should be. Another girl, however, this time from the Italian group could not cope anymore and got into our car, and Sr. Karolina as well. So the girls followed the mountain trail and we headed along the asphalt road towards Santopadre. The town is beautiful and charmingly situated on the top of the mountain (it was hard to drive a car there, and even more to walk with backpacks with all the equipment). We waited for the rest fairly long, as later they told the route was challenging, although wonderfully scenic, but after returning they had absolutely no strength for anything. The message that the next day we would be waliking only 8.5 km and all the time downhill was uplifting.
Day 4. Santopadre-Casamari.
After breakfast and Morning Prayer, we set out with all our equipment in the direction of the town of Arce, from where at noon the bus was to take us directly to the accommodation place in the Cistercian Abbey in Casamari. The road was quite tedious, asphalt all the way down, but the views were beautiful and one did not have to watch your feet all the time. They gave us a sports field in the abbey where we also met a few other Italian groups. We began to wonder if there are any other groups than Italian ones walking along our trail? After dinner and pitching our tents, we visited the abbey with a beautiful chapel with alabaster rosettes. There was time for handicraft workshops and rewriting a fragment of the gospel. Four routes and four gospels handwritten by 5000 scouts were to be be a gift for Pope Francis when we would get to Rome. In the evening, we had Mass, dinner and then a prayer “velada.”
Day 5. Casamari – Subiaco.
The day was supposed to be pleasant in our plans. There was a bus ride from Casamari to the city of Jenne and then a 12-kilometer walk to Subiaco through a gorge along the Aniene River. However, the beginning of the walk surprised us quite a bit and the first 2 km were quite a steep descent from Jenne. As usual, in the early afternoon and without any shade. The continuation of the walk was already very pleasant. We also met more and more groups of scouts along the way and we were aware that we were getting closer and closer to the destination of our journey. In Subiaco, we pitched our tents literally on the lawn in front of the church, in the last free place. Large groups of French, Poles and of course… Italians had already arrived before us 🙂 We were facing the last night on the way. The next day we were reaching Campo dell’Osso, the point of arrival, where we spent almost 48 hours in a group of over 1000 scouts. In the evening there was also a culinary competition between mixed Italian-Spanish teams… it went quite well, although it was difficult to say that we went to bed full.
Day 6 Subiaco-Campo dell’Osso.
From the place of our accommodation, the convent of St. Scholastica, we climbed to Sacro Speco, the place of the hermitage of St. Benedict and the beginnings of the Benedictine Monks. We had a tour guided by Father Mark, a Benedictine, an assistant to one of the Italian scout groups. From there we traveled by bus to Subiaco, and after dinner, from there to Liviata. There we began a short and beautiful way to the destination of our journey. On the bus, we met our boys and we walked the last stage together. At Campo dell’Osso, everything was already prepared, places designated, showers spaced out. We also knew that we were pitching tents for the last time. At 6 pm, Mass was celebrated for all who arrived, followed by a recreational gathering after dinner. Sr. Karolina and I took advantage of the invitation of a Polish volunteer family and for the first time in a week, we bathed at home in the bathroom with hot water. They also gave us Italian coffee… and we didn’t need anything more. It rained a bit at night, but not enough to scare us or not to let us sleep.
Day 7 we spent in Campo dell’Osso.
It began with Mass and conferences in the Italian, English and French language groups. Then there were various workshops to choose from, to meet with firefighters, the opportunity to see a rescue helicopter, some free time. In the afternoon, the concert-testimony from the band “Reale” about a young couple brought out of addiction after their experience of Cenacolo. All day it alternated between rain and sun. We were not able to take a picture together in our colorful t-shirts as was planned for this day, firstly because of the drone’s delay and, secondly, because of the weather. The evening velada did not take place for the same reasons, as the rain was pouring down. It rained all night. In the rain, starting at 4 am, we were rolling up our wet tents and at 5:30 am we set off to the hired buses towards Rome. That great day was the concluding day of Euromoot, the audience with the Pope in the Hall of Paul VI and Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Having reached the Eternal City, we left our large backpacks in the parish hall in one of the churches and headed towards the Vatican.
Crowds of scouts from all over the world were gathering from all sides, dressed in their uniforms, with flags of their countries of origin, singing and dancing and infecting passers-by with joy. Waiting for the Pope was filled the excitement and the solemnity of the moment. Just being in the Hall of Paul VI is already impressive, knowing how many popes met with how many people met in this place, how many important Church events took place there. Before Francis arrived, the people responsible for Scouting gave their speeches and summaries of our Italian week. The numbers were striking: the number of people involved in the preparation and participating in Euromoot 2019, the kilometers and routes traveled, and the Masses celebrated.
The real celebrating of the young people, however, began about 11:00 am when there was a commotion at the back door of the Hall. The young people got up from their chairs and ran to the barriers in the hope that Pope Francis would pass through the middle aisle. There was a shout “Papa Francesco” and our Spanish “Esta es la juventud del Papa”. They were not mistaken. A moment later, the Peter of our times was walking down the middle of the Hall, laughing and stretching out his arms, to the right, to the left, touching the youth and letting them touch his hand … I did too. He did not speak long, young people interrupted him with applause several times. He talked about the value of the “way”, what is important in terms of equipment and preparation for travel, and then translated it into the spiritual life, showing the analogy of each element. He knew that at 12:00 we had Mass in the Basilica. At the end, he went to the first rows, to the sick, those in charge of the groups, and again through the middle aisle, to our great surprise and joy, he passed between us.
And after a while, like VIPs, we entered the sacristy into St. Peter’s Basilica in order to conclude all our prayers and thanksgiving with this final highlight, to offer it to God. The time of Euromoot came to an end, but for our Spanish group the stay in Rome was not yet over. We planned 2 full days before going home, and the accommodation was planned in our house at Via Nazareth. This time passed very intensely and quickly. We were leaving the house quite early every morning to reach the planned destinations. On August 4 in the morning, Sr. Karolina left us and returned earlier to Spain, because on August 5 she started her vacations in Poland. Our group went to St. Peter’s Basilica where we began the day with Mass… and then a walk to all 4 major basilicas and a few more churches. On August 5 we started our day in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, quite far from our house. There was a guided tour and a Mass, and then we walked around Rome along the more tourist-y route, because as it turned out a few people from our group were in Rome for the first time in their lives. We were coming back home quite late, dinner time in Spain is typically 9.30 – 10 pm. But somehow, we made it, thanks to God’s Providence and Fr. Juan Carlos, who was our guide as he knew Rome very well after his seminary and doctoral studies. On August 6, after the morning Mass in our chapel and a quick breakfast, we went to the airport and back to Spain. Thanks be to God for this time, for all the experiences and for a safe return home.
Written by S. Michalina Pawlak