Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Pilgrimage Posts: Off to Oropa

Our last full day in Italy was destined to be our most memorable, if for no other reason than it was Pier Giorgio’s feast day. The biggest suspense during the night was whether the weather would cooperate for us one last day so that we could attempt to climb Mount Mucrone. What a smile swept over my face when I woke up and saw the clear skies. And how awesome to wake up in Pier Giorgio's house on his feast day and then celebrate Mass early in the morning in his bedroom?!

Our bus driver was prompt and we were on the bus and on our way to the Sanctuary of Oropa – the place Pier Giorgio so often went to pray to his beloved Brown Madonna. We reached the cable car station at the base of the mountain around 8:30 and got our tickets for the six or seven-minute ride to the landing. From there, it is about a 10-minute walk to Lake Mucrone. I was very surprised to see how much snow was still on the mountain in early July. It was picturesque but made things a little more dangerous. A few of our group chose to stay behind. The rest of us set off for the top of the mountain. It was slow going but we really did well and made it to the highest point within about 1 ½ hours. A heavy fog was settling and we really had no view of anything down below. In August of 1917, Pier Giorgio wrote to his friend Carlo about a similar weather experience on one of his climbs:

"Today I took a stupendous walk. I left this morning at six: the sky was clear, though tonight it’s raining. Together with my father, Luciana, and the Marchisios I went to Favaro to take the tram to Oropa. After we attended Holy Mass, said at the main altar of the Madonna, we went from Oropa to Sette Fontane, a farmhouse situated in the Elvo valley at the foot of Mucrone. ... A cool breeze was blowing overhead, and the sun was hot. Mucrone was beautiful up close and it made me wish that I could climb it from the steep side. But then came the fog, which covered everything; but once in a while the outline reappeared. Around two o’clock we went down to Pollone. During the return trip the weather changed at each instant, and now a storm is breaking."

The fog and threat of a storm kept us from staying long at the top. After saying some brief prayers, we began our descent. A scary moment occurred when one member of our group took a nasty tumble on the rocks. Miraculously, he didn’t break any bones or sustain any type of head injury, but his right leg was extremely swollen and he had cuts all over his body. Pier Giorgio had to have been present in the man who suddenly arrived on the scene. He was a serious mountain climber, as evidenced by his backpack and poles. He dug through his things looking for a special salve and ended up applying some sort of disinfectant and wrapping the leg in a gauze bandage. He then spent the next hour or so assisting with the slow-going descent. When the men reached the landing near Lake Mucrone, he spoke to me briefly and with an “auf Wiedersehen” was soon out of sight.

God wa
s so good and so clearly among us on the mountain. This man who became the good samaritan was at the top when we were about to begin our descent. I spoke to him briefly in Italian and explained that we were here because of Pier Giorgio. He knew about Pier Giorgio and told me what a good person and mountain climber he had been. No surprise, then, that this man would end up stepping in the shoes of Pier Giorgio to assist our injured climber.

Mountain first aid arrived to take a look at the injury. A trip to the hospital was recommended but declined and we headed back
down to the sanctuary via the cable car. When we arrived at the upper church, we saw a huge procession taking place – nearly 1800 people from Asti making an annual pilgrimage. It was a beautiful sight. By the time we all regrouped, it was too late for lunch and we really had to get back to Pollone. Everyone grabbed something quick and headed for the bus. After taking a wrong turn, we had another close call squeezing through some extremely narrow streets but managed to get back on the main road. Unfortunately, this put us so behind schedule that we did not arrive back at the villa until 5:45. We were scheduled to attend an international Mass in honor of Pier Giorgio’s feast day at 6:00 p.m. at the parish church but it looked like we would never make it. After a chaotic 15 minutes or so, we all managed to get there!

It was a beautiful place to celebrate our last Mass as a group – there in Pier Giorgio’s parish church where he often served and attended Mass. Afterward, we feasted in the local restaurant with a
full-course Italian meal. At one point, Wanda arrived to tell us that a contingent of French youth were at the villa. We headed back to visit with them. They were praying and singing in Pier Giorgio’s room when we arrived. After they cleared out, we prayed the eighth day of our group novena in the main entrance of the villa and ended with a verse of “Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above.” Then, it was time to begin saying our goodbyes as we had to meet our driver at 6:30 the next morning to head to the airport in Milan.

It was bittersweet to pull away from the villa on Sunday morning with Wanda waving farewell. We finished our group novena on the bus on the way to the airport and we all made it safely to our homes. From start to
finish, it was a wonderful adventure. As always, Wanda outdid herself with her generosity and hospitality. I felt so blessed to be with the group that made up the inaugural FrassatiUSA Pilgrimage and am certain that each person was specially called by Pier Giorgio to be a part of it. I know he journeyed with us every step of the way…from the depths of the catacombs to the top of the mountain. And we are assured of his heavenly companionship until we are finally united in our eternal home.

Thanks for traveling along via these blogposts. Hope to see you on a future pilgrimage. Verso l’alto!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Being at the Sanctuary of Oropa is like being in heaven on earth. I can't describe it better than that. One feels the closeness of GOD immensely. The lake looked beautiful, the mountain majestic, the sanctuary peaceful.It was very easy to get lost in the moment contemplating about the goodness of GOD and appreciating all the creatures HE has created. But I think it was really about resting in the love of our creator.