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In the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi


It’s been 12 months since his pilgrimage from Assisi to Rome but St Francis of Assisi School principal James Meiksans says it is still sinking in.

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In early September last year Mr Meiksans walked the 140km trail in a bid to learn more about his school’s patron and St Clare, who is from the same region of Italy.

But Mr Meiksans said he learnt much more while on the pilgrimage.

“It was a wonderful experience. I was very blessed to spend some time in both Rome and Assisi before embarking on a pilgrimage walk from Assisi to Rome,” he said.

“Anyone who has ever been to Assisi will know that this place has its own unique spirituality that can’t easily be described but is so apparent.

“The history of the place and its strong connection with St Francis and St Clare is very tangible and something which I am so glad to have had the opportunity to experience.

“Our Franciscan spirituality which our school story is based on is very special and something we must continue to nurture and develop in our parish and school community.”

He admitted his journey wasn’t always easy but said it afforded him the solitude to reflect on his life and role as principal of St Francis of Assisi School.

The idea of the trip came about six months after Mr Meiksans arrived at the school nearly three years ago. He attended a Franciscan conference in Sydney and soon realised he didn’t know much about St Francis or St Clare.

“I picked up some information at the conference but I had no connection with Assisi so when the opportunity for the renewal leave came up to go there I jumped at the chance,” Mr Meiksans said.

“St Francis supposedly made the journey to Rome on a regular basis, meeting with the popes of the time and helping those in need.

“I enjoyed the solitude of the walk and it gave me my own time to reflect on what was happening at the school and the spirituality of St Francis.

“It has taken nearly 12 months to process the walk. Across the pilgrimage there was a lot happening and I was trying to take it all in.”

Mr Meiksans would begin most days at about 8am walking until 5pm or 6pm, covering anywhere from 15km to 25km during the day.

But the distance wasn’t the only challenge; he also encountered steep terrain, hot days, European wasps and was even chased by dogs on more than one occasion.

He was guided by Google maps, the St Francis Way signage, which was often faded or broken, and a book that talked about the landmarks in the area.

“If I hadn’t had these I wouldn’t have made it. At least once a day I took a wrong turn and had to retrace my steps so there were about four or five occasions where I was literally lost,” Mr Meiksans said.

“It becomes quite challenging because you are on your own; I probably passed less than 10 fellow pilgrims the whole time.

“They were long days made longer by not knowing where you were going. But that’s what a pilgrimage is – wandering.

“Overall the pilgrimage was about the journey, not the destination.”

On his return, Mr Meiksans said his challenge had been putting into practice what he had learnt at the school and in his everyday life.

While he is still trying to decide what it is he can do as an individual in an outreach capacity to follow in the footsteps of St Francis, he has been able to find some tangible links for the school community, in line with Pope Francis’ message about caring for our common home in Laudato Si’.

“I understand more about the person that is St Francis and have been working with the children and the whole school to come up with events, plans and ecological conservation projects to show that connection,” he said.

“We have developed an environmentally sustainable plan for the school and are looking at how we can reconnect with the land.”


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