European Pilgrimage – Day 9, Assisi to Geneva

Blog Post by Phil Kerton

It was sad to leave the ancient hill-top town after the previous day’s drenching by unseasonal rain during our visit to Rome. It was hard to shake off the feeling of residual dampness, which was in fact a reality for some items of clothing and footwear.

After watching the welcome sunrise lighting up the distant hills, we made another early start and our coach was soon bowling along in a generally northerly direction on a new set of Italian motorways. Despite the unwelcome rain, we dozed and chatted about the new memories that had been brought by the eternal city. And what’s more, Pope Francis had chosen the day of our visit to issue a new exhortation, Gaudete et Exultate, encouraging us to keep a sense of humour while making daily acts of charity and joy, serving and defending the vulnerable, the marginalised and the poor, such as migrants, victims of trafficking and the unborn, and warning us against any tendency to suggest that God’s grace is controlled by doctrine.

We are, as so often, heartened by his words, which reflect many of the concerns that brought us to this pilgrimage, and which we had discussed in Rome with members of the Sant Egidio group and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. Matters which are, of course, so prominent in the lives of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Sunshine intermittently gave way to torrential rain, perhaps reflecting the ups and down of our spiritual journeys, as we eventually got back to the stunning mountain scenery of the Aosta valley and made our way up to the snowline near the entrance to the Mont Blanc Tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel, France produced much more consistent sun for the final part of our eleven-hour journey to the town of Anneliese which houses several hotels that are convenient for visits to the larger and more expensive Swiss city of Geneva.

So why Geneva, some may ask? This was the home of the League of Nations for a few years before 1939, and organisation that made way for today’s United Nations Organisation. The striking Classical exterior of the Palais des Nations hides stately interior corridors, conference halls and meeting rooms that provide important examples of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles contemporary to its construction. Of course, the UN General Assembly and Security Council meet in New York, but a large amount of work is carried out here, especially in the fields of peace, arms control, migration and sustainable development. (These include preparation for aspects of the pending new UN Global Compacts for refugees and migrants that have attracted the Pope’s attention.) So, after a few adjustments to bedroom allocations that had involved climbs into bunk beds that were much too close to the ceilings for comfort, we went off to sleep looking forward to learning more about the complexity of activity to the site – in some cases fuelled by the odd glass of wine.