“Did you pass through here last year too?” a worker asks us as we cross the village of Campolarzo praying the rosary. “Yes, this year too we are going to Our Lady in the Holy House of Loreto. We left from Assisi; we are novices with our superiors.” Immediately, Roberto, who is working next to him, entrusts a pain that he has in his heart, related to a young cousin who took her own life a few years earlier. A few kilometers further on, while we are walking along the side of the highway, a car coming from the opposite lane stops and pulls over. A man gets out and crosses the road, indifferent to the speeding cars; he had stopped to ask us to pray with him. He had come from the cemetery where he had been to visit his daughter who – he says with a suffering face – “had been sick with anorexia and was not able to make it.”
This year too we wanted to begin the year with the novices by going on pilgrimage together to the house where Our Lady said her yes. This time, however, we brought with us an extra element, a visible sign of our being pilgrims: a wooden cross behind which we walked the 150 km from Assisi to Loreto, along the Via Lauretana.
As the cross passed by, many people, by car or on foot, made the sign of the cross, stopping for a few moments, amazed at the unusual scene of two nuns and eight young women walking along the road.
A lady who was sweeping a store interrupted her work, while two others who were chatting began to pray. One girl lifted her suitcase and carried it by hand so that the noise of the wheels would not disturb our singing to Our Lady. A young boy in his swimsuit by the lake, after a moment of surprise, furtively made a sign of the cross. An elderly man, passing us along a village street, discreetly brought his hand up to his cap and took it off, bowing his head with a gesture that was solemn in its simplicity. Two workers on their way to the construction site, at six in the morning, stopped to observe us, joining in our silence.
I was moved to see so many small gestures of devotion, so many hearts that, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, were drawn to the presence of Christ. Their reaction reminded me of the longing for God that dwells in each person. For some of them, it was probably a distant presence, but not a Presence unknown to their hearts; an unexpected passerby, and yet, from the way they reacted, one that was long awaited.
What a reminder the signs of an explicit announcement can be! A cross, the garment we wear, songs to Our Lady passing through the center of Recanati, a rosary recited in the streets of Tolentino: all these things allow Christ to walk again through the streets of our world. They are signs of a living presence that man is waiting to meet.
In the image, a moment of the pilgrimage to Loreto.