Pre-Pilgrimage Reflections

By: Alex Scheibner, Graduate Student, Baylor University School of Social Work

Alex Scheibner will be joining Fr. Anthony on a 13 Day Pilgrimage to holy sites in Italy and ending in Rome.  Alex shares his thoughts in anticipation of the pilgrimage and promises a “Part II” upon his return at the end of June.  Be looking for the post-pilgrimage reflections post in July. Alex also invites prayers for their safety and spiritual insight and growth on this journey.

At this time two years ago, I was living in a tiny room on the roof of a four-story building, next door to a mosque in Calcutta, India.  I had gone there with the intention of learning how to serve from those whose lives are an embodiment of service, the Missionary Sisters of Charity, founded by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  God’s divine providence in placing me amongst some of his most holy and humble servants for two months prompted numerous changes in my life, the greatest of which was my joining the Roman Catholic Church upon my return to the United States.  While I only spent a total of sixty days in Calcutta, the ripple effect of my experiences there has shaped nearly every aspect of my life since then.  Now, two years later, I have a new opportunity before me which, while very different in nature, has equal potential to be life-changing.

More than a trip, I will be embarking on a pilgrimage.  This pilgrimage will take me to holy sites throughout Italy and conclude in Rome, at the Vatican.  As excited as I am about the destination, I am even more excited about my travel companions.  One will be my mother, Susan.  My mother planted the seeds of faith in me before I can even remember.  Her steadfast faith and patient, loving example of Godly living while I was growing up was and is a light shining in the darkness for me.  I can’t think of another person that I would rather share this experience with than her.  My second travel companion will be Father Anthony Odiong, my priest from St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center at Baylor University.  Father Anthony has patiently guided me through my first two years as a Catholic, and has been more than a priest for me.  He has been a spiritual father, teaching me to move past the visible reality in front of me to see the deeper spiritual reality in everything, from the meaning of human life all the way down to the flickering of a candle.  I cannot think of a person better suited to be the spiritual guide for this pilgrimage.

Some of you may wonder why this pilgrimage, which may seem like a simple sight-seeing adventure, is so meaningful for me.  Here is why: Two years ago in India, I realized that my church family is much bigger than the people who gather with me on Sunday morning.  On any given day, every Catholic Church in the world joins together reading the same passages of Scripture and receiving the same Body of Christ in Holy Communion.  This amazing unity among Catholic churches means that I can go to any Catholic church in the world and participate fully in a form of worship which has remained virtually unchanged for 2,000 years.  Not only that, but the life and works of thousands of God’s most dedicated followers have been preserved over the centuries in the Church Tradition, so that we might know what God has done in the world through Christians since the time of Christ himself.  The lives of these Saints and the places where they lived and served God are holy to me and my Church family.  For me, visiting these holy sites is like visiting a childhood home that I barely remember – the people and events that occupied these places made me who I am today and are an essential part of God’s salvation history, his redemption of our broken world.  They encourage me and give me hope in my attempt to answer God’s universal call for all of us to become Saints.

I hope that all of you will pray for all of us taking part in this pilgrimage to Italy’s holy sites, and that your prayers will help each of us draw closer to our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the source of all holiness.  May this summer be a time of growth and blessings for you.

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