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A Protestant pilgrimage to Rome


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In Martin Luther's footsteps: A pilgrimage to Rome

Rome - Winter was about to arrive when the Augustinian monk Martin Luther and his fellow monks began their journey one November day 500 years ago. A 1,800-kilometre-long trek on foot awaited them. Their destination: Rome, the Holy City.
Now, the half-millennium anniversary of that event has inspired a number of modern-day trekkers to follow in Luther's footsteps in the pilgrimage trail leading from Germany, proceeding over the Alps and ending in the centre of Christianity. In contrast to the well-known St James Trail leading to the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, this hiking route going over the Alps poses a major adventure. The large stream of pilgrims to the Eternal City such as seen in the Middle Ages has long since disappeared, and the road with its network of hostels and inns has become nearly forgotten.
But lately, new life has blossomed along the "Via Francigena" - the Franconian Trail - leading from northern Europe to the papal seat on the Tiber River.
Italy and the European Union are now promoting the route as being a "European cultural road." A promotional society in the central Italian city of Fidenza provides maps and is posting trail-markers along the route. According to the society, each year some 3,000 pilgrims cover all, or at least part of the trail. Those who this autumn have taken off from the German cities of Wittenberg or Erfurt will need 10 to 12 weeks to reach Rome. In contrast to the situation 500 years ago, today people are not walking along some idyllic lanes. Particularly in Italy, longer stretches of the trail are located right next to roads with a lot of heavy traffic. In some cases, the only way to seek safety from lorries rushing past is by jumping over a ditch.
The Via Francigena promotional society is trying to find some parallel routes which are quieter, but so far with only modest success. But still, now and then there are pretty landscapes which reward the pilgrim for all the strenuous effort and car exhaust. Among others, there are the cherry tree-lined lanes along the Unstrut River in south-eastern Germany, the huge chestnut tree forests in the Bergelltal Valley in Switzerland and the hazelnut forests north of Rome.
It's an inspirational feeling, after a strenuous climb to finally reach the Septimer Pass at 2,300 metres altitude in the Swiss Alps. The proud hiker does not yet realize that the Apennine mountains outside Bologna will be similarly difficult to conquer. The period of the man who would later shake the Church with his Protestant reform movement is recalled in many places along the way, such as in pilgrims' hostels, church communities, or now nearly-empty monasteries.
In the Capuchin order monastery in Fidenza the hiker is provided a room which in its size and furnishing comes close to resembling a cell in a cloister. There is no charge, although of course a voluntary donation is welcome. On departure, the monastery stamps the pilgrim's pass document.
During the final two weeks of the pilgrimage one finds the final destination is pulling more and more strongly. "Rome" is now written on the trail-markers and the hiker can now readily grasp the distance still to be covered.
He proceeds along the Via Flaminia, then crosses the ancient Ponte Milvio bridge over the Tiber River and strides the final kilometres of the straight-line old Roman road leading to the Porta del Popolo, a gate in the city wall dating back to the time of Marcus Aurelius.
Over the previous weeks, one had often fantasized about what arriving at the final destination would be like. But the reality is rather unspectacular. One stands, somewhat lost, amid crowds of other tourists visiting the piazza with its fountains and obelisks.
Right behind the gate the Augustinian church Santa Maria del Popolo rises up. With so many travel groups, there is no prospect for some kind of ceremony or service marking the successful completion of the pilgrimage. A priest, asked to stamp the pilgrim's pass, murmurs a few words of recognition. But of course, the reception in the Evangelical-Lutheran congregation of Rome is all the more heartfelt.

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/news ... -rome.html
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