'Grazie mille' from Italy to Ireland as monks make pilgrimage of peace and hope
TWO monks from Sicily have been walking the roads of Ireland in the latest stage of a five-year 'pilgrimage of peace' in which they aim to visit as many European countries as possible.
Brother Biagio, who founded the Mission of Hope and Charity in Palermo in 1991, and his colleague Brother David were in Downpatrick on Sunday, from where they walked on to Saintfield, Belfast and beyond, with Scotland and Sweden next on their itinerary.
They refuse to accept lifts and carry no money, instead relying on the hospitality of strangers they meet along the way.
Introducing the monks to the congregation in St Patrick's Church on Sunday, Downpatrick parish priest Fr John Murray told how they had arrived "on my doorstep" the previous evening.
"They are walking through Europe as missionaries of peace and love," he explained, saying it had been inspiring to meet them.
Brother Biagio appealed for prayers "for this difficult, very hard walk we are making".
"I say to you, the virus will not win. God is stronger. He is giving us a test," he said.
"The world has ground to a halt in order for us to reflect because we were all going in the wrong direction. But all of this is not for evil or wrong but for the good."
They said that in Sicily they "work with people who are abandoned by society", including homeless families and immigrants.
"But at this point we feel called to bring this message of peace and hope further afield to the world and we are walking through Europe on foot," said Brother Biagio, with Fr Murray translating.
"We thank you for this beautiful experience we have had in Ireland.
"The Christian roots in Ireland are still strong - we have seen it with our own eyes and touched it with our own hands."