JPII Leader Gianluca Avanzato Joins a 60-Mile Ecumenical Pilgrimage for Easter

This April, the three major monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam celebrated holidays that overlapped: not only did Passover correspond with Holy Week and Easter, as celebrated by many Christians, but both of these holidays fell within the Holy Month of Ramadan.

In the midst of these sacred seasons, JPII Leader Gianluca Avanzato (Cohort XIII, USA), a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School, joined a group of pilgrims on a 60-mile Holy Week pilgrimage. Led by Rev. Rita Powell and Alden Fossett of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard University, a small group of students and community members departed from Cambridge, Massachusetts on the morning of Holy Thursday (April 6) and arrived in Rindge, New Hampshire on the evening of Holy Saturday (April 8). With stops in Lincoln and Fitchburg, where the group attended Holy Thursday and Good Friday services, members of local Episcopal churches hosted the pilgrims for the night: offering food and shelter.

“The generosity and hospitality that we received were humbling,” remarks Gianluca, “I’m grateful for all the wonderful people who hosted us.”

While this pilgrimage was grounded in Episcopal churches and communities, the pilgrims came from all different Christian backgrounds, brought together by the spiritual home and community that the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard offers. As Community Outreach Chair at the Chaplaincy, Gianluca helped to facilitate the embodied contemplative practices offered throughout the journey.

“As the only practicing Roman Catholic in this lovely group of pilgrims, I wanted to offer something unique from my tradition,” said Gianluca, who facilitated these practices during the walk on Holy Saturday, “So I led some activities around the practice of the rosary and offered some reflections on Marian devotion within Catholicism.”

The pilgrimage concluded with a sunrise service at the Cathedral of the Pines on Easter Sunday led by Rev. Steve Miller of the First Church in Jaffrey (United Church of Christ) and Rev. Rita Powell, episcopal priest and chaplain of the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard. A community tradition for generations, the sunrise service on Easter Sunday offers a breathtaking view of Mount Monadnock and a beautiful place for people from different faith communities and Christian denominations to come together. 

Gianluca and the group from the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard made a special entrance and knelt in front of the outdoor altar to signify the completion of their pilgrimage. During this procession, the pilgrims and those in attendance sang “In manus tuas, Pater,” a hymn from Taizé, an ecumenical community in France whose rituals and practices have been of great inspiration to this pilgrimage. Gianluca read one of the Gospel readings at the service. 

Before returning to Cambridge—thankfully by car—the pilgrims embarked on one final adventure; they journeyed to the nearby Mount Monadnock and hiked the mountain to its peak: the culmination of a pilgrimage in conversation with people, place, and land. 

“This was a life changing experience that will remain with me always,” shares Gianluca. “The open road, the earth in springtime, the kindness of strangers, and the fellowship of my companions—all were blessings beyond measure.”