By Kelly Wahlquist

In preparation for a WINE & Shrine Women’s Pilgrimage through Italy, our pilgrims receive the usual traveling tips—what to pack, temperatures to expect, where to get Euros, and a few key phrases to say in Italian, such as Teresa Tomeo’s favorite, “Is this on sale?”

The pilgrims also receive some practical tips—hold your purse tight on the busy streets of Rome, don’t order a Cappuccino after noon, and never, under any circumstances, cut your pasta!

One unique aspect of a WINE pilgrimage is the spiritual preparation. In the months leading up to our departure, the pilgrims receive emails highlighting the saints we will be visiting. We recommend the women get to know these saints and ask for their intercession. And, we encourage each pilgrim to connect, in a unique way, with one of their heavenly sisters. However, we may have had that last part backward.

In preparing for our 2016 WINE pilgrimage, I watched a movie on St. Rita of Cascia and decided this “saint of the impossible” was going to be my gal. In my mind, Rita and I were going to have an awesome connection. It never happened. Cascia, although set in the steep hills of Perugia, where escalators line the streets to bring people up and down the city, didn’t provide a mountaintop experience. Instead, I felt deflated. I had chosen St. Rita as my saint, and she didn’t seem to know I was there.

Then, while visiting the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi, I realized I had it all wrong! Before St. Clare’s tomb, I was overcome by emotion. With tears streaming down my face, I stood, for what seemed like hours, talking to St. Clare (in my heart.) In that conversation with my new Franciscan friend, I realized we don’t choose the saints; they choose us. During this pilgrimage, I had just started a women’s ministry, who was better than the founder of the Poor Clares to befriend me at this time!

I have to laugh at the incredible timing my saintly friends have in “choosing” me. In 2011, while at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, St. John Paul the Great prompted me to pray for the Lord to use me in a radical way for the New Evangelization. A year later, when I went through an emotionally and spiritually tough time, St. Mary Magdalene found me and taught me to always go to where I know Jesus to be. Then, as a women’s ministry was beginning, St. Clare brought me to her hometown in Italy and taught me about communication. And, as WINE began to flow, Blessed Jordan of Saxony introduced the joy of the Dominican Spirituality. Lately, St. Teresa Benedict of the Cross (Edith Stein)has been following me around. (I am looking forward to seeing that relationship blossom!) 

These marvelous members of the Church Triumphant seem to be choosing to be with me at moments in my journey when the climb is challenging, and that brings me great comfort. On days when I begin to feel overwhelmed, I call on these saints, knowing they will help me overcome any obstacle to get back to my Heavenly Home—turning hills into valleys and stairs into escalators.

And if you’ve ever been to Cascia, you know what a blessing that is! 

St. Rita of Cascia… Pray for Us

Blessed Jordan of Saxony… Pray for Us

St. Clare of Assisi… Pray for Us

St. Mary Magdalene… Pray for Us

St. John Paul the Great… Pray for Us

Our Lady of Czestochowa… Pray for Us

Kelly Wahlquist is a wife, mother of three, inspiring Catholic author and speaker residing in Minnesota. She is the founder of WINE: Women In the New Evangelization, Director for the Archbishop Harry J. Flynn Catechetical Institute. Her book Created to Relate: God’s Design for Peace & Joy encourages and inspires women to live fully their beautiful God-given gifts for building relationships. She is the creator and editor of  Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women and Gaze Upon Jesus: Experiencing Christ’s Childhood through the Eyes of Women.