By Magdalena Zurita, Rotary Peace Fellow, International Christian University, Japan, 2016-18
In May of 2018, I completed my master’s studies as a Peace Fellow at International Christian University in Japan. As I waited for the graduation ceremonies, I pondered where I should put everything I had just learned into practice. I was awakened one morning with a new and unexpected thought – traveling. And the word “Tuscany” resounded in my head.
Intrigued, I contacted a friend in Italy who suggested I should consider walking the Via Francigena, a thousand-year-old path that has been traveled by thousands of pilgrims since the Middle Ages. As I researched and read more about this ancient path, it seemed the perfect place to think and find answers. So after graduation, I made the necessary preparations and embarked on my trip.
The Via Francigena
The Via Francigena begins at the San Bernardo Pass, 2,000 meters above sea level and 1,000 kilometers from Rome. My trusty 7-kilogram backpack and I set out, walking between 18 and 34 kilometers a day. I walked through towns, cities, vineyards and forests. I passed over mountains and through plains, enjoying sunny days and enduring cold, cloudy days. I slept in abbeys, parishes and other lodgings. At each new arrival point, I put a seal in my pilgrim passport.
Sometimes I walked with others. But other times, I walked alone; contemplating my virtues and flaws, hopes and dreams. As I progressed, I got stronger and was able to increase my pace. I relished the unexpected surprises: laughter and singing with other pilgrims; sharing pasta and Italian espressos; and the gift of water from strangers who seemed to appear out of nowhere when I had nothing to drink.
Always, I remembered the great dream that had taken me to Japan, to work for a fairer and more united world. And day by day, I connected that dream with the thousands of memories and ideas that sprouted in my mind from my studies on promoting peace and building partnerships. Step by step, I was building my next path.
Audience with the pope
Finally, my backpack and I arrived in Rome. And I received a unique gift: an unforgettable personal audience with Pope Francis. New discoveries also started to emerge. I began to understand my life as a path that is built, step-by-step, between ups and downs. I began to value “the internal walk” with meditations and daily prayers. I forged my “outward” path by promoting strategic partnerships and supporting humanitarian and environmental projects from more than 10 organizations in Argentina, Peru and Italy.
Little by little, this built the foundation for an endeavor I call Suyai – “Hope” in the language of the Mapuche people indigenous to Patagonia. The Suyai Project serves as an accelerator for peace projects through the promotion of strategic partnerships between individuals and institutions committed to at-risk people and natural areas. This new path brings me closer to my dream that would not have been possible without Rotary International: the organization that believed in me, contributed to my education, and inspired me to walk for peace. Let’s keep walking!