Catching up on reading the Morning Offering daily emails from the Catholic Company with my coffee this morning, I found this wonderful reminder — May 29th was the feast day of a special patron saint — St. Bona of Pisa — patron saint of pilgrims! Her name is an adjective; it means good. Adjectives are called substantives when the noun is implied. Thus, her name meant Good One, or more specifically, Good Girl, since the form is feminine. Another young woman of great faith and love for Jesus who followed her calling to bring others to Him through her great devotion to St. James. (Left, photo of remains of St. Bona)
She experienced visions at a young age which led her into an ascetical life of penance and fasting. The story is told that as a child, standing before a crucifix in church, she saw the figure on the Cross free his hand and reach out to touch her. Perhaps the most surprising part of that vision is that she did not run out of the building, screaming in terror. She did try to run away another time, when Jesus, Mary, St. James the Greater and a couple other saints appeared to her. St. James pursued her and led her back to Jesus. This perhaps explains why she developed such a great devotion to St. James.
She dedicated herself to God at the early age of ten and became an Augustinian tertiary. At the age of fourteen she went on her first pilgrimage to Jerusalem where her father was fighting in the crusades. On her trip home she was captured and wounded by Muslim pirates and imprisoned, later being rescued by her fellow countrymen. This did not stop her from pilgrimaging.
In fact, she became fond of making pilgrimages to Rome and returned to the Holy Land many times. She also led a large pilgrimage group along the Way of St. James (Santiago de Compostela), a 1,000 mile journey. She was named an official guide of the ancient route by the Knights of St. James and made the Way of St. James a total of nine times. On her tenth trip she had to return home due to illness, and died soon after, at the approximated age of fifty years in AD 1207. Her work as a leader of pilgrims prompted Pope St. John XXIII to name her the patron saint of travelers, couriers, tour guides, pilgrims, flight attendants, and the city of Pisa.
In the featured photo, St. Bona is depicted holding a scallop shell which is associated with St. James and The Way of St. James (or “El Camino de Santiago). The path markers along the The Way of St. James include the outline of a scallop shell and a directional arrow. Pilgrims receive a shell or sticker to wear on their persons or gear to indicate they are a pilgrim along “The Way.” Fr. Pivonka talks about this in his book, Hiking the Camino, 500 Miles With Jesus. We review the book HERE.
All throughout history we find examples of individuals understanding the need to pilgrimage. Pope Francis’ homily from Easter Vigil this year beautifully laid out a reason to pilgrimage, to greet the “living stone”, Jesus Christ. [LINK to the Welcome Post of Pilgrim Paths discussing the homily.] No matter the times we live in, we are all on a pilgrimage back to the Father and we all need time to roll away the tombstones covering our hearts to let the love of Jesus in to effectuate a “metanoia”– a change — and then step out onto a new path. St. Bona of Pisa, pray for us!
Visit our Home Page for a listing of all our upcoming pilgrimages!