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From the Lyrick Theatre in the valley outside Assisi

Glass windows to my right provide a majestic view of the hillside city of Assisi.  The Rocca Maggiore towers above us, and the graceful arches of the basilica and monastery complex of San Francesco extend as a kind of bridge.  There are 5000 of us gathered from scattered nations, united by our “thirst for peace.”  People from all walks of life, many of us well-placed professionals.  We are the overflow.

The rest of the crowd, another 10,000, are gathered in the auditorium, where a distinguished panel inaugurates the most recent dialogue for peace involving world religious leaders, state officials and professionals from many countries.  The result is not entirely a prayer, in the traditional sense, but a dialogue of heartfelt speaking and intense listening–what this conferences hopes to model for the planet.

Hilde Kieboom, Vice President of the Sant’Egidio community, chaired the panel, which included remarks by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio community; Bartholomew, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople; Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman; Faustin-Archange Touadéra, president of the Republic of Central Africa; Baleka Mbete, chairperson of the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa; Dominique Lebrun, archbishop of Rouen; Avraham Steinberg, rabbi from Israel; Mohammad Sammak, political advisor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and others.

In the midst of the remarks, Ms. Kieboom called our attention outdoors: above our earnest conversation, an exquisite rainbow had settled over the valley, and we fell silent for a moment, watching its color illuminate the gray clouds behind.

The presenters’ speeches are available at


I am sending this brief dispatch from here in Assisi, where I have come, along with thousands of others, for “Thirst for Peace,” an international meeting of religious leaders and faithful. 30 years after the gathering convened by John Paul II in 1986, we live in a very different world, yet one in which, as the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same… The thirst and quest for peace goes on, perhaps with more intensity than ever. It is a deep blessing to be here, nameless among the crowds, standing with hope and fidelity and calm strength, gathered in a common prayer that transcends language, nation, and denomination and now seeks to find deeper expression in our common humanity.

I arrived yesterday on a train packed full of people from all over the world. Although some of us had no language in common, we could all smile and say “Assisi.” The streets here are full of some of the most precious of human feelings: hope, commitment, fidelity, even perplexity, as we look out on a world caught up in a spiral of violence and want, deeply, to create something more.

I woke and went to mass, surrounded again by people from more countries than I could name, and then sat down over lunch to the news of so much terror unleashed all around. As we look ahead to the inauguration of the conference in a few hours, I ask you to be in solidarity with us as we gather, speak, listen, and pray. May all of our prayers and works unite ever more effectively as we try to foster and integrate wisdom, understanding, love, and action in a world that needs us so.

I hope, upon my return, that we can work together with even greater effectiveness, to bring about the kind of world where we can live as one people, stronger than anything that might divide us, and model the solidarity and communion that brings life, joy, and new possibilities.

The Interior Castle
by Teresa of Avila, tran. by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez
(Paulist Press, 1979)

My “Take and Read” came from the hands of a favorite professor, just after I had finished my first course in church history. “Gillian,” Grover Zinn said, placing a book in my hands, “you have to read this.”

Click here to read more.

Creación y Comunión en el año de la Misericordia: La invitación de Papa Francisco

Most Blessed Trinity, Waukegan, Illinois

January 30, 2016

(The Presentation will be given in both Spanish and English)

Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 6pm

Gillian Ahlgren will be speaking on the influence of Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Ignatius Loyola for Spanish speaking peoples across the centuries. The focus on her presentation will be on their relevance for us today. The title of the presentation is “Huella mística tras los siglos: Santa Teresa de Avila, San Juan de la Cruz, y San Ignacio de Loyola en América Hoy”

Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice at Xavier University – Gillian Ahlgren, Tim Severyn
Building on the momentum of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States, this session will give us a chance to reflect upon the key messages of his recent encyclical and discuss the components of a “new and universal solidarity.” We will also address how we can begin the “bold cultural revolution” to which Francis invites us.

Here is the link to the website: http://ignatiansolidarity.net/iftj/speakers/

Want to cram for the papal visit to the United States? Xavier University offering weekend workshops to help prepare.  Read more here.

In this 500th anniversary of Teresa of Avila’s birth, events around the country and in Europe are exploring Teresa’s impact and legacy. A featured keynote speaker in three such conferences, Gillian was recently interviewed for National Catholic Reporter.

Read the article here.

Waking up in Assisi isn’t quite like waking up anywhere else. But once you have known morning in Assisi, it is perhaps a little easier to wake up anywhere in the embrace of God.

The birds, soaring and singing; the bells of churches pealing; the greens and golds of the valley below; a pure and unbridled air entering your lungs–all the elements here speak of new life. Each day is a visceral reminder of the joy and goodness of life and of love.

I bring people to Assisi every year, and it is a single privilege and joy and blessing to do so. We walk in the footsteps of Francis and Clare in a way that allows them to speak to us through the centuries, until they, too, are walking with us. I like to say that, every year, I get to see people fall in love. And it is true. We fall in love, with life and with God, again, every year. And the effects are palpable.

In this blog, I invite you to walk with us, vicariously, as we open ourselves to the lessons of these passionate and wonderful human beings.

Chiesa NuovaThe DNA of Francis is pure mystery. How Pietro di Bernadone, a cloth merchant aggressively seeking his fortune, and gentle Pica, with her elegant Provençal ways, created one of the world’s most sensitive human beings is a testament to the subtleties of the Spirit. Two more different people could hardly be imagined.

We visit the church built over Francis’ birth home and the layers of complexity unravel. Francis, learning songs and tales of chivalry from his mother. Coming home in the wee hours after nights of carousing and revelry. Apprenticed into the family business yet dreaming of knighthood. Ransomed from prison only to find home almost as conflictual.

Our visit to Chisa Nuova commemorates both Francis’s family of origin and the kinds of relational tensions and conflicts that profound change sometimes provokes. In our reflections we note the dynamics of spiritual growth and the kinds of relational support that our growth requires. We ask which of the relationships in our lives are helping us grow toward our spiritual and human potential and grow in gratitude for those who walk with us on the journey.

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