It takes a lot of faith, gratitude and a God-given boldness to come up with and carry out such a project!
Sauro Innocenti and Carla Bianchini, 82 and 78 years old respectively, drove from their hometown of Chiesina Uzzanese (not far from Florence, in northern Italy) to Lourdes—a distance of around 775 miles—to deliver a 440-pound “maxi-candle” of peace to Our Lady. And they did it in a vehicle that barely reached 25 mph!
Sauro and Carla, pilgrims
Their chosen vehicle for the pilgrimage was a Piaggio “Ape” (pronounced AH-peh), a sort of cross between a Vespa scooter and a pickup truck, which—with its diminutive size—looks to American eyes almost more like a toy than a utility vehicle.
When I read the news, I became passionate about this married couple’s adventure, and I followed their journey on the Facebook page Terre Di Presepi (“Land of Nativity Scenes” — the page focuses on the Italian artistic and devotional tradition of making elaborate Nativity scenes, which the couple practice).
The images speak of simplicity, anticipation, and emotion.
It takes a lot of faith, gratitude, and a certain boldness (which for believers means trust in Providence) to come up with and carry out such a project.
“A mystical experience, an unforgettable event.”
Their pilgrimage was covered by various media outlets, including Quotidiano Nazionale, whose reporter Gabriele Galligani spoke to Mr. Innocenti before his departure. “I’m doing this first of all to have a mystical experience. I’m a believer and I’m sure it will be an unforgettable event,” he told the Italian daily.
I was reminded of a verse from Matthew’s Gospel: “(…) if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20b)
A 6.5 foot tall peace candle
Early in the morning on May 6, after saying goodbye to family and friends, Sauro started the engine to head with his wife to Massabielle Grotto in Lourdes. It was a four-day journey with a six and a half foot tall peace candle on board the tiny pickup truck. Sauro, a former firefighter (35 years of service), a passionate maker of Nativity scenes, had made the candle with his own hands shortly after Putin’s tanks invaded Ukraine.
Sauro and Carla told Terre di Presepi, “We are especially excited. Our journey is like a pilgrimage. A few years ago we wanted to do it on foot; now we’re doing it aboard an Ape, according to our possibilities. We’ve set the goal of covering about 220 miles each day so we will arrive Monday evening in Lourdes. We have nothing set in stone; we’ll stay overnight wherever we are when we decide to stop and rest.”
The peace candle
The candle was lit for the first time on April 9 at the World Peace March organized in Cerreto Guidi (Florence, Italy) by the Cities of Nativities National Association. On that occasion the flame was taken from the lamp of peace from the shrine of La Verna, where St. Francis received the stigmata. Then it was lit again for the Easter Vigil in the parish of Chiesina Uzzanese where the Italian couple live. Also, before they left for their journey, their local Bishop, Roberto Filippini, wanted to greet the couple at their home and bless the candle and the vehicle.
It takes a childlike heart for such an adventure!
And so Sauro and Carla, with their vehicle barely reaching 25 miles per hour, patiently and calmly traveled to Lourdes. They couldn’t take the highway because of the nature of their vehicle; they made several stops, always being careful with the enormous 440 pound candle in the trunk.
It was an incredible movie-like journey, a full 775 miles long, which shows how much passion can still move in the hearts of two people who are old only on paper. It’s impossible to call them such because it takes the heart of a child to undertake such an adventure!
“We wanted to make the pilgrimage on foot but we’re elderly.”
The pilgrimage went well, and Sauro explains that the most complicated part was calming the couple’s adult children and reassuring them that they would make it without danger. He told Quotidiano Nazionale: “Some years ago, we wanted to make the pilgrimage to Lourdes on foot, but for one reason or another we always put it off, and now we’re too old. So we decided to do it on board the Ape. The hardest thing was convincing my children that the trip posed no danger. We’re two sprightly youngsters; our eyes are open.”
Their eyes are not only open, but also full of serene confidence and simplicity.
The candle of peace burns
The candle was lit on May 10 in the Apparition Grotto, asking Our Lady to intercede for a cease-fire and for peace to return to the world. “The hope is that everything will contribute in some way to ending the violence of the atrocious war being fought in Ukraine,” the former firefighter told Quotidiano Nazionale.