Editor’s Note: The following is part of our daily holiday series celebrating “The Shared World.” Akisha Townsend Eaton is a friend of FMS and Candidate for the Secular Franciscan Order. 

Shortly after getting married this past summer, my husband Jack and I set off for what would be a European honeymoon adventure of a lifetime.

Despite all of our prearranged sightseeing plans, however, it turns out that some of the best parts of our honeymoon were unanticipated. We had the opportunity to encounter some of the greatest and most unexpected lessons of generosity and kindness.

After leaving the states, we stopped in England where we were hosted by two extremely gracious couples on separate occasions. Understanding that we needed to stick to a modest travel budget, they happily offered their homes to us.

Without hesitation or asking for anything in return, they picked us up, helped haul our bags, gave us tours of the local area, cooked us meals, and spent hours in conversation with us. We were taken away by how genuinely interested they were in getting to know us and making sure we were having the best experience possible. They made us feel so special—like family.

Between the two stays we traveled to Oxford University, where I had already volunteered to help with a summer school conference on animals and religion. Numerous scholars, professionals, and leaders in diverse faith traditions came together to discuss the treatment of animals.

It became evident that the compassionate treatment of God’s voiceless creatures is truly a testament to our shared humanity. Such compassion knows no boundaries, and it often extends to other forms of life—to our love for one another.

Traveling to Oxford right after getting married was especially meaningful to us. I had met Jack as a result of my previous travels to the same campus ten years earlier studying the same topic. It was our shared concern for animals that brought us together.

Our final destination was Italy. While traveling through Assisi, yet another couple offered their generosity to us out of the blue.

The wife, who happened to be a professional photographer, guessed that we must have been on our honeymoon and approached us with her husband. Through various gestures and exchanges they offered us a complimentary photo shoot in some of the places that St. Francis once walked.

Despite language barriers, our brief visit ended with hugs and well-wishes — and a future invitation to stay with them in Assisi.

Our final and most memorable stop was in Vatican City. Hoping to be able to attend the Wednesday General Audience and see His Holiness, Pope Francis, we got up before sunrise to be among the first in line to get seats in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

Hoping also to get a special newlywed blessing, traditionally offered to couples in attendance, we donned the wedding gear required for entry. After hours of standing we finally rushed through the gates with thousands of others.

Waiting with other newlyweds inside Paul VI Audience Hall

Waiting with other newlyweds inside Paul VI Audience Hall

When Pope Francis entered, the crowd erupted in cheers. He didn’t hesitate to walk in the middle of them to greet as many as possible.  After being a bit dizzied from the frenzy of the morning, it was hard to believe that he did this week after week—never tiring of smiling, embracing, and joyfully welcoming all God’s children.

To our delight, Pope Francis came to personally greet each newlywed couple after the audience. He carried a sense of presence and authentic joy that made us feel loved and appreciated on a level we could have never imagined. No words needed to be spoken.

Pope Francis approaching to greet the newlyweds

Pope Francis approaching to greet the newlyweds

Receiving a blessing from a pope who has expressed such a profound love for the entirety of humanity and all of creation in the spirit of St. Francis was the most perfect culmination of an already awe-inspiring journey behind us and ahead.

Shortly after returning home, I entered into Candidacy for the Secular Franciscan Order. Today, we can only hope to be able to extend the same loving spirit that we experienced during our time abroad from the several other couples to others in our lives.

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Akisha Townsend Eaton, OFS is currently a Candidate for the Secular Franciscan Order. She is an animal protection attorney and lives in Maryland.

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