by guest author Nayaswami Nischala

Francis receiving the stigmata from Christ at his mountaintop hermitage in La Verna, Italy.

On my first pilgrimage to Italy, Nakula and I were not yet married. We were traveling with Swami Kriyananda and other Ananda pilgrims. 

Many of us on that pilgrimage were directing our attention to Swamiji.  We watched his every movement, looked at his eyes, and were fortunate to feel the bliss of his smile and consciousness.  It was a happy time.

Years later, after Nakula and I had married, we wanted to return to Italy with our son, Rama, who was 5 years-old. 

It was 1996, and Swami Kriyananda was now living in Assisi after many legal battles for the right to share Yogananda’s teachings. 

For me, it was as if Swamiji was living in exile.  The legal trials that he and Ananda withstood during the nineties in California were harsh and stultifying.  On many occasions, I felt a deep attunement to what Christ must have had to endure, to end up on a cross, tortured and rejected.

When I first walked into the Ananda Assisi Temple of Light during that 1996 visit, I kneeled down on my chair, and instantly felt tears rushing forth.  I was thinking of Swamiji and all that he had endured to try so earnestly to bring forth more light onto this planet.  I must have spent a long time just letting the tears of grief wash over me. 

Suddenly, I realized that Swamiji had entered the temple and was beginning to talk to the congregation in Italian.  As he talked (and I did not understand Italian), I gradually began to feel a lessening of my grief. 

I was listening to his voice, and in so doing, I was surprised to feel how much joy and laughter he had.  I began to understand what he was saying on a much deeper level.  In those first moments in his presence, I felt a deep healing had occurred.

As we were the first family from Ananda Village to visit Swamiji “in exile”, he naturally made all three of us feel very welcome and loved.  At that time, there were no children living at the Ananda Assisi Community.

That pilgrimage to Italy was different in many respects.

Visiting the various holy sites of Saint Francis, I felt a new closeness to this humble saint, who had so much love for Christ.

In La Verna, we visited the chapel that marked the spot where Saint Francis had received the stigmata of Christ on September 14, 1224, 800 years ago.

Paramhansa Yogananda referred to Saint Francis as his patron saint because of Francis’ love for Christ.  Similarly was Swami Kriyananda’s love for his guru, Yogananda.  So deep was Swami’s love for Yogananda that he established a center in Assisi, Italy to honor the humble saint that his Master extolled.

Easter this year is March 31st, the time when Jesus Christ was resurrected.

This September 9-24, 2024, guests can take a pilgrimage with Nakula and myself to visit the land of Saint Francis, while also paying homage to Yogananda and his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.

There’s still space available, and we look forward to serving you: Pilgrimage to Italy

Nayaswami Nischala and Nakula are directors for the Ananda College of Living Wisdom.

For 18 years they lived at the Ananda Meditation Retreat, where they started the college and also ran the retreat.  Nakula is an original member of Ananda since 1970, and also was the project manager for Swami Kriyananda’s Moksha Mandir, and the Ananda Village Temple of Light.

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