Where to begin?
When we were in Rome in 2011, we had hoped to visit Assisi but it never panned out. This year we were determined to go and set aside today to make our pilgrimage. As I mentioned yesterday, Father Andrew Nelson had the idea of renting a car for the day as it would be cheaper than the train. Plus, we would get to see amazing views of the countryside as we drove north. We got the car no problem but the GPS they gave us sent us all over the world and literally in a circle around Rome in rush hour traffic. We ended up using Mr. Henning's iPhone to get us back on track and once we were out of the city the GPS got us there fine. The views along the highway were amazing and much better than taking the train.
Ever since the election of Pope Francis, I have had a renewed interest in St. Francis and hoped to someday get to Assisi. Assisi is up high on a hill about 2 hours north of Rome and Father Andrew pointed it out to us as we got closer. I must confess I was a little overwhelmed that we were here. The town is very clean and orderly and they have a parking garage you can park in (for a fee of course). There are escalators that mercifully take you up to the town and the first major thing that greets you is the Basilica of St. Clare named after St. Clare of Assisi, one of Francis' first followers and the founder of the Poor Clares religious order. The basilica is next to an amazing overlook of down below and has a nice plaza in front of it. They were closed for lunch when we got there so we walked around at the many, many shops and had a light lunch. We went into the basilica at 2pm and right away went into see the original San Damiano Cross. I had no idea it was here, I though it was in the basilica dedicated to St. Francis. The San Damiano cross is the one that spoke to St. Francis and told him to "Rebuild my Church." Francis took it to literally rebuild a church whose structure had fallen into disrepair (see below) but he later took it to mean to help reform the Church which had become corrupt. I prayed for a great while in front of this cross as I had great love for it. We use the cross at our school-wide Masses and it has a place in our chapel. We also give out mini San Damiano crosses to the freshmen as the first sign of the faith that we give them over their four years at Trinity. We then went downstairs where St. Clare is buried and there are the original cloaks and other items of Saints Francis and Clare, including the rustic brown cloak that is the inspiration for the brown habit the Franciscans wear today. Keep in mind that Francis and Clare have been dead for over 800 years and they still have their cloaks and other items. I think it shows that people knew how holy they were from the moment they died and they sought to preserve their personal items. You weren't allowed to take pictures in the basilica so I don't have any of those to share but you can find them easily on-line.
But wait, there's more.
We then walked around the city which is like a medieval town. The roads are winding, the homes and shops and still, I think, the originals, there are nooks and crannies everywhere, and Churches that are 800 or so years old. It is so clean, peaceful, quiet (probably because it's February!) and beautiful. We all felt at so much peace walking around, stopping into stores, admiring the views, etc. We eventually made our way to the Basilica of St. Francis which was built shortly after he died in 1226. The church is huge with a wonderful plaza below where Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have held prayer services for peace. The interior of the church is showing its age with the paintings and images fading and chipped away. I had no idea that Francis was buried here until I saw the sign for it in the crypt of the basilica. We went down to his burial site which is in a little chapel and once again, I was overwhelmed. I belong to St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dracut, MA so I was sure to pray for my parish and fellow parishioners as well as my family.
Each year in May, I present the juniors with Tau crosses (a cross that looks like a T and became one of the symbols of the Franciscan order because of Francis' devotion to it) and I noticed many shops sold them in Assisi. So I bought the full amount for the juniors and had Father Andrew bless them at St. Francis' burial site. How cool is that?
The one thing we didn't get to see is the Portiuncula, the chapel St. Francis rebuilt after hearing the call from Christ that I mentioned above and that became a sort of headquarters for the order. It is housed in the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, a few miles from the main area of Assisi. You may recall that there is a replica of it in Hanover, MA and I brought students down there last summer to prepare spiritually for their summer trip to St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia. I was really hoping to see it but we left Assisi late and by the time we got down the hill to the church where it is held, it was closed.
I did take some pictures but I can't get them off my phone until I get home. I will post some when I return tomorrow.
Today was magical day, so inspiriting and spiritually renewing. I cannot wait to back again sometime, especially to see the Portiuncula. I have something new to look forward to I suppose.
Alas, this was my last day in Italy. It was a quick trip but I am looking forward very much to going home to see my wife and children. Mr. and Mrs. Henning are staying a couple of more days as are the priests from Manchester. I wish I could stay longer but I am ready to go home. I hope you enjoyed some of my thoughts and reflections from the trip, I really enjoyed coming back to the motherhouse each night and recapping our days for you.
You can see pictures from the week at Trinity High School's Facebook page. You don't need to have a Facebook account to view them, just click here.
Off to pack and off to bed. See you in America!