Friday, May 25, 2007

Assisi Pilgrimage: The Birth of a Movement

The Little Church: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

One year ago we spent the day going to sites that gave birth to the Franciscan Movement. First we went to The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli or Saint Mary of the Angels. This is an enormous church in the valley. The courtyard can hold much of the city population. The dome is uncharacteristically blue. On top of the dome is a huge statue of the Virgin Mother. This is the seventh largest Christian church in the world. The grounds it sits on and the little treasure inside is what makes it so very special.

This is the site of the Porziuncola or “the small parcel”. This is the land given to the early Franciscans by the Benedictines. The Franciscans grew quickly and need more space. The Porziuncola was one of the churches Francis rebuilt. It is tiny and oh so special. The courtyard was the site of huts the friars stayed in.

Only a few feet from this incredibly important chapel, the Porziunical is the Cappella del Transito. This is the site where Francis died.

While the Porziuncola is important to all Franciscan as a site of the birth of the Movement, Seculars view it as the essential site for the birth of their Order.

The enormous and ornate Basilica is built over these tiny, simple structures. Outside the doors of the Basilica is where Pope John Paul II held three World Peace Services. During the first service on Oct. 27, 1986 more than 120 representatives of different religions and Christian denominations spent a day together with fasting and praying.

In the afternoon we went to San Damiano. This is where Francis prayed before the cross and heard the voice of Christ tell him to “rebuild my church”. Being a little concrete Francis began by rebuilding churches, starting with this one! Under this edifice is where he hides from his father who was angry at Francis decision to care for and become one with the poor. This became the convent for St. Clare and her sisters. From these walls St. Clare changed the history of the church. This is the site of the birth of the Order of St. Clare’s. Francis wrote his first draft of The Canticle of the Creatures here.

St. Clare was a healer and we have a healing ceremony at the site of her death. Afterwards we walk up the side of the mountain and stop to eat at a wonderful restaurant, “Paradise”, and it is. The fountains are Roman fountains and I make sure I drink out of them. This was a wonderful pilgrimage that I cannot forget and today I think of my peers who are there this very day. I know they are happy!

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