Monday, May 28, 2007

Assisi Pilgrimage: La Verna

One of the most powerful places we visited last year during our Franciscan Pilgrimage was La Verna. Again, a sanctuary in the forest on the side of yet another mountain. The view from the top was breathtaking. This is a sanctuary that will be forever associated with the Stigmata. However, it is so much more than that.

In 1213 Francis and Brother Leo were at the castle of San Leone enjoying a feast. For Francis social occasions were always opportunities to share the good news. As he neared the castle there was a contest of minstrels taking place. He used that contest to speak of his love of God. Listening was the Cont of Chiusi, Orlando Catani. The Count was very impressed.

After dinner the Count invited Francis and his friars to visit his mountain in the Tuscany region of Italy, La Verna. After a brief visit the mountain became a center of Franciscan prayer and contemplation.

Francis went to the mountain for yearly retreats and visited at least six times. These were times of profound prayer. Francis’ health continued to deteriorate. He had completed his Rule of the Order. The administration of the order had been established. Then on 12 September 1224 after deep and intense prayer he asked to experience the sacrifice of Christ. On that evening he received the stigmata. Francis left La Verna at the end of the month. For the next two years of his remaining life he attempted to hide the stigmata, only his closets friends knew of it. The stigmata, a powerful sign of his devotion to gospel-living is only one reason to visit this holy site.

The sanctuary is the site of numerous chapels. The art work alone would be worth a visit. The porcelains done by two generations of one family are beautiful. The mother and father made their art in white and blues, their children added yellows and greens. All of this required materials, fuels and furnaces be carried through the valley, the forest and up the mountain!

We had services in the main chapel and then walked in procession with the friars from the chapel through the chapel corridor with its frescoes to the Stigmata Chapel for another ceremony.

I spent time in Bonaventure’s chapel. This is where he wrote The Soul’s Journey into God. I read this in my Pastoral Counseling class. I reached out and touched both walls and connected with each of my classmates.

Next to it was Anthony of Padua’s chapel. Both were named because they served as the cells they stayed at.

We visited the cave Francis stayed at. I put my fingers through the grating and touched the stone he slept on. We visited Sasso Spicco or Projecting Rock, an overhang that served as a site of prayer.

I repeatedly went to The Precipe. This was a site that John Paul II stood at and addressed the crowd below. Each time I visited there I was greeted by Brother Lizard.

My peers climbed to the top of the mountain. I did not. Instead I returned again and again to the caves and chapels. I also spent time leaning against a stone hut eating my lunch. This was the hut of Blessed John who lived there for 30 years.

The Stigmata Chapel was powerful because it was so simple. The site was where something miraculous occurred to one person but which we can all be witness to.

The art, the music, the services and time with the saints and with the mountain made this a particularly memorable day.

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