Sunday, January 24, 2010

Killing in the Name of a Loving God

I last wrote about the increase in clashes between Christian and Muslim Nigerians. This is hardly news. However, one of the concerns is that people are assuming that it is mainly Muslims killing Christians. That is not the news coming out of Nigeria. The U.N. may be called to investigate a religious massacre of Muslims.

That this comes as a surprise speaks volumes about how many on each side see and hear what they want to see and hear. Last year I spoke with a priest from Nigeria. He was talking about the riots in his country after a Danish paper published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. First he was surprised that what happened in a paper in Denmark would have any impact on his nation, but it did. Next he told me of the Christian reaction to the Muslim riots. It was his belief that Christians caused far more damaged and harmed more people than the Muslims. It was also his opinion that neither side reflected the values of their respective faiths.

Nigerian's claim religious massacre

Many Christians are willing to believe it is only Muslims harming Christians in Nigeria. This is partially a reaction to the establishment of Sharia Law in Muslims states in that nation. Many Muslims in Nigeria would tell us that Sharia was a response to a government that was not able or willing to provide safety and fight crime. In fact many would describe their government as corrupt. It is a problem when Muslim religious law is applied to non-Muslims. At this time this is not the case in Nigeria. However, it does highlight differences in an already tense situation.

Killing at Will - Unlawful police killings in Nigeria

Now I do not want to sound like I am saying only Christians kill. That clearly is not the case. Last century is known to many as The Century of Martyrs. Estimates are that 65% of all of the martyrs of the last 2000 years occurred in the last 100 years.

Exhibit Remembers Thousands Of 20th Century Christian Martyrs

I have written about attacks on Christians in Egypt, India, Iraq, and Sudan. I have addressed persecution of Christians in Viet Nam, China, and the Middle East. I become angry and sad when I think that ancient cultures in Iraq and Syria face the very real possibility of no longer existing. These are the Churches that speak the language Jesus spoke. These are Churches established by the Apostles. I worry that the Orthodox Church may one day soon wither in Turkey. I pause and pray for the Copts, one of the most ancient Churches in the world.

Egyptian Christians killed in Christmas Church Attack in Nagaa Hamadi - alJazeera int.

I also remind myself that many Muslims believe it took the West so long to respond to war in the Balkans because it was Muslims that were in peril. I am aware that for many Muslims the view of the West is a collection of nations that attack and kill Muslims, year after year. President Obama has been adamant that America is not at war with Islam. However, that must be hard for many to believe when the news story this week is of a rifle scope company in Michigan engraving coded New Testament verses on to scopes for rifles sent to Afghanistan and Iraq. While many Muslims must see this as evidence of a new Crusade they might be surprised to find out many Christians are insulted that verses from the Prince of Peace would be used on an instrument of war.

'Jesus Rifles' - Christian Crusade In The 21st Century?

There are too many of us, Christians and Muslims, on this planet to simply ignore one another. Too many mothers have held their dead children in their arms trying to understand war in the name of a loving God. Too many husbands have seen their wives and daughters abused and raped by followers of “the Other”. Too many houses of worship have been attacked and destroyed to defend a God who is more than capable of defending Himself. This is a small planet and the followers of a loving God have a clear task to follow on this small piece of earth. We are to love one another. The archbishop of Jos Nigeria called for work projects that require Muslim and Christian youth to work side by side. He is a wise man. We must begin to get to know one another. We must begin to know people with real names, real faces, real families and real feelings. Maybe then it will become harder for us to treat each as less than Children of God, maybe then our sisterhood and brotherhood as Children of the Creator will become real.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Religious Clashes in Nigeria

It seems lately that any big international story that is not about Haiti is about another conflict between followers of Islam and followers of Christianity. In each case it initially appears easy to objectively assign blame but a deeper look reveals how subjective and multi-casual these conflicts are. Sadly, there seems to be enough blame for everyone involved. The latest conflicts making the news involves the citizens of Jos Nigeria.

Rioting broke out after a conflict between some teens. Initial reports were of 65 Christians and 200 were Muslims killed. The total number of deaths now exceeds 300. Further, the International Red Cross estimates that 18,000 people have fled the area.

Nigerian troops secure ravaged town

The easy thing is to blame on side or the other, to make this simply a case of religious intolerance. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, states it is not that simple at all. In fact, he worries that the media is simplifying the causes of the conflict and in the process making a bad situation worse. The bishop sees the current conflict as the result of political and economic stressors. Jos is located in an area of Nigeria that straddles the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian south. Besides being in the middle of two competing religious groups the city has a history of ethnic unrest. This is all complicated by the fact the President of Nigeria has been in Saudi Arabia receiving medical care since November. The President is Muslim. The Vice President is Christian. The Vice President has been reluctant to perform as the acting-president. The military was not initially called in. This power vacuum probably added to an already volatile situation.

At this time the situation has calmed down. The military has restored the peace in the city. However, churches and religious buildings had already been attacked and some burned. Christian youth counter attacked. The conflict may be over for now but people in the area have memories and it appears not everyone trusts the government to seek justice.

Nigeria Calling – Trailer

Nigeria is one of the most important nations in Africa. This is a nation of 126 million people. It is a diverse nation with over 250 different ethnic groups. 50% of the population is Muslim, 40% are Christian and the remaining 10% follow traditional African religious beliefs. This is a nation whose natural resources are important to the rest of the world. It is everyone’s interest to find a way to live side by side. However, changes in the past decade make that a little more difficult.

Sharia, Islamic law was re-instituted in northern Nigeria after the defeat of the Nigerian military government. This appears to be partially a reaction to corruption and high crime rates. While this may have brought stability to the Muslim citizens of the north it has also increased tension with the Christians. Further, many in the West associate Sharia with radicalized Islam. Sharia is practiced in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia.

However, the conflicts in Nigeria are a Nigerian problem. They need to find out how they can accept their differences peacefully. One way advocated by the archbishop is to create public service projects that benefit all and that require that Christian and Muslim youth learn to work together, side by side. The archbishop is a wise man. He is correct, the situation is not black or white. Sharia is a response not to Chrsitianity but to a government that did not govern and an attempt to address corruption. Now the question is, can people deal with behaviors and not simply blame one another or resort to religious name-calling. Let us pray for calm and clear heads on all sides of this issue. Let us pay for Jos and Nigeria.

Agatha Moses - Nigerian Praise 1

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Islam, Christianity and Tolerance in Malaysia

I find myself watching events unfold in Malaysia with a heavy heart. Malaysia is a multiethnic nation of 28 million citizens. 60% of the citizens are Muslim. 19% are Buddhist and 9% are Christian. Additionally, 6% of the population is Hindu. The remainder of the population identifies with a variety of Chinese faiths and/or indigenous religions. It is far easier to get along when you are all the same, however, like the United States and many other nations, Malaysia is a diverse nation.

For a long time Malaysia was successful at creating an environment in which citizens tolerated their differences. However, that is not the case at the moment. At the moment the nation is making headlines around the world because Muslims are attacking the minority Christian houses of worship. Local critics blame politics but it appears to be more complicated and less one-sided than that. The Catholic Church in Malaysia has used the name Allah in writing about God. It was illegal for non-Muslims to use the name Allah. The Catholic newspaper took this law to the Malaysian Supreme Court and the court ruled that they could use the name. This ruling has angered some Muslims who feel their faith is threatened or at least insulted.

Christian use of word "Allah" stirs controversy in Malaysia - PressTV 100105

Now the name Allah is the Arabic name for God. So my gut reaction is to wonder what the big deal is, it just seems to be a translation problem. Christians in the Middle East have used the name Allah to describe God for centuries. However, few things concerning religion are without complications. In this case, to describe Jesus as the Son of God, as part of the Triune God the Catholics have used the term Allah Jesus. The concept of the Trinity is illogical to Muslims. It is a pillar of faith that there is one God, Allah and Mohammed is His prophet. The title Allah-Jesus is not just poor theology to the Muslims, it is blaspheme. Now this is not to say Muslims do not hold Jesus in great esteem because they do. He is a prophet; his birth was foretold to Mary by angels. Mary is revered. However, they are all humans, creatures and so Allah Jesus is taking the Islamic/Arabic name for God and spoiling it.

Jesus of Islam

At this time 14 churches have been attacked, many fire bombed. Some Muslims are angry, feel protective of their faith and feel they are being disrespected. Catholics are bewildered and other Christians who are not using the name Allah for God are feeling vulnerable. Other minorities have expressed anxiety. To be sure the majority of Muslims are not attacking Christians. However, many on all sides of this problem have expressed fears that the situation could quickly escalate. Already one Sikh Temple was attacked because they also use the term Allah for God.

One fear is that the nation will see a flight of foreign investment. Foreigners looking to invest in this region have a number of options. Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia and Brunei all compete for the same limited investments. For over 50 years Malaysia was viewed as a tranquil, moderate Islamic nation in which investments would be safe. That is no longer seen as a sure thing.

Now I want to be clear, I do not believe that religious conflict or rivalry is unique to Malaysia. Christians in Ireland demonstrated this for centuries. Europe is now predominantly secular in reaction to centuries of wars based on religion. Many Muslims in the United States talk about their fears for their own safety in America when events in other parts of the world heat up. Luckily there are models of how to address these tensions.

First it is important to speak out against these attacks. In fact the government has done just that. Next it is important for dialogue to take place. Representatives of the differing faith communities must find a way of sitting down with one another and dispassionately and respectfully discussing the issues and search for a solution. In fact Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the Apostolic Delegate to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei has just called for dialogue.

Early in his Papacy Benedict XVI was reminded of the power of words. His Regensburg speech which quoted an early Byzantine Emperor describing Islam as violent and irrational resulted in riots in many parts of the Islamic World. Muslims scholars then wrote to the Pope in 2006 asking for dialogue. This was repeated in October 2007. However, this time there were 138 signatories including clerics, scholars, religious leaders and political leaders. They wrote a pivotal document A Common Word Between Us and You. The pope then responded in part by restoring the interfaith dialogue function into an independent department in the Vatican. Both sides were aware of the need for greater contact and dialogue. In November of 2007 the King of Saudi Arabia invited the pope to participate in an interfaith dialogue in Spain. In July 2008 Pope Benedict XVI sent a Vatican delegate to the Madrid conference on interfaith dialogue. Now that is how conflict and tension should be addressed.

While tensions are real the pope has been an active advocate for respectful dialogue. He has visited and prayed at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. He has been to the Holy Land. He advocates for respectful interaction with Muslims while proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ

The United States Conference of Catholics Bishops has participated in Muslim-Catholic dialogue. The result is that the participates have stated, “We, Catholics and Muslims, believe that God is the source of peace and justice, and thus we fundamentally agree on the nature of peace and justice and the essential need of all to work for peace and justice.” That is a good place to proceed from.

I understand the sensitivity Muslims are feeling. I also know that few peoples are more protective of the name of God than Jews. They have many titles for the Creator but the revealed name of God is never spoken. So when Christians attempt to speak that name as Yahweh or Jehovah it could be seen as a grievous insult. Jews do not even spell God as “God”. Out of respect it is written “G-d.”, yet I know of no Christian who worries that Jews will attack them for this perceived insult. However, outside of the Middle East I don’t know any Christians who view Allah as their name for God. It may be true that Allah is an ancient name for God that precedes Islam. However, it is not part of most Christian’s history.

I am not without hope. Malaysia has faced a number of crises in its modern history and survived. Singapore seceded from the nation. There have been territorial arguments with China and the Philippines. Yet Malaysia has found a way to move forward. I believe this is true today. Malaysians have worked at being a multi-ethnic, diverse nation. I believe they are all aware of the common historical and religious threads between the two faiths. I believe they are aware of what is at stake in the world market. They are aware of the cost of Christian-Muslim conflicts in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia-East Timor and Bali. They are aware of that escalation of this conflict could tear apart their sense of peoplehood. Let us pray that Muslim and Christian Malaysians begin to again view one another as brothers and sisters, as fellow Peoples of the Book.

Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Student Franciscan Pilgrims: All Good Things Must Come to an End

Well, the pilgrimage is over. Thursday the students will get up early, get on a bus, and ride to Rome. From there they will all go their various ways back to homes and then to school. Next week it is back to the normal world, classes, homework, part-time jobs. However, it will never be totally the same. Something will be different.

That difference is that they were introduced to Francis and Clare. Not the Francis and Clare of books or legends but the real folks who grew up in and around Assisi. The difference is that they were touched by a spirituality of place.

They walked along cobblestone roads, through walled gates, up and down mountains. They started of in Rome, heart of an Empire and home of martyrs. The next time they read the Book of Acts or a letter by Paul they will remember Rome.

They worshiped in a home chapel, in the Vatican, la Verna, the catacombs. They read, attended lectures and they reflected.

They made new friends. They were exposed to different perspectives, and different styles of worship.

Best of all, they learned to be what they already were. They learned to be pilgrims, intentional pilgrims. Now when they travel they can choose to be on vacation, to be tourists or to go on pilgrimage. They will know how to prepare, how to focus, how to pause and listen. They will know how to be a pilgrim.

So, they will be home in a number of hours. I look forward to hearing their stories, to seeing their pictures, to getting a glimpse of the transformations that are beginning to occur. Welcome home pilgrims

Prayer of St. Francis, sung by Angelina, EWTN

Student Franciscan Pilgrims: Day Eleven

Well, this is the students last full day in Italy. They will get up early and get on a bus. They will leave Umbria for the day and travel north to Tuscany. Their destination is La Verna. This is the mountain hermitage that Francis actually owned. It was a gift to him that he kept for his friars. Francis visited the mountain at least six times.

This is a land of trees, cliffs, caves and churches. They will see magnificent porcelains, they will see relics and they will spend time with friars.

The pilgrims will climb down to the caves the early friars used as shelters will praying. They will climb to the top of Mount La Verna. In between, on the side of the mountain they will see stautes for prayer and old stone huts that served as the home to saints.

Santuario della Verna Italy

The pilgrims will spend time at the cave in which Francis slept. They will go to St. Bonaventure’s chapel. It is here that he wrote The Souls Journey into God. The alter is unique with a seraphic crucifix. They will be where many other early Franciscans stayed.

However, the highlight of the trip is the stigmata Chapel. It is here that Francis became the first saint to receive the stigmata. The pilgrims will leave the church, wall down the hallway, in procession with the friars and participate in a prayer service at this holy site.

La Verna

The pilgrims will look down the cliff to the valley far, far below. It is from this point that Pope John Paul II blessed the crowd below. Everywhere they will feel the lives of the saints touch them.
Finally the students will head back to Assisi. They will have their final prayer service together. Some will visit the streets of Assisi for one last time. Some will stay up late talking to new friends. All will be excited to be home but sad to leave such a special place.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Student Franciscan Pilgrims: Day Ten

Well, the pilgrims are almost done with their journey. At least this part of the journey. They will continue the journey internally for a long, long time. This is a time when the pieces of the mosaic that is Assisi come together. The pilgrims will go to the Basilica of St. Francis. This is a two tier church on the side of the mountain. It originally included papal apartments. It is a place of grandeur. The frescoes are vibrant. Pilgrims are everywhere.

Virtual Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

As they walk to the lower church they will past the tomb of Lady Jacobi, a close friend, a secular, a supporter of all things Franciscan. When they get near the tomb of Francis they will enter an area with gates. Inside the gated area people approach the tomb with candles. This is a place of quiet, of prayer. Francis lived a life of poverty. He would not feel comfortable in this building. Yet, it seems fitting that he is so honored, that the city and the Church make sure this simple follower of Christ is not forgotten.

Basilica of St Francis of Assisi

The pieces of the mosaic come together. San Damiano is where it all started, where Francis heard the call from the cross. It is where Clare lived and Francis and popes visited. It is where Francis body was carried for Clare to say her goodbyes.

The Porzuincla is where Francis lived. It was his home and it is where he died. It was the last chapter of the Canticle of Creatures.

Finally, Basilica is where Francis body rests and where pilgrims come to honor him. At the other end of Assisi lies Clare. These two are the anchors of this holy city. Tomorrow the pilgrims will visit La Verna and then have their final evening in Assisi. Today they celebrate their final Eucharist in the cradle of Francis and Clare. Today the pilgrims do their dance. It is a dance of celebrating one another and the pilgrimage and a dance of quiet, reflection and goodbyes.

Student Franciscan Pilgrims: Day Eight and Nine

The students/pilgrims continue to get a real feel for how Francis lived. Francis danced between living a public life of servanthood and a quiet life of contemplation. This time alone, accompanied usually by two other friars, was a time for him to renew his mission, his energy. He did this by removing himself from the world and spending time with God.

Many of the most moving destinations of a Franciscan pilgrimage are to hermitages, places of solitude. One of these places is right outside of Assisi, just start walking up.

When I was in Assisi my friends and I ascended to the Carceri. It took us two hours to get to the top. Our student pilgrims will take a cab, it is after all winter. However, once up to the hermitage they will discover a different world. This is a world marked by grottoes, indentations in the earth, small caves. This is where the friars stayed while spending time with God.

Una visita all'Eremo delle Carceri in Assisi

The following day the students will walk down into the valley. They will visit the Santa Maria dgli Angeli. This enormous church was not known to Francis. However, inside this enormous structure is a tiny church, the Porziuncola. This was one of Francis’ favorite churches and one he rebuilt. This is the site of the gathering of friars. This was where Francis and his friars lived.

Santa Maria degli Angeli

The pilgrims will have quiet, reflective moments here. They will also be reminded that Assisi is an active earthquake zone. The last big earthquake required the evacuation of the city. Most of the inhabitants gathers on the plaza of this church. An aftershock made the statue of Mary on top of the dome wobble. Cranes immediately lowered her to the ground. By the time she touched the ground she was met by candles and flowers.
This site has meaning for us at USF. When we dedicated the opening of the John Paul II Center we had an interfaith prayer service. This was in memory of the three interfaith peace prayer services that Pope John Paul II hosted at this very site.

Assisi - La Porziuncola

Our pilgrims will continue to participate in their pilgrimage, not ours. So they will go to places we have not. That includes visiting where Francis worked with the lepers. They will participate in Vespers. They will pray with the Poor Clare Sisters. They will have a difficult time saying good bye to this holy cit.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Student Franciscan Pilgrims: Day Seven

Today was a happy day, I spoke with my daughter. She called from Assisi to tell me how much she loves the city. Like that is news, it would have been news if she didn’t love this holy city!

Today was the day the pilgrims came face-to-face with Clare. For so long she was the over-looked Franciscan and yet she is a key founder of the Franciscan family. Clare wrote far more than Francis. She lived longer. She stood up to popes, influenced nobility and changed the lives of many while living a cloistered life.

The pilgrims visited San Damiano. That was by far one of my favorite places. You walked out of the city and down into the valley. This was the site of Francis conversion while praying before the San Damiano cross. Replicas of the cross are in every room on our campus. I love it’s stylistic, iconic story-telling.

This is where Clare lived. It is where she healed others. It is where she stopped the Saracens from invading Assisi. When we visited San Damiano we participated in a healing ceremony at the site where Clare died. I hope our pilgrims also had such an experience.

The pilgrims spent time in the Basilica of Santa Chiara. This is the home of the remains of Clare. It also houses other relics, the Order, habits and above all, the San Damiano Cross. I would visit this church every morning before breakfast. It is a quiet, impressive center of spirituality.

The church has minimal frescoes compared to some of the churches in Assisi. Frescoes were very colorful wall paintings, “poor man’s art.” However, the churches of Assisi also served as hospitals during times of plague. When they served as hospitals the walls were washed with lye and water which dissolved the paintings. The paintings were also damaged by earthquakes and Assisi is an active earthquake zone. The result is that the basilica is wonderful but the walls are plain.

The church is also the home of the Tavola of Clare. This is a painting on a door size piece of wood. Clare is in the middle and around the picture of Clare are smaller paintings that tell of important events in her life. I was first introduced to the Tavola by Sister Felicity and Dr. Kumfer. I use the tavola technique when teaching Psychology of Personality.

Finally the students would visit S. Maria Maggiore. This was the home of the bishop and the cathedral church of Francis day. This is where the renunciation took place. Francis took of all his clothes and handed then to his father and then depended on his heavenly Father for the remainder of his life.

The pilgrims would have had a rich day. They would have celebrated Eucharist at San Damiano. They would have prayed before the San Damiano cross and they would have participated in a Renunciation ceremony. Catholics rarely talk about conversion, they speak of conversions. It is not a one time event but rather a decision always being made. The pilgrims will have had many, many opportunities to say “yes.” I cannot wait to hear their stories. In the meantime, I spoke to my daughter today, from Assisi and I am happy.

EP.#26 The Saints of Assisi (3 of 4)

Formation, Transformation and Mission

As I think about our students making their pilgrimage in Italy I find myself also thinking about “formation” in general. Formation is important to the culture and ethos of USF. Faculty, staff, administrators and students all take part in the AFCU Franciscan Pilgrimages. Our growing number of pilgrims on campus is beginning to change the culture on campus. This January we will be initiating the Angelus Prayer at the foot of the clock tower. This is in part due to the impact of our pilgrims saying the Angelus with the Holy Father at St. Peter’s Square.

Sister Anita Holzmer, Director of the Center for Franciscan Spirit and Life is at the center of many of the formation activities. She prepares student pilgrims for their journey using both group and individual meetings. The preparation includes prayer, readings, video and reflection. Sister Anita also works with faculty and staff throughout the year. This includes informal and formal reading programs. Our School secretary, Kathleen Lotter, completed the Living Stones program through the Center prior to her pilgrimage to Assisi.

Sister Mary Govert, Director of Missions and Values is also active in formation. She prepares the selection process for staff and faculty pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome. Values and Missions helps select the recipients of the Values in Action Awards. Sister Mary provides guidance for the Director of Campus Ministry, Jan Patterson.

Jan is a busy lady. She does all of the things you would think a Director of Campus Ministry would do. That means lots of administrative stuff but also planning the liturgy and working with the dioceses. However, Jan is directly involved in formation. She selects and trains the Peer Ministers. This includes training in boundaries, crisis identification, diversity training and loss and grief. The Peer Ministers plan two retreats a each academic year. These are open to all students.

Fr. Stan Fortuna - Everybody Got 2 Suffer

In the past two years Jan has dramatically increased the impact of Campus Ministry. This included concerts attended by students from other colleges and from local high schools. Two years ago Jan brought in Father Stan Fortuna, this past fall Jan and two students were able to organize a Matt Maher concert. Both were well attended and the response was enthusiastic.

Matt Maher at USF Talking About Music, Faith and Francis

For Jan formation does not simply meaning learning. Internal growth should be reflected by external growth. So Jan kept us all busy helping others. That included sending students to Workfest in Eastern Kentucky the past two years. Workfest is a program of Christian Appalachian Project, an ecumenical Christian organization that works with universities to build homes in Appalachia. Our students will return again this year. After attending Workfest 2009 one of our graduating seniors then signed on for a full year internship with CAP.

Workfest 2009: USF Singers

Jan has also added an urban ministry alternative spring break trip. We will be sending students to Chicago to volunteer at Emmaus Ministries. This is a ministry for homeless males. Emmaus is also ecumenical and has the potential of providing internships for students.

Lennette Reynolds, Assistant Director of the Ministry Center

Jan tapped into the resources of the entire campus this past fall. Working with Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity, Jan, along with various school clubs and departments, built a home. Yep, starting from scratch (or foundation) they built a home for a Burmese family.

Campus Ministry is hardly the only group involved in formation and transformation. Dr. John Banquette of the Department of Philosophy and Theology is the academic advisor for the Dead Theologians Society. This group consists of college and high school students from around the region. Dr. Banquette’s group met in the room next to one of my classes this past term. I can tell you, they are a lively bunch who likes to study the early Church Doctors and also make sure they have fun doing it.

The school, along with the diocese has also encouraged students to participate in Theology on Tap. This is a group that takes theology out of the class room and into people’s lives. Again, laughing and having a good time is a requirement.

The school has been very involved in the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities. That includes sponsoring faculty and staff who want to attend the symposium every other year. For the past three years we have had faculty and staff enrolled in the AFCU On-line Franciscan Studies Program.

For the past three years we have also sent a faculty member to the Collegium on Catholic Intellectual Life. This is an association of Catholic Universities that focuses on maintaining a Catholic identity on Catholic Universities or as an individual Catholic in a non-Catholic school.

Each spring the school also sponsors a pilgrimage to the mother house in Mishawaka. This is always well attended and helps faculty, staff, students and the community feel connected to our roots and mission.

Finally, the school opens up its facilities to two fraternities of the Secular Franciscan Order and provides spiritual guidance for the fraternities.

So, while I think about our student pilgrims in Assisi I know they sere sent forth well prepared. I know they will have a big impact when they return. I know that USF is not just a place where you learn facts. It is a place of conversions, a place of both internal and external growth. It is a place where Catholics, Protestants, other believers and non-believers can grow in respect for one another. It is both a nurturing environment and an effective launching platform. I cannot wait to hear from our newest pilgrims!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Student Franciscan Pilgrimage: Day Six

Today the students/pilgrims begin the part of the pilgrimage they have most anticipated, they come face-to-face with the places where the saints grew up, transformed and in the process transformed a Church. Today they begin to explore the homes, churches and streets of Assisi. I remember visiting the New Church or Chiesa Nuvoa. This was where I first felt connected to my family back in Indian. We visited Francis childhood home. We walked the cobbled streets of Assisi, Below us the valley stretched out, above us was the walls of the city and the birds, there were so many birds.

The pilgrims will learn to see the parents of Francis as real, breathing people and not just the stereotype of an indulgent mother and a cold father. They will see where Francis was held prisoner in his own home by a very frustrated father.. They will visit San Rufino, one of my favorite sites in the city. It was here that Francis and Clare were baptized. It is only minutes from Casa Papa Giovanni. The church is full of artifacts, early Roman art and is dedicated to the patron saint of the city.

The pilgrims will participate in a historical tour of the city. They will learn about it’s early Etruscan beginnings, its Roman and then Imperial Roman beginnings. This was a pagan city. It had a temple and a circus. There is a forum that can be explored that is under the piazza. They will learn about medieval life and about the medieval caste system, or, ‘everything rolls down hill.”

By the end of the day they will be able to navigate the streets by themselves. This is no little feat. There are no flat areas to the city and few straight streets. Still Clare is at one end and Francis the other. Up takes you to Rocco Maggoire and down to San Domiano or the Porziuncola.

They will go to the Cathedral of Francis day, the site of the Renunciation. The site is old, Roman excavations in the basement reveal the home of a Roman poet. Outside the street covers old Roman streets.

The pilgrims will also quickly fall in love with Casa Papa Giovanni. The chapel was an old stable. There is a library, the rooms are simple but the views wonderful. There are three roof top gardens. This will be their home for the remainder of the pilgrimage. They will pray here, eat here and rest here. When they finally leave they will know they have left a very special place.

ASSISI: A Tribute to St. Francis and St. Clare