Following the mass in St. Francis Square yesterday, Pope Francis had lunch in the Caritas Soup Kitchen with a group of homeless persons and refugees living in the Caritas Centre, which aims to provide basic assistance to those who have nowhere else to go. He also spent a few moments of private prayer in the tiny, undecorated chapel adjacent to the dining room.
After lunch at the Caritas soup kitchen, the Pope visited the Hermitage of the Carceri (Prisons) at Mount Subasio, five kilometres from Assisi and at an altitude of eight hundred metres, surrounded by forests. There he visited the grotto where St. Francis had retreated in order to devote himself to contemplation, and the small chapel dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Lord, where Francis and his peers gathered to pray together.
The visit lasted around half an hour; the Holy Father was welcomed by the Franciscan religious community and prayed in St. Francis' grotto. From there, he transferred by car to the cathedral of St. Rufino to meet with the clergy, consecrated persons and members of the pastoral council of the diocese.
In this cathedral is the font where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized, and the Pope mentioned this, emphasizing the importance of the memory of baptism, “our birth as children of the Mother Church”. In his address, the pontiff spoke about the most important aspects in the life of the diocesan community and referred to the Synod that its members are about to commence.
The first issue he considered was the Word of God. “The Church is this”, said the Pope: “the community that listens, with faith and love, to the Lord who speaks. … It is the Word of God that engenders faith, that nourishes and regenerates it. The Word touches hearts, converts them to God and to His reasoning, which is so different from ours”. But “it is not enough to read the Sacred Scriptures, it is necessary to listen to Jesus Who speaks through them. We need to be antennae that receive, that tune in to the Word of God. It is the Spirit of God that brings the Scriptures alive, that allows them to be understood in depth, in their true and full sense”.
The second aspect is that of “walking. It is one of the words I like best when I think of the Christian and the Church. But for you it has a particular meaning – you are about to embark on a diocesan synod, and 'synod' means to walk together. I think this is truly our most beautiful experience: to be part of a community of people who walk together, throughout history, alongside the Lord, who walks among us. We are not isolated, we do not walk alone, but rather we are part of Christ's single flock, which walks united. And here, when I think of you priests – and allow me to include myself among you – I ask, what is more beautiful for us than being able to walk with our people? … united, without breaking away, without nostalgia for the past. And while we walk, we speak, we get to know each other, we grow together as a family”.
Finally, the third aspect is to go out into the peripheries and proclaim. “This is an element I experienced a lot when I was in Buenos Aires: the importance of reaching out towards others, in the peripheries”, in a geographical sense, and “above all, people in special life situations … marginalized and disregarded human lives. These are people who we perhaps find physically close to the 'centre' but spiritually distant”.
“Do not be afraid of going out towards these people, to these situations. Do not allow yourselves to be obstructed by prejudices, habits, mental or pastoral rigidity, the famous 'it's always been done this way'! But you can reach the peripheries only if you carry the Word of God in your heart and walk with the Church, like St. Francis. Otherwise we only take ourselves with us, not the Word of God, and this is not good, it is not useful to anyone. We do not save the world ourselves; it is the Lord Who does this”.
VISIT WITH THE POOR CLARES CLOISTERED COMMUNITY
Shortly after 4:15 p.m. the Pope reached the Basilica of St. Clare, where the cloistered nuns of the order founded by St. Clare, friend of St. Francis, reside. The pontiff descended into the crypt to venerate the body of the saint and then, in the chapel of the choir, prayed before the cross of St. Damian, which according to tradition spoke to St. Francis, telling him to repair His house. In this chapel the Pope, accompanied by the Council of Cardinals, met with the cloistered nuns and spoke with them without a prepared text, beginning, “I thought that this meeting would be like the ones we have held twice at Castel Gandolfo, alone with the nuns but, I have to confess, I don't have the courage to send the cardinals away. Let us all remain together”.
“When a cloistered nun consecrates her life to the Lord, a transformation occurs that we do not usually understand. Normally we assume that this nun becomes isolated, along with the Absolute, alone with God; it is an ascetic, penitent life. But this is not the path of a Catholic or indeed Christian cloistered nun. The path always passes via Jesus Christ. Jesus is the centre of your life, of your penance, of your community life, of your prayer, and also of the universality of prayer. And therefore, what happens is contrary to what we imagine of an ascetic cloistered nun. When she follows the path of contemplation of Jesus Christ, the path of prayer and penance with Jesus Christ, she becomes greatly human. Cloistered nuns are called upon to have great humanity, a humanity like that of the Mother Church; to be human, to understand all aspects of life, to be able to understand human problems, to know how to forgive and to pray to the Lord for others”.
“Today during Mass, speaking of the Cross, I said that Francis had contemplated it with open eyes, with open wounds, with flowing blood. And this is your contemplation: reality. The contemplation of Christ's wounds! This is why it is so good when people attend the visiting room of a monastery, asking for prayers and talking about their problems. Perhaps the nun does not say anything extraordinary, but her word is inspired by her contemplation of Jesus Christ, because the nun, like the Church, is on a path to becoming an expert in humanity. And this is your path: not too spiritual! When [nuns] are too spiritual, I think of the foundress of the monasteries of your 'rivals', St. Theresa, for example, who when one of her nuns came to her to speak about, oh, about these things, said to the cook, “give her a steak!”.
The humanity of Jesus Christ! Because the Word became flesh, God became flesh for us, and this gives you a great, human, beautiful and mature holiness, the holiness of a mother. And this is what the Church wants you to be: mothers. … To give life. When you p
ray, for example, for priests, for seminarians, you have a maternal role towards them; … you help them to become good shepherds for the People of God. But don't forget about St. Theresa's steak! It is important”.
“The second thing I wanted to say to you, briefly, relates to community life. Forgive and support each other, because community life is not easy. … Make sure that the monastery is not a purgatory, but rather a family. Look for solutions with love; do not harm anyone among you to solve a problem. … Cherish community life, because when the community is like a family, the Holy Spirit is among the community. … I beg for you the joy that is born of true contemplation and of a beautiful community life. Thank you for your welcome and pray for me, please; don't forget”.
THE MINI WORLD YOUTH DAY WITH YOUNG PEOPLE OF UMBRIA
At 5.30 p.m., after crossing the square in front of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and greeting the young people who awaited him, the Holy Father entered the Basilica accompanied by the guardian of the convent, Fr. Fabrizio Migliasso, O.F.M., and Cardinal Attilio Nicora. He entered the Porziuncola to pray in silence for minute. At 6.15 p.m. the Pope met with young Umbrians in the square in front of the Basilica. It was this scene reminiscent of World Youth Days that Pope Francis chose Pope Francis to end his ended his pastoral visit to Assisi. An enthusiastic crowd of over 20,000 young people from Umbria was assembled in the square. The atmosphere was electric as the square was filled with flag-waving and cheering crowds. Pope Francis seemed to pick up on the excitement of the crowd, waving to the people and, as usual, stopping to greet people along the way. Archbishop Renato Boccardo, former head of the World Youth Day for the Pontifical Council for the Laity and now Archbishop of Spoleto-Norcia (in Umbria) greeted the Holy Father with this stirring address:
Together with the Bishops of Umbria, I am pleased to introduce you to the young people of our Churches. They have gathered here this morning from every corner of our beautiful region to meet you, the Pope, to listen to you, to renew before Him their generous commitment to Christian life. They are the recipients of our affection, our faith and our hope. They come from the parishes, from associations, movements and ecclesial groups; they bring the joy and enthusiasm of their youth, their questions and their fears and so tonight not only would they like to talk about these things but they would like to share them with the Pope, who they already feel is their father and friend.
They are roughly the age that Francis was when he had a dream in which he perceived the question which would change his life: «Who do you want to follow: the servant or the master?» and often, like Francis with his immediacy and generosity, they would like to answer: «The master!» (cf 2C 6: FF 586-587). But just as often, this ungrateful, selfish society wants to steal their hopes and dreams, pointing to other destinations and other types of success which are easily obtainable. At the bottom of their hearts, however, they are not afraid of what is difficult and arduous; rather they are afraid of what is mediocre, and they don’t want to resign themselves to living only “half a life”, they don’t want to watch this life “from the balcony”. They want a “full” life, they want to be “immersed in life like Jesus was”.
Meeting young people a few months ago in Rio, you, Holy Father, told them that only Jesus knows how to give answers to questions about faith and life. And you added: «Trust Jesus Christ, listen to him, follow in his footsteps. He never abandons us, not even in our darkest moments. He is our hope.» (to the young Italians at the end of a visit to Saint Francis Hospital, Rio de Janeiro, 24 July 2013).
Tonight we are here to look once more, with you, at the Lord Jesus, the good master of our lives. By his word, Holy Father, lead us towards Him and his blessing which You teach us is a pledge of the divine blessing.
The Pope then responded to four questions from eight young people from Umbria on the topics of the family, work, vocation and mission.
Regarding family and marriage, Francis recalled that “our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents married in conditions of far greater poverty than our own … but they found strength in the certainty that the Lord was with them, that the family was blessed by God through the Sacrament of matrimony, and that their mission of bringing children to the world and educating them was also blessed. With this certainty they overcame even the most difficult trials. They were simple certainties, but true, and they formed the pillars that supported their love. Their life was not easy; there were problems, many problems. But these simple certainties helped them to move ahead and to form a family, to give life, to raise their children”. Francis emphasized that this moral and spiritual foundation is necessary to build a solid family, a foundation that is no longer guaranteed by families and social tradition or contemporary 'provisional' culture.
In response to the other questions, the Pope used the word Gospel as a message of salvation that “refers not only to religion, but also to mankind, all of mankind: the world, society, human civilisation”. “This message of salvation has two destinations, which are united”, he said. “The first is to engender faith, and this is evangelization; the second is to transform the world according to God's design, and this is the Christian inspiration for society”.
Francis concluded by encouraging the young to move ahead with courage, “with the Gospel in your hearts and in your hands”, and urged them to “be witnesses to faith with your life: bring Christ into your homes, proclaim Him to your friends, welcome Him and serve Him with the poor. Young people, give Umbria a message of life, peace and hope! You can do it!”
Pope Francis transferred by car to the shrine of Rivotorto where he was received at 7 p.m. by the local Franciscan community. He then visited St. Francis' “Tugurio” (hovel), and after farewell greetings with the authorities who had received him in the morning, he departed from the Rivotorto sports field by helicopter at 7.30 p.m., arriving shortly after in the Vatican.
It was a fitting end to a busy day in Assisi, marked by encounters with the sick and disabled, the poor, women and men religious – especially with members of the Franciscan family – with priests and seminarians, pilgrims from around the world and ordina
ry men and women. Pope Francis’ historic, highly choreographed visit to Assisi yesterday was filled with evocative symbols and gestures that sent out powerful messages to the whole world. He used the day in Assisi to offer practical advice to the crowds that gathered to hear him, but also the entire world that peered into this visit: To feuding newlyweds, he said, “Let the flying dishes fly, but don’t go to bed angry!” During his talk to consecrated persons and members of the Assisi Diocesan Pastoral Council, he called on the clergy to resist giving “interminable and boring homilies where no one understands anything.” And he fondly reminisced about the bygone days when parish priests knew the names of all their parishioners, “and even the name of the dog in each family.”
Along the way, it was obvious that Pope Francis gained fresh strength and energy with each new meeting. From his first stop at the Seraphicum Institute, to his final visit to the Rivotorto, which preserves the memory of the little huts where St Francis stayed with his first followers, the day was filled with prayer and song, and marked with the joy and the peace that characterize both the saint and the Bishop of Rome who bears the name of Assisi's favorite son. At each step of his journey, the Pope also made time for quiet moments of prayer and reflection, following in the footsteps of the “Little Poor Man” of Assisi.
Pope Francis is certainly not the first pope to visit this tiny, hilltop, Umbrian town, which attracts millions tourists and pilgrims each year. More than a dozen popes have come over the centuries. Blessed John Paul II alone visited six times. But expectations had been extremely high for the pilgrimage of the Argentinian Pope who first startled the Church and the world when he announced upon his election on March 13 of this year that he would take the name of this most beloved saint who is known for his poverty, simplicity, joy and connection with all people.
Centuries ago, it was from the wooden cross in the little chapel of San Damiano that Francesco Bernardone received his marching orders to "Go and repair my house," "Go, rebuild my Church." The chapel had been falling into ruin. "Repair" and "rebuild" referred to the fact that the little chapel had a foundation that had already been in place for a while. It was not about starting from scratch as much as it implied to build on what was already there, fortify and strengthen it, and clean it up so that it will last into the future and be an inviting place for all who seek refuge, solace and peace.
Yesterday, Francisco of Buenos Aires travelled to Assisi, accompanied by his little group of advisors and counsellors, to be confirmed in their mission to repair and rebuild the Lord's house, weather-beaten and leaking here and there, yet still built on a solid foundation.