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Following in the footsteps of Saint Francis


Thursday 06 June 2013

Fr Michael flew to Spain to give a retreat, and Elizabeth took us to the base for a tour and brief shopping, then over to the airport side of the base to Fr Michael’s office and visited his RP (enlisted clerk). Though the buildings (offices mainly) are new and well constructed, it was disappointing to learn how so little provision is made for the single sailors (no homey comforts, kitchens to cook in, nothing much more than a Taco Bell). After another coffee, Elizabeth drove us round the corner to the airport, and put us on a bus going to the rail terminal.

This was a new experience for us, for the bus was crowded with local travellers, either coming or going with their cases. We paid for our pass, but didn’t understand that we also needed to validate the pass on a little machine in the aisle. The driver and other passengers clearly communicated to us our public transport sins. We drove in directions only the locals would know, and eventually stopped at the huge piazza opposite the train station. I recognised the McDonald’s sign on the far side (where Fr Michael had picked us up), so knew where we were.

We made it to Rome on the high speed train just fine, but had to transfer to another train to Assisi. I had our tickets, but couldn’t understand where the platform was. It was Platform 1 Oest, not the regular Platform 1; finally we found it but the train was out of service. Finally we kept on walking down the platform another 300 meters, only to see our train departing! We missed the train!

Some other travellers who had also missed the train thought there would be another one in an hour, so we waited. Then it occurred to me that our tickets might not work. I went to the central ticket office and waited for 45 minutes; then realised that the easiest thing to do would be to purchase fresh tickets, which I did. I scurried back to where Kevin was patiently waiting (and chatting with an American college student), and we boarded the train; changing trains along the way.

I felt a camaraderie with people going to Assisi. Like Walsingham, Assisi isn’t on the way to anywhere; one has to be going there on purpose. And, like Walsingham, all are pilgrims of some sort or another. It was invigorating to be in the company of people who were on the ‘Assisi Way’.

At Assisi, we took a taxi to the convent. It was an imposing sight to behold: the town of Assisi way up on the hilltop, and the huge and imposing Basilica di San Francesco on the left. It was nearly 7PM when we rang the door to the convent, and were shown to our rooms and the customs of the house. I was stunned to see that my room had a view of the entire valley, and the churches nearby. There was a large Church on the right and I wondered which one that would be. At a pizzeria pouring over the maps, we realised we were two blocks away from S. Francis, and that my room had a view of the Basilica!

What a gracious welcome to Assisi!

Friday 07 June 2013

I had arranged for a private tour for Kevin and me, and Alex was our guide. We met him at S. Clare’s Church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_di_Santa_Chiara) and instantly hit it off. He not only knew Assisi, but was himself a man of faith, and wove into all of his instruction the theology and spirituality of S. Francis, showing us in picture and design his teaching.

Starting in S. Clare’s Church, we saw the original San Damiano Cross that S. Francis beheld as he heard God talking to him: “Francis, rebuild my Church which, as you can see, is falling into ruin.” Francis began buying up bricks and mortar to repair the walls. Of course, Francis would later understand that God was not talking about the bricks and mortar of a building, but that God desired a rebuilding of the heart and soul of the Church. As Alex explained, even Francis didn’t understand at first; and that gives hope to those of us to whom God speaks, but we don’t initially understand. This gives me hope.

Eventually, of course, we reached the Basilica itself, which is huge and breathtaking. The artwork on the walls, primarily by Giotto, told the story of salvation and of Francis’ life in beautiful pictures. This was one of Europe’s earliest Gothic Churches, and in the art, one can see the stirrings of the Renaissance; where the figures have human emotions in the faces, and the background is increasingly three dimensional.

I lit yet another candle for my parish, family and friends: that the spirit of utter dependence on God (poverty of spirit) would enter all our hearts.

After we said farewell to Alex, who had gone beyond the tour timeframe by about two hours, Kevin and I went back to go through the upper and lower basilicas again. We also found the gift shop, where we made significant contributions to the local economy. The treasure of this trip is a hand painted Cross of San Damiano, which I have shipped home. I’ll look forward to sharing it with you when I get back.

Here are some websites:

Trudging up the hill to the Convent with our treasures, we got showered (it’s warm here now) and then went to a pizzeria Alex had recommended. We shared a pizza, then Kevin (who was still hungry) had something he had been wanting ever since his arrival in Italy: spaghetti with meat sauce! No meatballs here; that’s from Kansas.

We headed home to the convent, stopping for a gelato on the way. S. Francis’ was lit up for a concert, and we could hear the music coming into my room as we chatted at end of day. You’ll like the pictures whenever I get to a place with wifi, and a moment to post them.

Saturday 08 June 2013

It was recommended that we go to the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels; after which the City of Los Angeles is named. It was down in the valley, and part of the modern town of Assisi. We did so, but were disappointed to find it locked up tighter than a drum. There was to be a huge outdoor Mass at 6PM, and they had all the chairs lined up. Still, here is some information on the Basilica: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Santa_Maria_degli_Angeli

We had lunch at McDonald’s (free WiFi); perhaps my second time since in Europe. The place was crawling with chatty teens talking at the top of their lungs and, even with free WiFi, this soon chased us out into the sun again. We double checked on our train tickets to ensure they were valid and the train time, then caught the local bus back up to the hilltop.

This was our opportunity to revisit at a more leisurely pace the churches we had been through with Alex (whom we encountered several times during the day). It was good to spend time in holy places that were becoming familiar to us. At the ‘new’ Duomo (cathedral), we stumbled upon a gallery of beautiful portraits of Blessed Pope John Paul II; obviously painted both skill and devotion. Especially touching was a scene of the Pope venerating the Holy Cross, and being held for him by then Cardinal Ratzinger.

We went back to the convent, got showered, then went down the hill to the Basilica for the 6PM Mass, which was thoughtfully and reverently done in the lower level. Then it was to our last supper in Assisi: Ristorante Leon D’Oro, on the Piazza where Francis renounced all earthly possessions, and was taken under the protection of the Bishop.

This was a restaurant that was in a 13th century home that, when the 1997 earthquake hit, revealed the ruins underneath of an old Roman house built in about 70BC. Upon reconstruction, the floor was replaced with glass, so you can see the ruins under your feet whilst dining. We shared a risotto made from Umbrian ingredients, and my main course was quail stuffed with onion, with local sautéed mushrooms. Then it was home to the convent to pack.

Sunday 09 June 2013

We made it to the train with plenty of time to spare, and had a cappuccino whilst waiting. There were no glitches this time.

Arriving at the Roma Termini, we located the train to the airport and climbed aboard with everyone else and their suitcases. I had arranged for us to stay the last night at the Hilton; the only hotel actually on the premises of the airport.

So, we were able to walk to the hotel. Once there, we got comped to the Executive Level. All this really meant was that we had free wifi, but also access to their Club Room. This had drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, and Kevin and I made this our (free) evening meal.

Posted by stbrides 07:38 Archived in Italy

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