As I write the person in the room next to me is listening to the singing from the Beatification service which is has been going for an hour and a half now. The town is full of pilgrims who have come for it and particularly young people. We began our day down at the Basilica and you can see behind us the chairs ready for the service this afternoon. As you might imagine the day has been steeped in St. Francis. We have had a wonderful tour of the Basilica by Michael (stepping around the wires etc. that were being put in for later). We began with a visit to St. Francis’ tomb. Then following Michael, his description of Francis’ life and the development of the frescoes and how in one fresco your gaze is taken up to another, so that Francis’ journey is linked to that of Abraham or Jesus was very interesting. So as Francis is rejecting his father’s inheritance and has taken off his clothes (the Bishop rapidly wrapping him in his cloak for decency) Francis is looking to a fresco above of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. At the same time when he is receiving the stigmata he is looking diagonally up into a fresco of the crucifixion. So Francis’ story is linked into our salvation history. Before I was told you could not take pictures, there are a couple from the lower basilica. After a break we went into the Bonavanture Chapel for Mass helped by Fr. Patrick, a Franciscan from Zambia who knew of our bishop, who spent 15 years in Zambia. We prayed for all those we have mentioned already, Eileen and Bernard who we prayed for in St. Peter’s and Bernard Loveland and Malcolm, and today Anne’s sister. We reflected on Francis’ greeting Pace et Bene and his urging on us to follow the call to love. We tied this in with Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti.
At lunch we had one of the best plates of spaghetti carbonara I have ever tasted. A memorable moment! Not more so than the basilica of course. This was earned by a walk from the basilica up to the castle at the top, La Rocca. Great views over the basilica. Then after lunch we had a lovely walk down to San Damiano where Francis had his first vision in front of the famous cross, Jesus coming off to cross to tell him to rebuild his church, and he immediately began to physically rebuild the delapidated church. It was the beginning of his conversion. His understanding of his call from God. Here later St. Clare and her sisters lived and held off saracens and Frederick Barbarossa’s troops with the Blessed Sacrament. It is a lovely walk and a very tranquil spot and a good place to pause and think of what Jesus might want to say to us. Sometimes the need to protect ourselves from Covid and the sun leads to some interesting fashion statements. There is a peaceful statue of Francis looking over the countryside.
After reflecting here, we went down to the local war graves cemetery where my brother-in-law’s uncle is buried having been killed here in 1944 at the age of 19 fighting on The Gothic Line. Again a good place to remember the people buried there but also the call of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti to work for peace. We went on to Rivatorta then, just along the road, where Francis had a dramatic meeting with and embraced a leper and where he and the brothers lived for some time. He never lost his love for lepers and seeing Christ in them and their suffering. There is a famous fresco of a time when Francis was in San Rufino up in the town and the brothers were down in Rivatorta and they had a vision of him in a bright red chariot in the sky. There is a bronze statue of Francis and the leper outside the church.
We have had another wonderful day. Anthony has guided effortlessly, or so it seemed to us, through it all and it is hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day. Francis, once a Middle Ages version of a playboy, dramatically offered his life to the Lord, choosing humility and poverty, or as Carlo Acutis, now blessed, said, “Non io ma Dio.” Not me but God.