Sadly our last day and my last blog from Italy as we are getting up at 5.30 am tomorrow and I doubt I will feel like doing much other than getting on the coach. The weather is getting colder, the wind is up and I needed a blanket on the bed last night. We are in the hills after all. I have my window open now and the wind is whistling through. But not the rain we expected, only a couple of drops this morning. So this morning we set off again for the Sisters of the Atonement and their chapel, which is so welcoming as is Sr. Sue. The gospel is the one with the man who comes in without a wedding garment and is challenged and thrown out. Having seen Francis’s garment yesterday with multiple patches I think he would have been out too. After Mass we walked down to Santa Chiara where the original cross of San Damiano hangs, the sisters having brought it up with them when they settled there. There is something very moving about the cross. This was the cross from/ through which Jesus spoke to Francis and asked him to rebuild his church. When you are Kneeling before it you can imagine that happening the way Jesus looks at you from the cross. On each stage of our pilgrimage we have experienced moments when these great saints, Peter, Paul, Francis, Clare encountered Jesus and the stories that go with their conversion experiences. Nothing we read from them, letters, prayers, accounts of their lives, can be read without understanding how dramatic these encounters were for each of them. At the same time we have been able to pause and reflect on our own encounters, often less dramatic but no less important. Being at these places where they have walked and died helps to focus on what it is to be a Christian, a Catholic, and to get their support on our own journeys. After Visiting the tomb of St. Clare, with many others as there are still a lot of people around and social distancing is varied, we went for a traditional second breakfast. Traditional for me that is. I was doing quite well but had a problem ordering a decaffeinated coffee with soya milk for one of the group. The waitress obviously felt challenged by my Italian, for which I do not blame her. However we resolved it and the drink arrived as ordered, along with others and cornetti too. Then some shopping and a climb up to the castle at the top before lunch.
In the pictures above you can see the change in weather, much greyer, a view of the fort from Santa Chiara (St. Clare’s) and the front of St. Clare’s.
After lunch (great profiteroles), we went down to Santa Maria degli angeli, where Francis began the order. Originally small huts now what is left is covered with a large church, dedicated to Our Lady to whom Francis had a great devotion. It is called Portiuncula, which has a number of possible meanings. Within the church there is a small, very decorated house (which you will see in the pictures below) and a chapel, the Transitus, where Francis died. Anthony, our guide, (who had battled valiently all the previous evening on a dodgy internet with new UK Gov. papers we need to download to return) gave us a good introduction as ever, and then we walked round. After the chapel we had time to pray before the main altar before they began Mass and then we headed back to our taxis. The local coat of arms has two arms at the top with the stigmata. One arm is bare, that of Jesus after the cross, the other clothed, that of Francis. The decoration in the little house is dedicated to Mary and very beautiful. This is where Francis met the challenge of beginning the order. It is a different challenge to his earlier ones but no less difficult. It helped him to be certain that the rigorous call to poverty and humility was the right one. Without prayer and the support of Our Lady he knew it was not possible, but he had a clear faith that the answers would be given. Perhaps not exactly in the spirit of poverty, but definitely in that of pilgrimage and fellowship, we finish with a pizza supper tonight. Many thanks to our guide, Anthony Coles, and to all the hotel staff and others who have helped us over this week.
I want to finish with a prayer from Pope Francis’s new encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti’ (the title is a quote from St. Francis).
“Grant that we Christians may live the gospel, discovering Christ in every human being, recognising him crucified in the sufferings of the abandoned and forgotten of our world, and risen in each brother and sister who makes a new start.” A good pray to take back into our home lives after a pilgrimage.