Italy is our classroom
With an elevation of 1,300 feet, incredible vistas are everywhere in Assisi. Look to one side and the valley, with its farms, olive groves and endless horizon, can be seen. Look the other way and a beautiful town, with friendly people and narrow, centuries-old streets, is enjoyed by visitors.
Waking up in the peaceful town of St. Francis and St. Clare is priceless.
On Day 7 in Italy, the Pittsburgh pilgrims headed to the Basilica of St. Francis, which is perched on the side of Mount Subasio.
The basilica was built with an upper church, for large, formal liturgies, and a lower church, for smaller, more intimate celebrations.
The upper church features frescoes by Italian artist Giotto, some of which were damaged in devastating earthquakes in 1997.
The lower church has chapels of various sizes and an area for the sacrament of penance.
But the main attraction for most visitors is a level below the lower church – the tomb of St. Francis. During operating hours, throngs of people descend the stairs to see, touch and pray before the saint’s tomb. There is a webcam that can be viewed 24 hours a day (http://www.sanfrancescopatronoditalia.it/webcam_tomb_saint_francis.php), offering solace to anyone needing a spiritual boost.
The pilgrims walked through the middle of Assisi to find the Basilica of St. Clare, who when she heard Francis preach about the life of poverty and humility, desired to imitate him. She ran away from home and gave herself to God. She was joined later by her sister, St. Agnes.
Clare died on Aug. 11, 1253, and the pilgrims viewed her crypt in the basilica.
After lunch and some free time, the pilgrims traveled a short distance to the Church of San Damiano (St. Damian), which is where Francis heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him: “Francis, repair my church.” St. Damian’s is also where St. Clare died.
The crucifix that spoke to St. Francis is now housed at the Basilica of St. Clare, and the pilgrims were able to view it. One pilgrim called it a “mystical experience” to be in Assisi, learning about such wonderful events that occurred some 800 years ago and have inspired so many people to follow Christ.
The Pittsburghers then returned to the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis (the altar is directly above the tomb) for Sunday Mass. Bishop Zubik delivered the homily, and the group filled the church with the sound of “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” the Prayer of St. Francis, during the Communion meditation.
The bishop called up Lisa and John Kolonich Jr., who are celebrating their 25thwedding anniversary, for a special blessing at the liturgy’s end.
Some followers of this blog may wonder why certain places and events are not shown in photos. The reason is that photographs – still and video – are prohibited in some holy places. That was the case in the Assisi churches.
Tomorrow (Monday) is another moving day, with the pilgrims heading to Siena and Florence.
The youngest Pittsburgh pilgrim is Emma Rose Cassidy, who is traveling with her parents, J. Keith and Nancy Cassidy of St. Joseph Parish in O’Hara Township.
They said the pilgrimage has been a true learning experience for Emma, an eighth-grader at a school in Fox Chapel . Italy has been her classroom.
Emma plans to be confirmed soon, taking Cecilia as her confirmation name, since she is musically inclined and Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians.
Emma is gaining understanding of a wide group of people from around the world, the importance of being punctual and how vital faith is to her and others, to name just a few things. Those are valuable lessons for all of us.