On October 3, the young professional pilgrims spent their first full day in Assisi—the city of St. Francis and St. Clare. Early in the morning, the pilgrims gathered in a small chapel for Mass with Fr. Daren Zehnle, who is from the diocese of Springfield, Illinois and studying in Rome.
Fr. Zehnle spoke to the pilgrims about this hallow city that stirs deep into each of our souls. The old stones of the city stand as a sign of witness of the many pilgrims who have journeyed before us. Fr. Zehnle said, we walk not as tourists who look for something, but never enter in, but as pilgrims who seek to enter into the place they visit.
Pilgrims allow the places to touch their hearts. Tourist wander, but pilgrims journey with a destination in mind—we come to walk with St. Francis.
Fr. Zehnle encouraged the pilgrims to ask St. Francis to understand and follow his life—to realize what it means to desire God and nothing else. When Francis forgot himself, everything changed. Francis realized that God alone is enough and all he truly desired. This is conversion.
To help each of us carry this message in our hearts, the Assisi Sisters from the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist presented each pilgrim with the Tau Cross of St. Francis. The Tau is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and it is used in Ezekiel 9:4 as a sign of redemption. This symbol was also what St. Francis used as his signature.
I was so moved to receive this simple cross from the Assisi Sisters. This symbol is so part of the culture of this Franciscan town and now I had a piece of Assisi that I could always take with me. But that was only the beginning of this extraordinary day.
Next, one of the Assisi Sisters gave us a tour of the Basilica of St. Francis. But to call it a tour seems like an injustice. This explanation of all the beautiful frescoes inside the basilica was a real treasure. I will do my best to share with you a few of the gems that the pilgrims experienced in the Basilica of St. Francis. Francis’ love of Christ and love of creation are shown forth in this Church.
This Basilica was built to receive the body of St. Francis in 1228. For those who are unfamiliar with the term frescoes, it is painting on wet plaster. It was considered poor man’s art, but it is also catechesis at its best because many of the people were unable to read.
One of my favorite details was the little mirrors on the ceiling of one of the frescoes. These mirrors represented the stars because when they reflected the torch light, they would sparkle.
When we walked down to the tomb of St. Francis, I was struck by the deep silence and awe. It was so beautiful to experience the hundreds of pilgrims that walked around the tomb of St. Francis and knelt in prayer with their hands touching the tomb. Our faith is real. It is so experiential. The young professionals were living this with all the pilgrims throughout the ages.
We all gathered together around the tomb to pray the blessing of St. Francis in Italian. What a priviledge for us to be in this sacred place on the feast of Transitus. It was a powerful realization of the fruitfulness of the life of the poor and simple man Francis.