Spirit of Italy - Assisi, Oct. 8, 2007

October 18, 2007

Spirit of Italy: Assisi – Oct. 8, 2007


Fifty members of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, led by Bishop Beverly Shamana, engaged in Spirit of Italy 2007 – an inaugural event for the Conference as tour members visited 8-13 locales “to be stirred by God’s heart of creativity while building and deepening relationships as the Body of Christ,” in the words of the Bishop. Tour member experienced the art and architecture inspired by the Christian faith of Italy’s world famous artists, including Da Vinci and Michelangelo.


Among those taking part in this “spiritual journey of a lifetime” were Bruce Pettit, a member of the Conference Communications Commission, and Chuck Myer, who served as editor of the Connection. They agreed to file a series of stories about their experiences along the way.


In this entry, Chuck acquaints us with the home of St. Francis.


By Chuck Myer


Assisi is not on top of the mountain for nothing. Tucked into terraces along the western slopes of Mount Subasio for reasons of fortification, it remains a medieval city and is still protected by massive city walls.


St. Francis Basilica sits outside the city proper. It rises heavenward on what was termed the “hill of the damned” or “hill of hell” in the 13th century – the site where public executions took place – but which now is known as the “Hill of Paradise.” It was this place, set a little apart as were the outcasts to whom he ministered, that St. Francis of Assisi chose as his final resting place.


The basilica is a grand affair, one of the artistic highlights of medieval Europe, consisting of two lavishly-frescoed churches and a monastery for the Franciscan Order that St. Francis founded. It stands in counterpoint to the life of St. Francis – a man who traded power and wealth for a life of obedience and poverty – but in testimony to the community’s love for him.


Construction began immediately after the canonization of St. Francis in 1228 – two years after his death. It was designed by Friar Elia, then-vicar of the Franciscan Order, who also supervised its construction. In 1230 the body of St. Francis was moved there from its temporary burial place.


So it is that on the former “hill of hell” the joys of St. Francis’ own life and death are still lifted up to God and Christ. His message was one of living in harmony with God and the natural world. At a time when Italy was torn by sectarian strife, Francis promoted peace. While the Church waged the bloody Crusades, Francis espoused ecumenism and understanding. It is fitting that even today the basilica that honors him serves as a pilgrimage and education center, where the leaders of the world’s foremost religions meet for summits.


Looking down from this spot, Bruce Pettit is today leading the homily for this place. He is contented to say that he is a resident of “San Francisco” and that he wishes he were a resident of “Assisi.” He has even brought his tuner, and he has a couple of hymns he would like to have us sing. “Alleluia, He is coming.”


“I made this trip to provide the meaning that I am a disciple of Saint Francis,” Bruce says. “I want to make a tidal wave up into the hills.”


Giuseppe, the very chatty local guide who took us there, is a true disciple of Saint Francis. Giuseppe wants us to be there, to think these thoughts. But Bruce wanted to take it one step further – to see Saint Francis as still alive, still providing us with a commonality of purpose.


“The Saint Francis still here is the Saint Francis whose death is Christ-like; in fact, it’s the most like Christ. It makes us want to know, ‘What if we merely ask?’ [The answer is,] ‘Knock, and the door shall open; seek, and you shall find.’ The message of Matthew 6.”


Shall the sail still be set from Assisi? Bruce Pettit says, “Yes.”


To read more about St. Francis of Assisi, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi.