Assisi was, for me in many ways, about recognizing the guardian angels among us. They got us through the train strike and into Assisi----and then the first night we were there we stopped at a restaurant that a friend had recommended. It wasn't open yet (don't even think about dinner in Italy until at least 7!)--so we went to a different restaurant that had also been recommended. They opened sooner, so we decided to wait. Close to opening time, a guy joined us by the door and started talking with us, telling us that it was a great restaurant, and that he was in Assisi working on sabbatical, etc----so we invited him to join us for dinner and ended up with a wonderful new friend and tour guide. Fr Dave is from North Dakota, and has been living in Assisi for a few months, so he is very knowledgable about the area. The next day, he took us to visit Santa Maria degli Angeli, built over the site of the Porzinciula (the first church that Francis restored) and also the Transito chapel, the site of Francis' death. He met up with us again later for dinner -- the restaurant was near the Basilica and we sat on the terrace with a 180 degree view of the Umbrian valley. We sat for nearly 4 hours and talked and talked and talked into the night. What a gift he was---another guardian angel!
Tourists are everywhere during the middle of the day. The tour guides mostly speak in English--that is becoming the common language for a lot of the world. We were blocked from leaving the little church built over the original home and birthplace of St. Francis by a group from India, and we got to hear part of the "tour" as we waited. The tour guide was talking about when Pope Francis visited Assisi last Fall---and then she excitedly told the group, "And then the Holy Father had lunch with 57 REAL poor people!" You can not make this stuff up----we had to stifle ourselves until they left, because all three of us were thinking the same thing: REAL poor people? As opposed to what? FAKE poor people? You had to be there.....
Assisi has a stillness and spirit that I have never experienced anywhere else. Once the tourists leave for the day, it takes on a different feel-- the quiet and the spirituality seems to permeate everything---even the cheesy gift shops with St. Francis bobble-heads for sale. As we were walking by the shops, I was reflecting on how most people who have a St. Francis statue in their back yard (I have one!) forget that Francis, while he loved all of Creation, also had a radical commitment to the poor. He is one very challenging saint----and we should not dismiss him so easily, by only seeing his love love of Creation. Francis walked the talk in ways that most of us would never consider----because it's challenging and scary.
It also occurs to me that visiting Assisi can be somewhat akin to going up to the Mountain of Transfiguration and wanting to stay there. But that story, and this one, are all about the reality that what goes up must come down.....
1. Assisi bells
2, 3. Porzinciula--exterior and interior
4. Transito chapel
5. Font where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized in San Ruffino
6. Medieval confessional in San Stefano
7. Room where St. Francis' father kept him imprisoned
8. Dinner (Fr Dave, Terri, me)
9. The view!
(be sure to click on the photos to get the full experience!)