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St Francis and Assisi

Prepared for Apostrophe
An Occasional Information Sheet from St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Issue No. 41, Feast Day of St Francis, 1999

October 4 marks the feast day of St Francis, patron saint of Italy, the most beloved and generally revered of the saints of the medieval Church. Perhaps because of his well-documented love for all God's creatures, he is also considered to be the patron saint for animals. Blessings on our church steps or maybe even at the altar rail cannot be far away. One of my favourite frescoes shows an earnest Francis preaching to an attentive and alert congregation of the birds of the air. They were standing in neat rows, not missing a thing.

It was not by simple chance that October 4 was chosen as the date of my induction to St Peter's. That day, that saint, that place is very important to me. Many times over the years that beautiful Umbrian hill town, so deeply associated with one of the great saints of God, has been a place of rest and refreshment for me. The first time I went there was in 1973. I was a graduate student in London. I was simply bowled over by the beauty, by the accumulated faith of the centuries, by the sense of the closeness of God. I gaped in wonder at the marvellous frescoes, telling the story that had to be told. And I explored every nook and cranny of this town that goes back to Roman times. So I sat in the tiny ledge garden at San Damiano's where the Canticle of the Creatures was written and I saw where St Clare had held the monstrance aloft in the face of the invading Saracen army. I climbed the steep road to the hermitage up the side of Monte Subasio and I strode down the hill in the early morning darkness to the first mass at the tomb, at the very lowest part of the Basilica. With other pilgrims, I revelled in the simple faithfulness of the hidden Poor Clares as they joyfully sang their office at Santa Chiara's. I clung halfway up an 800 year old pillar to hear the gospel-fresh words of Mother Teresa. These and a hundred other things I was able to do over the years: some very secular like coffee and gelati in the sun, or falling in love; and many, including those, being part of a developing sense of God's vocation.

A constant in all this was the house of the American Sisters, St Anthony's, on the Via Galeazzo Alessi. It is just below San Rufino's the town cathedral and just above the tower of Santa Chiara, (with a wonderful family restaurant in between serving the best version of tiramisu ever found). Those American and Italian sisters provided a loving home from home and a true place to develop a friendship with God.

The terrible earthquake which hit Assisi two years ago, pales into insignificance compared to the horrors of what we have now seen in Turkey. But a lovely place was sorely damaged and torn apart. Lives were lost. Priceless works of art crumbled into nothing – for all I know including my pert rows of attentive birds. That place that I knew so well and with people there whom I knew and loved could not be the same.

On September 1st last, just a month ago, St Anthony's re-opened its welcoming doors to pilgrims. Sr Rosita, 50 years in vows two years ago now, is still there with a smile and a hug. Bruna still achieves wonders in a rebuilt kitchen that dates from the 12th century. God will be honoured. Il Poverello, the little poor one; San Francesco, will still be bringing those who are open and searching, closer to God.

Fr John Davis


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