22 September 2016
This morning we went to the fourth sanctuary in this Rieti Valley, that of La Foresta, a place where Francis often came. In fact he came so much that the people used to come out of Rieti to see him and one autumn, they ate all the grapes from the vineyard of the parish priest. He was upset because that was his wine supply for the year. But Francis promised him that he would have as much wine as usual and maybe more if he did not grumble or give out to the people but shared what he had with them. The priest did this and Francis’ promise came true.
La Foresta is run by the group of young men called Mondo X, a movement started by one of the friars, now 85 but still very much with his hand on the tiller. His belief was that the Franciscan Rule offered immense potential for healing and gradually over the years it has become a way of life for young people in trouble, whether with drugs, alcohol, sex or whatever, They live a very simple life, growing all their own food as far as possible, and the ‘programme’ is basically that sharing and fraternity are healing. They have a lot of sharing, and a lot of work and also pray together. When a young person comes, they commit themselves for three years and after that they can either leave to a more ordinary life or if they wish stay as long as they want. The basic philosophy is that as they create beauty outside in their environment, they also create beauty within themselves and that beauty is healing. To the visitor, the place is certainly beautiful and well cared for. As always, we asked if one of them would come and explain their lives to the pilgrims, which they did. It is a good example of Franciscan principles in action today. They also said that the whole place was badly shaken during the earthquake and that they all slept out in the garden for ten days until the quakes stopped and the place was considered safe to return to.
So after Mass in the pre-Francis chapel of San Fabiano, and the talk from the young man, the pilgrims had a quick historical visit and then some time on their own. We returned to the Villa Cabrini for an early lunch and just after 2 we were on the road to Assisi. By half past four we were unloading all the cases from the coach onto the pavement. Marcello who runs the taxi firm and his son Massimo were waiting and put everything into taxis as you can’t take a coach into the city of Assisi, the streets are too narrow. As it was we had to turn back at one point and come into Assisi from a different angle than usual as the bus was five centimetres too high to go under an arch. So we turned back and went another way which was much nicer since we went along the valley towards the Porziuncola with some beautiful views of Assisi up on its hill.
Once the baggage was loaded Murray and I started walking the pilgrims through the town, encouraging the inveterate photo takers and shoppers that they have 15 days to come back! Finally we got all of them to Casa Papa Giovanni and the rooms allocated and luggage off to the right room. Fortunately there seem among our 13 a number of strong ones who are very happy to carry cases and help the less strong. So in no time all was sorted. They then had space until 5 when we all met and they all were given maps and told various bits and pieces of info which I suspect most forget and then have to rediscover from themselves. Hopefully they will remember things like that the house is locked at 10.30!! After that Murray took them on an introductory tour of the city and I joined later, and took them on to S Chiara to pay our respects to the Lady. I was very touched that Sr Fidelis, the extern sister who was on duty in the church, remembered me and greeted me very warmly. I promised to arrange for the two Poor Clares in the group to visit the Protomonastery.
Sr Fidelis has reason to remember me because annually she gives us the coins which pilgrims and tourists have put in their candle box, as the banks won’t accept the foreign coins. So we exchange them for paper money euros and then talk the pilgrim into carrying the coins home. Fortunately there is a nice FMDM on the pilgrimage so she will help me with the sterling, as last year my case weighed a ton with a big bag of coppers and 10p bits!
Soon after that we had supper, pretty noisy as there is a group of USA college students. At one of the Catholic schools in USA they do a senior programme in Franciscan studies at the end of which they bring the students to Assisi for a week or so. They are a very impressive bunch of young people and all the teachers in our own group are impressed by how well behaved they seem to be. But the dining room was full and the noise level high!
So that brings that day to an end, more anon! Tomorrow we go the the reputed birthplace of Francis and in the afternoon climb up to the Rocca and have a peace service. Love to one and all and please keep praying. I am remembering everyone everywhere, often in a large sort of way like that but God has you all sorted out OK as do Francis and Clare for sure.
Lots of love ft