Christine Frendo, OFSGB National Youth Minister and Minister of our Gibraltar Divine Mercy fraternity, has kindly sent us this report on the recent Pilgrimage to Assisi.
Secular Franciscan Order, Gibraltar & UK Pilgrimage to Assisi
29th October-6th November 2016
We left Gibraltar in the very early hours of the morning on Saturday 29th November
and flew from Seville to Rome, where we joined the UK, OFS members and travelled
to Greccio in the beautiful valley of Rieti, to the sanctuary where St. Francis set up
the first live crib. About 800 years ago people began to come in procession, carrying
their torches and candles to contemplate the first reenactment of the nativity scene.
The idea of re-creating a manger scene soon spread throughout Catholic Europe.
Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis stood before the manger, overwhelmed with
love and filled with a wonderful happiness.
The following morning when we were getting ready for Mass we heard a rumbling and
suddenly realised it was an earthquake!! In fact we were only about 7 to 8 kilometres
from the epicentre!! Thank God we were all safe and there was no damage where we
were staying but we prayed very especially for those who had been affected in any
way. Later we found out that it had been a strong earthquake!!
On arrival in Assisi we found that they had also felt the earthquake there. and we
could not visit the Portiuncula as they were checking out whether there were any
damages. – The Portiuncola is situated now inside the Basilica of Saint Mary of the
Angels around 5 km from Assisi. It was restored by Saint Francis and it was here
that he founded the Order of the Friars Minor 1209, “establishing here his home,
because of his reverence for the angels, and of his great love of the Mother of
Christ”. (St. Bonaventure) This was the centre of the Franciscan Order where he
brought together all the Friars for the Chapter every year to renew their dedication
to the Gospel Life. The Chapter of Mats in 1221 was attended by more than 5000 friars.
When Francis knew he was dying, he requested to be brought to the Portiuncula
to end his earthly life. Because of the earthquake our itinerary was changed, and we
could not visit Foligno but we did walk around Assisi and the Lord blessed us with
On 1st November, after breakfast, we had morning prayer and the Eucharist in the
Carceri a Hermitage, on the slope of Monte Subasio just outside the walls of Assisi
where St. Francis, at times, lived alone in a cave, prayed fervently and did penance.
The word Carceri is from the Latin carceres and means “isolated places”.
Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life
he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray and contemplate. As you gaze at
the surrounding scenery, the breathtaking views of Mount Subasio one cannot but be
led to contemplate the beauty of creation and the goodness of the Creator. That afternoon
we finally got to visit the Portiuncula!
The next day we visited the Mount of La Verna. I am always impressed by the
peaceful quiet of the beauty of this Sanctuary. I think it’s a very special place that
was donated to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando Chiusi of La Verna. A hermitage
was founded there becoming one of the favourite places for Francis and his brothers
to retire for prayer and contemplation. Francis’ last stay at La Verna was in 1224,
two years before his death, when he was already tired and ill. During this time, while
in intense prayer, he had a vision and received the stigmata.
When we arrived it was really cold and foggy but we had a beautiful Mass. In the
homily Fr. Jesmond, the friar who led the Pilgrimage, commented that as there was
fog all around us it might be a good opportunity for each of us to look inside ourselves,
and examine ourselves. We had lunch and then joined the friars for afternoon
prayer (None) and the procession to the Chapel of the Cappella della Pietà, where
Francis got his stigmata. The procession has taken place every day at 3 pm ever since
1431.. A very touching experience in a beautiful Sanctuary.
The following day we visited San Damiano, which is where it all began. Praying before
the crucifix of San Damiano St Francis heard the words “Go Rebuild my Church which
as you see is falling into ruin!” It is also where St. Clare died in 1253, it was an important
stop in our pilgrimage where an Irish Friar spoke to us about Francis and
Clare and explained that the Original Cross is in the Basilica of St. Clare because
when the Poor Clares moved from San Damiano they took the Crucifix with them.
The next day we visited the Basilica of St. Francis. We had Mass in the Chapel of
Peace and then a guided visit. Fr. Dan Quackenbush gave us an inspiring insight into
the life, journey and spirituality of Francis. He gave us all the details of the beautiful
Frescoes in the Basilica and touched on different aspects of St. Francis’ spirituality
and his immense love for Jesus. “Love is not loved!” Francis used to say. We
spent some time praying in front of Francis’ tomb.
That night we went to see the musical “Chiara di Dio”. It is a beautiful production.
and care has been taken to represent an authentic representation of the lives of
Francis and Clare. We all thoroughly enjoyed
On Saturday, our last day in Assisi we visited La Chiesa Nouva, where St. Francis’
house is thought to have been and then the Basilica of St. Clare where the original
San Damiano Cross is. We spent some time there in silent prayer, praying for healing
and direction for our lives.
It’s been a fantastic Pilgrimage and I think the last evening when we sung “bind us
together” it was really heartfelt. We reunited with brothers and sisters we have
known for a long time and made new friends in Christ. It has been a beautiful, and
inspiring time. Pace e Bene.