Sunday, June 17, 2007

At Shrine of Peace, Pope Meets Poverello

The Pope is in Assisi today, where he celebrated Mass in the piazza alongside the Pontifical Basilica of St Francis.

Among the Italians -- and many outside of Italy -- the papal visit to the city of the Poverello who sought to become a "channel of [Christ's] peace" and, in the process, irrevocably changed Catholicism (and became one of its most popular saints, to boot) recalls the 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace in the Umbrian hilltown. The event, which found John Paul II joining hands with the Dalai Lama, archbishop of Canterbury and a horde of imams, shamans, gurus and other interreligious leaders from the world over, became a hallmark of the late pontificate, one which Papa Wojtyla's then-CDF prefect was widely believed to have quibbled with.

(Over the years, Assisi '86's flashpoint status has only been enhanced by continued circulation of the story -- most likely aprocryphal -- that African animists sacrificed chickens on the altar of St Clare's Basilica during the event.)

In his homily this morning, Benedict XVI staked his reclaiming of the native saint's Christocentric spirituality, saying that only by "falling in love with Jesus Christ" did Francis "encounter the face of God-Love, which made him an impassioned 'fool for Christ.'

"In the light of the Beatitudes is understood the meekness with which he knew to live with others," the pontiff said, "being present to all in humility and so making himself a witness and worker of peace."

Saying it was his "duty" to do so, Benedict then voiced a firm appeal for peace among nations, offering his spiritual solidarity with the peoples of war-torn nations, who have known much suffering, he said, including "the illusion that force can resolve conflicts.

"Only a sincere and responsible dialogue," he said, "sustained by the generous support of the international community can put an end to this sorrow and give life and dignity anew to individuals, institutions and populations."

B16 also visited the Basilica of St Clare in the city's walled historic center, with visits slated later today to the diocesan cathedral and the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, which houses the "Portiuncula" -- the humble stone chapel where Francis first worked after being exhorted by the speaking San Damiano crucifix to "rebuild my church." The latter Basilica also contains the site where, in 1226, the patron of peace met the friend he termed "Sister Death."

PHOTO 1: AP/Alessandra Tarantino
PHOTO 2: Reuters/Tony Gentile