THE INDULGENCE OF PORZIUNCULA, “THE MOST SACRED PLACE OF FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY”

The Franciscans and Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi announced today, July 4 that Pope Francis will visit the Umbrian village on Thursday August 4. During the afternoon visit to the Porziuncola inside the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, the Pope will officially mark the 8th centenary of the event known as the Pardon of Assisi.”According to Vatican Radio, the papal trip to Assisi is being described as a private pilgrimage to the tiny chapel which St Francis built and where he founded the Franciscan order at the beginning of the 13th century.

The following is a story I did about the Porziuncula and the Pardon after a visit to Assisi.

THE INDULGENCE OF PORZIUNCULA, “THE MOST SACRED PLACE OF FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY”

The story of the “Pardon of Assisi” and the Indulgence of Porziuncula is a wonderful story, all the more so if you have a great love for the saint of Assisi or bear his name – Francis (my middle name is Frances).

That Porziuncula website tells us that a small abandoned chapel, situated in an area known in Latin as “Portiuncula” – which means “small piece of land” – was given by Benedictine monks to St. Francis who, having promised the abbot to make it the mother house of his new order, promptly restored it with his own hands.

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It was here that he came to understand his vocation clearly and here he founded the Order of the Friars Minor in 1209, entrusting it to the protection of the Virgin Mother of Christ, to whom the little church is dedicated.

One night in 1216, while Francis was immersed in prayer, a radiant light spread through the little church and he saw above the altar Christ and his Holy Mother, surrounded by a multitude of Angels. They asked him what he wanted for the salvation of souls. Francis’ reply was immediate; “I ask that all those persons who have repented and confessed their sins who will come to this church, may obtain a full and generous pardon, and a complete remission of all their faults.”

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“What you ask is very for is a very great favor,” the Lord said to him, “but of greater things you are worthy and greater things you shall have. I accept your prayer therefore on condition that you ask my vicar on earth, on my behalf, for this indulgence.” Francis immediately presented himself before Pope Honorius III who listened attentively to him and gave his approval. To the question “Francis, for how many years do you wish this indulgence?” the saint replied, “Holy Father, I am not asking for years but for souls.” On August 2, 1216, together with the bishops of Umbria, he happily announced to the people gathered at the Porziuncola, “My brothers and sisters, I want to send all of you to Paradise.”

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The great basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Holy Mary of the Angels), was constructed between 1569 and 1679 in accordance with the wishes of Pope St. Pius V, (1566-72), in order to contain the chapels of the Porziuncola, the original cell where Francis lived and died, the Rose Garden, and the Passing, as well as other places sacred to the memory of St. Francis, and to welcome the visitors from all around the world who came to visit them.

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The powerful earthquakes that struck Umbria in 1832 caused serious damage to the basilica. At the end of a long and complex restoration, directed by the architect, Luigi Poletti, it was reopened for religious celebrations on September 8, 1840. The façade was radically restructured by Cesare Bazzani, with the intention of conferring a majesty worthy of the importance of the Shrine. It was officially inaugurated on June 8, 1930 and an imposing gilded bronze statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on top of it.

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Upon entering the Porziuncola, one is immediately struck by the light and the colors of the Altar Screen of Prete Ilario da Viterbo (1393). The story of the Indulgence of Assisi is recounted in a series of five paintings: Francis throws himself amongst the thorns in order to overcome temptation; he is accompanied by two angels while going towards the Porziuncula;  he contemplates the apparition of Jesus and the Virgin and asks for the plenary indulgence; he asks for confirmation of this from the Pope and finally declares to all the great gift received from Christ and the Church.

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Millions of souls have crossed the threshold of the Porziuncula chapel’s “door to eternal life” and have knelt here in order to rediscover the peace and forgiveness of the great Indulgence. On the threshold of this little church are written the words “hic locus sanctus est,” this is a holy place, because God descended here to meet Francis and whoever enters here in faith.

The Chapel of the Passing is a simple stone building that served as the infirmary for the first friary. St. Francis passed the last days of his life here, and being placed naked on the bare earth, died here on the evening of October 3, 1226, after having composed the final verses of his Canticle of the Creatures:

“Praised be you my Lord, for our Sister Bodily Death from whom no living man can escape: woe to those who die in mortal sin; blessed are those whom she finds doing Your Most Holy Will, because the Second Death will do them no harm.”

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The Rose garden area of the Sanctuary is what remains of the old forest where the friars lived. Here the rose garden is situated amongst whose thorns Francis rolled himself one night in order to overcome doubt and temptation. According to a tradition, already attested to in the thirteenth century, the briars on contact with the Poor Man’s body turned into roses without thorns, and this is the origin of the “Rosa Canina Assisiensis,” which continues to flower only at the Porziuncola.

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TO OBTAIN THE INDULGENCE:

1) Visit the Sanctuary and say an Our Father and the Creed; 2) Make a sacramental Confession and receive Communion at Mass; 3) Say a prayer for the intentions of the Pope.

 

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A DAY THE LORD MADE

A DAY THE LORD MADE

I was up at 5:30 this morning for our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond and it is 11:30 pm as I write so you can imagine I have neither the time nor the energy to writer about a day made by the Lord for me, for our WINE group of women on pilgrimage and for a special and small group of us who dined together in Assisi on our last night St. Francis’ home town.

It is such an amazing and serendipitous – and yes, divine – story that I dare not write it late at night. Divine is the key word and I will explain tomorrow (hoping I have time after another full day), along with some photos. There were no Internet moments along our route to post photos so you will just have to wait – and I promise it will be worth it.

Up early again tomorrow for our departure for Cascia to experience St. Rita, then Rome, the Eternal City.

Today was a day on which I can easily say I was blessed beyond telling!

CATHOLIC WOMEN EXPLORE THE WOMEN SAINTS OF ITALY

CATHOLIC WOMEN EXPLORE THE WOMEN SAINTS OF ITALY

I got to Assisi yesterday in mid-afternoon and had some time to get settled into my hotel and go out to buy a jacket or heavy sweater because the weather was drastically different than the hot, sunny weather in Rome – much cooler with gray, cloudy skies and a promise of rain – which we got today as you will see by the photos.

Dinner with the women of WINE (Women In the New Evangelization)  was at the wonderful Enoteca Mazzini just across from the hotel I am staying at, Hotel dei Priori. about a block off of Assisi’s main square. This was my first chance to meet some of the amazing women who have joined this pilgrimage – women I met again for this morning’s visit to the basilicas of Saint Clare and Saint Francis and women I want to get to know better in the coming two days as we visit St. Catherine and Siena and environs and then Wednesday, on our way to Rome, to see Saint Rita of Cascia.

Outside the church built over the home where St. Francis was born and lived for years

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Statues of the parents of St. Francis:

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Because of my Cracow delay I did not get to joint them on Saturday, their arrival day in Italy and first day in Assisi but here is a link to some of the photos posted by Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE and one of the most amazing women I will ever know. She and Teresa Tomeo are co-hosts of this pilgrimage and the three of us were together today after our tour of the basilicas to tape a segment for Teresa’s Catholic Connection program on EWTN radio. A temporary studio was set up in a small office just off the lobby of the Subasio Hotel near the basilica of Saint Francis.   (http://www.winepilgrimages.com/wine-shrine-2016/)

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See the cross in the photo above? This was in the hotel office and there was also a cross in the hotel restaurant – and in many other restaurants and stores. Can you imagine what would happen if a cross was placed in a restaurant in America!

I hope to spend some quality time with each of the women during our Umbria journey and to learn their stories and their reasons for taking this pilgrimage. The story of one such journey was told today by Julie on Teresa’s program, There were four of us in the studio and, as the expression goes, not a dry eye in the house.

One of the four altars in this church shaped like a Greek cross.

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Another altar under restoration. the area I have highlighted had been hidden for years under stone but one Franciscan felt the stone was hiding frescoes and he was right, The narrow strip you see in the middle (there were four of these in each chapel) is what was hidden under the stone and is being restored. You can see the restoration also in my previous photo.

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I did have an unexpected thrill when I went to the Hotel Subasio after visiting the basilica as I intended to have lunch before doing the show with Teresa. I was sitting in the lobby texting Teresa when three people came in with luggage to register. They looked at me and I heard a chorus of, “Oh my goodness, it’s Joan’s Rome, it Joan from EWTN.” It turned out they were with a group guided by Steve Ray and as the others poured into the lobby, I was mobbed by well-wishers, A half dozen people took out their copies of my book and I signed those books and we did a lot of photos. What a fun-filled serendipitous meeting!

In this photo, our guide was bringing us down to the saint’s home but the doors were closed this morning and we could not enter the small rooms. I have photos somewhere in my archives and will try to find those.

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Everyone in our group had the afternoon off to explore Assisi or, as many will have done, to rest, given the early morning call for prayers with the sisters of St. Clare convent.

We meet for dinner at 7:30 at the Hotel dei Congressi where most of the WINE group are staying, high on a hill above Assisi.

Stay tuned – and visit the website whose link I gave earlier!

 

SUNDAY ENGLISH MASS IN ASSISI: ALTAR OF THE LOWER BASILICA – UPDATE ON PAPAL TRIP IN BOLIVIA, CLARIFICATION OF MORALES GIFT

There is one phrase in the CAN/EWTN news story below about Bolivian President Morales’ gift to the Holy Father that struck a chord with me: “While the audio is a bit marred by the clicking of journalists’ cameras, the embarrassment of the Pope seems clear.”

When visiting heads of State or Government are received in the Apostolic Palace by Popes, a Swiss Guard honor guard accompanies them from the San Damaso courtyard where their car arrives, to an elevator that brings the guest of honor and his/her entourage to the upper floors of the papal palace. There is also an official, usually Abp. Georg Gaenswein, of the Prefecture of the Papal Household by the side of the visitor.

The guest is ushered into the papal library where the Pope is usually waiting behind his desk. For just a matter of seconds, perhaps even a minute or two, the two heads of State greet each other.

Recording such public moments are members of the media, including a small delegation of television people and photographers from the visitor’s country, CTV (Vatican television), the official Vatican photographer and a pool of journalists – traditionally two – from the press office, generally chosen by language, especially that of the visitor. Photographers and TV cameramen vie with each other for the small space accorded them on one side of the papal desk as they seek to capture an important moment.

The print media almost always end up (and I’ve been in this spot a number of times) behind the photogs and TV people, and the clicks of the cameras always drive us crazy as it makes it close to impossible – sometimes actually impossible – to catch the words of the Pope and his guest.  The pool journalists are responsible for returning to the press office to share what they saw and heard with their colleagues.

What a guest –wherever they are from – says to a Pope and what the papal response is, is always news, even if it is just the formality of greeting one another. Sometimes there can be huge political overtones in these remarks and they must be captured exactly.

I mention this so you can understand the problem the media seems to have faced in Bolivia when the president gave his unusual gifts to Pope Francis.

Try to listen to the camera clicks the next time you see two heads of State meet and you’ll understand the dilemma of the print media!

By the way, another, little mentioned but very important aspect of such visits is the protocol –protocol involving the order in which people are received, who speaks to whom, how gifts will be exchanged, etc.  I am guessing that publicly refusing a gift might be frowned on in protocol handbooks! What one says in private is another matter.

A HEADS UP on Vatican Insider: I offer a Special this week on must-see churches in Rome  – after you have visited the papal basilicas!

SUNDAY ENGLISH MASS IN ASSISI: ALTAR OF THE LOWER BASILICA

Last Sunday, Bishop Robert Baker presided at a concelebrated Mass at the main altar of the lower basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Celebrating with him was a priest accompanying a group of Canadian pilgrims from Calgary and several Franciscans, including Fr. Justin, who had helped our small group two years earlier when the bishop said the Sunday English Mass in the upper basilica.

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Following are some photos I took in the lower basilica last Sunday as we waited for Mass to start. After Mass, as Canadian pilgrims departed and others arrived, Fr. Justin told pilgrims not to take photos!  I already had taken mine and did feel somewhat guilty, for if there were “no photo” signs, I truly did not see them. In any case, when Julie and Joe Helow and I went into the sacristy with Bishop Baker and saw the beauty of the frescoes there, I did specifically ask Fr. Justin’s permission.

The sacristy wall:

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And now some history:

Pope Gregory IX laid the first stone of the Lower Basilica the day after the canonization of St. Francis, on July 17, 1228. Two years later the saint’s body, that had been resting in the church of San Giorgio (the future St. Clare basilica) was brought here in secret for fear of looting by tomb raiders and buried in the unfinished church. No date has been recorded concerning the start of works on the Upper Basilica, but it must have been after the abdication from the order of Brother Elia in 1239, who had hitherto directed the works on the Romanesque Lower Basilica.

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Both churches were consecrated by Pope Innocent IV in 1253, before work was started on the large cycle of fresco decorations. The square outside the main facade did not exist at the time. A large flight of steps led upwards to the gothic entrance, pierced by a large rose window surrounded by the symbols of the four evangelists. This in turn was sealed off by a central drum. The lateral towers served as supports for the structure, while those near the choir contained stairs.

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In the Lower Basilica the visitor arrives first at a transept that was built after the building of the church between 1280 and 1300. The lateral chapels opposite the entrance were added between 1350 and 1400. The ceiling of the single nave that runs the entire length of the Lower Basilica is supported by cross vaulting all the way to a semicircular apse at its farthest extremity, which is preceded by a transept with barrel vaulting in its lateral arms. Between 1300 and 1350 a series of chapels were opened up in the lateral wall of the transept and nave, wrecking the frescoes that once decorated the side wall.

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Mostly painted in tempera, the cycle of paintings that decorate the nave was completed around 1260 by an unknown artist, later known as the Maestro di San Francesco. It features episodes from the life of St Francis on the left side opposite episodes from the life of Christ on the right. When the lateral chapels were opened, several of these paintings were cut in half. Although the paintings are deteriorated, they are the most important examples of Tuscan wall paintings prior to Cimabue. The high altar is from 1230, while the canopy above dates from the 14th century. Originally, it was surrounded by twelve columns, as a direct analogy with the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but these were removed in1870.

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The paintings in the vaults (1315-20) depict the “Apotheosis of St Francis“ and allegories of Obedience, Poverty and Chastity by the so-called Maestro delle Vele. The cycle of paintings on the right hand side of the transept (The Childhood of Christ, Posthumous Miracles of St Francis) is less unitary and is partly ascribable to the workshop of Giotto (1315-20). It also contains work by Cimabue (“Enthroned Madonna with Angels and St Francis“, 1280), and Simone Martini (1321-26 “Madonna with Child and Two Wise men“ and “St Francis, St Ludwig of Toulouse, St Elisabeth of Thuringia, St Claire and an Unknown Saint“).

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The left side of the transept was on the other hand completely decorated by Lorenzo Lorenzetti and his workshop between 1315 and 1330. The cycle represents the “Passion of Christ“. (Photos by JFL: Text selections from http://www.assisionline.com/assisi__162.html)

UPDATE ON PAPAL TRIP IN BOLIVIA, CLARIFICATION OF MORALES GIFT

La Paz, Bolivia, Jul 9, 2015 / 10:45 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When leftist Bolivian president Evo Morales on Thursday presented Pope Francis with a “communist crucifix” – a carving of Christ crucified on the hammer of a hammer and sickle – the Pope appeared to say, “This is not ok,” while shaking his head. Shortly after his July 8 arrival at the Bolivian administrative capital of La Paz, Pope Francis made a courtesy visit to Morales at the Palace of Government. At such meetings, the leaders customarily exchange gifts; Pope Francis gave the Bolivian president a mosaic of the Marian icon of the “Salus Populus Romani,” her role as patroness of Rome. Morales explained what his gift to the Pope was as he gave it to him. In the video, filmed by the Vatican Television Center and transmitted throughout the world, the Pope appears to be saying “No está bien eso” – “This is not ok” – while shaking his head. While the audio is a bit marred by the clicking of journalists’ cameras, the embarrassment of the Pope seems clear.

The cross with a hammer and sickle is a reproduction of another carved during the 1970s by Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, a Spanish Jesuit who was a missionary in Bolivia who was killed in 1980 during the Bolivian dictatorship. At a July 9 press briefing the Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, noted the lack of clarity in the audio of the exchange, and remarked that Pope Francis had been unaware the crucifix was a replica of Fr. Espinal’s. He also claimed that Fr. Espinal’s use of it was not ideological but expressed a hope for dialogue between communism and the Church, adding that Pope Francis’ remark likely expresed a sentiment of “I didn’t know,” rather than “This is not right.”

Morales’ gift has sparked a worldwide controversy, and reactions were not long in coming. The majority of them accuse Morales of trying to politicize the Pope’s visit. Morales is head of Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism party, and his adminstration has focused on implementing leftist policies in the nation. Since coming to power in 2006, Morales has frequently sparred with the Bolivian bishops. Catholics from various Hispanophone countries rejected Morales’ gesture, considering it offensive to the numerous victims of terrorist groups in Latin America and of the historical totalitarian communist regimes.

Bishop Jose Munilla Aguirre of San Sebastián, a Spaniard, tweeted: “The height of arrogance is to manipulate God in the service of atheistic ideologies … Today, once again: #ChristCrucified”.

Fr. Espinal – whose “communist crucifix” was the model for Morales’ gift to the Pope – was a journalist who advocated for human rights and democracy, continues to be a source of controversy in Bolivia. While en route from the La Paz airport to the presidential palace,

Pope Francis stopped to pray at the location where Fr. Espinal’s corpse was found after his March 21, 1980 kidnapping and murder. “Dear sisters and brothers. I stopped here to greet you and above all to remember. To remember a brother, our brother, a victim of interests who did not want him to fight for the freedom of Bolivia,” the Pope said to those gathered at the site, after arriving by way of an open popemobile. “May Christ draw this man into himself. Lord give him eternal rest and may light shine for him that has no end.”

Some regard Fr. Espinal as a martyr who lived the Gospel with the same spirit as Blessed Oscar Romero – who was martyred by right wing Salvadorans two days after Fr. Espinal’s death – while others claim the priest was a communist and became too involved in politics.

Born in 1932 in Barcelona, Fr. Espinal studied both philosophy and theology before entering the Jesuit novitiate in Veruela in Zaragoza at the age of 17. The same year he traveled to Bergamo, Italy to study audiovisual journalism. After two years he returned to Spain and began to work for Spanish radio and television corporation TVE at the height of  Francisco Franco’s rule. Fr. Espinola denounced the censorships placed on TVE under Franco and left Spain. He moved to Bolivia in August 1968, where he took over as chair in the journalism department of the Bolivian Catholic University, and later become sub-director. He was granted Bolivian citizenship in 1970, and over the course of the next 10 years worked in both the written and radio press, produced documentaries on social themes and got into screenwriting.

As an avid defender of human rights, the priest cofounded the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights in Bolivia in 1976. During the 1971 military coup led by Hugo Banzer Suarez, Fr. Espinola intervened on behalf of persecuted and detained politicians and trade unions. In 1977 he participated in a three-week-long hunger strike to gain general amnesty for political exiles, validity of trade unions and the withdrawal of the army from mining centers.

In 1979 Fr. Espinola founded the weekly newspaper “Aqui,” which was quickly dubbed “leftist” due to its anti-establishment views and vocal criticism of government corruption. As a result of his work, the priest was kidnapped by a group of paramilitaries March 21, 1980, while on his way home. According to police and militants at the time, the militants took Fr. Espinola to La Paz’ Achachicala slaughterhouse, where he was tortured for five hours before being shot 17 times. His body was found handcuffed and gagged the next morning.

In 2007, Morales officially declared March 21 as the “Day of Bolivian Cinema” due to the priest’s contributions in the area. On that day, cinemas and television channels are obliged to show national films, particularly relating to the themes of human rights and indigenous peoples.

Fr. Lombardi noted during a July 6 press briefing that no cause has been opened for Fr. Espinal’s beatification.

ASSISI: MASS AT THE TOMB OF ST. FRANCIS – U.N. ADDS BAPTISM SITE OF JESUS TO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

UPDATE ON ISAAC – From emails I got this morning from Fr. Craig:

Issac went into surgery at 3:00 pm.  The goal of the surgery was to remove the cysts and biopsy the two known tumors.  The neurosurgeon was successful in obtaining tissue and the cyst drainage, unfortunately numerous small clusters of tumors were also discovered.  We will start chemotherapy when the pathology is confirmed.

2nd email really made me smile:

By the way, when he woke up for those few minutes he wanted to watch the video from Mr. Del Rio and Derek. (see my Monday post about this)

A GIFT FOR YOU:

Food for thought on a torrid July day – in Rome, for sure! I got the following six “little stories” in an email from a friend and enjoyed them as they are pithy but so very true! You can guess why I love – and will often repeat – Number 6! Young at heart – that’s me!  Joan

{1} Once all villagers decided to pray for rain, on the day of prayer all the people gathered, but only one boy came with an umbrella.  That’s FAITH

{2} When you throw a baby in the air, she laughs because she knows you will catch her. That’s TRUST

{3} Every night we go to bed, without any assurance of being alive the next morning but still we set the alarms to wake up. That’s HOPE

{4} We plan big things for tomorrow in spite of zero knowledge of the future. That’s CONFIDENCE

{5} We see the world suffering, but still we get married and have children. That’s LOVE

{6} On an old man’s shirt was written a sentence ‘I am not 80 years old….I am sweet 16 with 64 years experience’.  That’s ATTITUDE

Have a happy day, live your life like the six stories! Love the people God gave you because we don’t know how long we will be sharing this life!

ASSISI: MASS AT THE TOMB OF ST. FRANCIS

Saturday, July 4, Bishop Baker had arranged to say Mass at 8 am at the tomb of St. Francis. I had visited and prayed in this small chapel many times over the years but never had it been as special as it was Saturday. The Del Rios and Helows and I were at Mass, as was a family from Florida, friends of the bishop, that happened not only to be on the same plane to Rome days earlier but in Assisi at the same time we were! Perhaps a dozen people all told attended this Mass.

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Jack Del Rio and I did the readings while Joe Helow was the bishop’s “altar boy.” Linda Del Rio was a minister of the cup at communion but I did not get a photo of her – apologies to Linda.

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Bishop Baker’s homily last Saturday and in other Masses focused on peace.

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Afterwards, a Franciscan priest took photos of all of us with Bishop Baker and we took one of him.

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In the Prayers of the Faithful we prayed, of course, for the United States as it celebrated the 239th anniversary of independence, and I added prayers for the Holy Father’s trip to Latin America and for little Isaac.  Bishop Baker had not been in the dining room when Fr. Craig told us Isaac’s story, so I explained to him over breakfast at a nearby café. After that, we were praying for Isaac almost every time we passed a church, went inside a church or heard church bells ring!

I realized I did not have a photo of Julie Helow so here is one with her husband Joe from a lunch we had together:

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U.N. ADDS BAPTISM SITE OF JESUS TO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

The Catholic Center for Studies and Media (CCSM) in Amman. Jordan has announced that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has voted to add the Baptism site of Jesus Christ to the World Heritage sites. (Pope Francis at the site last year)

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CCSM Director Fr. Rifat Bader praised the efforts of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad, chairman of the board of trustees of the Baptism Site; the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities; and the Jordan Tourism Board to see this objective attained. He also noted that it is a source of pride that four Popes had prayed at the Baptism site’s blessed waters over the past 50 years – Pope Paul VI visited the site in 1964, St. John Paul II in 2000, Pope Benedict in 2009 and Pope Francis in 2014.

ASSISI AND ST. FRANCIS: “PEACE BE WITH YOU!” – IRAQI FRANCISCAN MISSING IN SYRIA – ST. JOHN PAUL, POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT ON SAME SEX MARRIAGE – BATTLING THE HEAT WAVE A L’ ITALIANA

I had dinner at La Scaletta last night with my friend Viviana who is a guide in Rome (one of her most requested tours is her food tour of the Eternal City). Viviana is Danish and, like our mutual friend Salih, she is multi-lingual and speaks all the Scandinavian languages as well as German, English and Italian. She left this morning to accompany a group to the Amalfi Coast for 8 days so we met for dinner to catch up on events, work, etc.

One of the waiters at La Scaletta is Salih (pronounced Sally), a native of Kosovo who is 25 and who speaks 7 languages fluently, including idiomatic expressions and humor!  He surprised me last night with this bouquet of flowers for my birthday (having asked his friend Viviana to buy them for me, trusting her choice).

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Later, Salih and the Bill Murray-lookalike chef from Sicily, Francesco, sang Happy Birthday as they brought me my favorite dessert at La Scaletta, panna cotta.

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Here are the flowers in my home –

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ASSISI AND ST. FRANCIS: “PEACE BE WITH YOU!”

Spending several days in Assisi is an experience that will definitely change you. It is magnificent beyond telling, an ancient city on a hill with history in every angle, nook and cranny and beauty on every balcony, window ledge or rooftop!  The stone walkways are old, the granite stairways that beckon at almost every turn seem even more ancient and the old doors to low-slung buildings seem to tell their own story as they creak with age and shimmer with the patina of time.

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The vistas as you climb to St. Rufinus at one end of town from the basilica of St. Francis at the other are breathtaking in many ways. The climb alone will take your breath away but then, as you look out on God’s creation, on the far hills, the farms, the teensy villages, on the dome of Santa Maria degli Angeli, what becomes breathtaking is the sheer beauty.

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Looking at the ancient castle from Santa Chiara

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Santa Chiara from my room:

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      That view at night!

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Francis would probably have seen much of that same beauty – the farmlands, and perhaps even the acres and acres of sunflowers as they turn their slender necks to the sun.

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A brown-robed friar walks by, smiles at you and says,” Pax et bonum” – “peace and all good things.” This is his gift to you!

Part of you expects to see Francis among the faces of the Franciscans. After all, this is his city and you feel its oldness and therefore would not be surprised to have him greet you as well – “Pax et bonum.”

The peace and beauty permeate every fiber of your being, your heart and soul and mind – even your physical well-being! I told Bishop Baker on one of the walks our little party took that I see Assisi as “a kind of spiritual magic!”

Tomorrow I’ll take you to the basilica and St. Francis’ tomb where Bishop Baker said Mass on July 4.

IRAQI FRANCISCAN MISSING IN SYRIA

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land has released a communique noting that “an Iraqi Franciscan priest of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Fr. Dhiya Azziz, parish priest of Yacobien in the province of Idlib in Syria, has been missing since July 4. On that day, several militants from an unidentified brigade came to get him for a brief talk with the local Emir. We have had no trace of him since then and have no way to find out where he is. We are doing everything possible to find out where he has been taken in order to obtain his release. We entrust him to everyone’s prayers.”

The communique notes that there are 27 Franciscans of the Custody in the St. Paul region that includes Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, 14 of whom are in the most dangerous areas of the conflict that has been underway for four years.  (www.custodia.org)

ST. JOHN PAUL, POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT ON SAME SEX MARRIAGE

What did St. John Paul and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI say about same sex marriage? Here is a July 6 article from CNSNews.com (not to be confused with CNS – Catholic News Service) by Michael Chapman:

All Catholics are “obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions” and where such unions are given the legal status and rights that belong to marriage, “clear and emphatic opposition is a duty,” said St. Pope John Paul II in a 2003 letter issued by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

In addition to Catholics in general having a duty to clearly oppose homosexual marriage, a Catholic politician “has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against” such unions, and if it already is the law, the politician still must oppose it and has a “duty to witness to the truth,” said St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

“The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society,” said St. Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in the March 2003 document, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.

“Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity,” the letter states.

“The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself,” reads the letter. St. Pope John Paul II approved the Considerations on March 28, 2003 and ordered its publication. The document was subsequently released through the office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-headed by Card. Ratzinger, on June 3, 2003.

The letter begins by explaining that, “homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon,” and especially so where gay unions are given legal recognition and include “the possibility of adopting children.”

The Considerations, it states, “provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions” for “protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society,” of which marriage between one man and one woman “is a constitutive element.”

“No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman,” say St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

“Men and women are equal as persons and complementary as male and female,” they wrote. Through marriage, a man and woman use the “sexual faculty” to become one flesh and potentially produce children.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24), reads the letter, adding that God “blessed the man and the woman with the words ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:28). Therefore, in the Creator’s plan, sexual complementarity and fruitfulness belong to the very nature of marriage.”

Given the natural complementarity between man and woman and the procreative potential of their union through marriage, “[t]here are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

“Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law,” states the letter.  “Homosexual acts ‘close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.’”

Because homosexual unions lack the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family, reason alone dictates that they cannot be given “legal recognition,” reads the Considerations. “Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race.”

“Society owes its continued survival to the family, founded on marriage,” reads the letter.

Thus, for “those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty,” state the two popes.

“One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application,” they said. “In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.”

As for Catholic politicians, they also are “obliged” in a “particular way” to oppose homosexual unions or homosexual marriages.

“When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it,” states the letter. “To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.”

“When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth,” state Pope Benedict and St. Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II served as Pope of the Catholic Church from October 1978 to April 2005. He was canonized a Saint in April 2014. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II from 1981 to 2005.

Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and resigned in February 2013, citing his advanced age, 85.  He was the first Pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415.

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, currently 78 years old, was elected Pope Francis in March 2013.

In 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio (Pope Francis) said that a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in Argentina was “destructive of the plan of God” and was “a ‘move’ of the Father of Lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

The “Father of Lies” reference comes from the Gospel of John (8:44), where Jesus refers to Satan as “a liar and the father of lies.”

BATTLING THE HEAT WAVE A L’ITALIANA

(ANSA) – Rome, July 6 – The Italian health ministry on Monday activated its summer telephone hotline for emergencies and advice, with a heat wave that has caused deaths and disruption set to peak on Tuesday and Wednesday. The number, 1500, is staffed seven days a week from 9 am to 6 pm by personnel from the ministry trained to give advice and coordinate assistance regarding heat-related emergencies.

On Sunday, the heat wave caused the deaths of five elderly people in Italy – two cyclists and three beachgoers – on a weekend that saw temperatures as high as 41 (106 Fahrenheit) degrees in Alessandria in the northern region of Piedmont.

Across Europe temperatures also soared, reaching more than 40 degrees (104) in Bavaria, Germany, and provoking wildfires and evacuations in Spain and Portugal.

Back in Italy 10 cities have been put on red heat alert due to temperatures well above the seasonal average, which will be between 35 and 40 degrees in many areas on Tuesday and Wednesday, although humidity will take the perceived temperatures to over 40 degrees.

A Milan court on Monday allowed judges and lawyers to take off their robes due to the oppressive heat and the breakdown of air conditioners.  A hearing for another case, about allegations Pirelli chief Marco Tronchetti Provera defamed another top Italian businessman, Carlo De Benedetti, had to be adjourned due to a series of blackouts in the court building.

The blackouts, probably caused by energy demand from conditioners short-circuiting the system, caused recordings of witness evidence to be lost.   “It’s a miracle that we got this far,” the judge said.  “But this trial must be adjourned now as the minium security conditions are not in place and we cannot lose other recordings”.

The farmers’ association Coldiretti said the heat was stressing the nation’s cows and causing a 10% drop in milk production on average. Furthermore, farmers have to give the animals twice as much water and use ventilators and spray them with water to cool them down. “The drop in milk production is on top of an increase in costs in the cowsheds due to greater energy and water consumption because the farmers have to help the animals resist the heat siege,” Coldiretti said.

 

 

PRAYING FOR ISAAC

As I write, Pope Francis is in Day Two of his trip to Latin America, which he began yesterday when he landed in Ecuador after a 13-hour flight from Rome. I’m sure you’re following live events on EWTN and in the news reports at CNA and at the News section of www.ewtn.com so I will not relive the daily events of his pilgrimage on this page, unless I learn of something extra special or that some new event has been inserted in the Holy Father’s schedule.

I’ll also write a lot more in coming days about Assisi, including some of the myriad photos I took over three days. But for now, stay right here for a very, very special story.

PRAYING FOR ISAAC

I wrote an email to a friend today and realized that I had to share its story and prayer request with all of you because it is so special:

As you know, I just spent three days in Assisi with Bishop Robert Baker, Jack and Linda Del Rio and Joe and Julie Helow, spending our “mini retreat” at a wonderful convent and guest house near the center of town run by the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement. It was a joyful stay and what brought us together as much as our faith and prayer time was time spent together in a small living room off of Sr. Susan’s office which had the only viable wi-fi service!

Everyone congregated in this small space at various times of the day and, during our email time, the six of us met an incredible number of wonderful people – families, small pilgrim groups, single people – and one truly amazing priest – Msgr. Craig Harrison of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Bakersfield, California.

I’d love to share his entire unbelievable story with you but today I only want to tell you about one young boy in his parish.

We met Msgr. Craig very shortly after our arrival in Assisi Friday morning about 11. We had taken a very early train from Rome and by the time we checked in with Sr. Susan and dropped our bags off in our rooms (each room had a name – I was in St. Francis of Assisi – and Frances is my middle name), we were anxious to have an early lunch and we invited him to join us. It was over lunch that we learned his unique and wonderful story.

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But I need to fast forward to Saturday.

Bishop Baker was scheduled to say Mass at the tomb of St. Francis at 8 am on Saturday. Joe Helow accompanied him to the basilica about 7:15 (a 20-minute walk from the guest house) and the four of us left the convent about 7:30, after a quick coffee in the dining room. We saw Msgr. Craig and he asked us for prayers for Isaac, 8, a young boy in his parish who is scheduled to have brain surgery today or tomorrow. We learned that Isaac’s chances of surviving surgery are 10 %!

To our great astonishment, Msgr. Craig told us that early that morning he got an email from Isaac who wrote: “Jesus came to my room last night and sat on my bed.” Msgr. asked, “What did He do?” Isaac answered, “He held my hand and now I am not afraid of surgery!”

I am tearing up as I write this!

Msgr. Craig then told us Isaac’s favorite baseball team was the Dodgers and his favorite football team is the Oakland Raiders! He felt it was a gift from the Lord  – what we have been calling Godincidences! – that Jack Del Rio, the Raiders coach, was in the same convent at the same time that he was!  Plans were made to do something special for Isaac and, in fact, Jack did a brief video with Msgr. Craig via cell phone for Isaac. We learned later that Isaac was beyond ecstatic and his mother was totally in tears. Isaac promised Jack he would pray for the Raiders!  Can you imagine that!

I included a prayer for Isaac in the Prayers of the Faithful at Mass at the tomb of St. Francis, prayed for him at length before the San Damiano crucifix in the basilica of Santa Chiara (St. Clare), and included him in my prayer intentions when I said a rosary at the “Porziuncula” at Santa Maria degli Angeli.

The weekend was filled with these wonderful Godincidences!  A grace a minute, it seemed!

I prayed a lot to St. Francis for Isaac – we all prayed over the weekend and I cannot get him out of my mind. I firmly believe in miracles and want to see little Isaac not only survive surgery but heal as well!

This is the story. I ask each of you to say just a Hail Mary – a prayer to the Mother of God – for Isaac, the little boy who should have his whole life in front of him!