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.

 

POPE FRANCIS TO SHARE MONTHLY PRAYER INTENTIONS ON VIDEO – FRANCIS AND GRECCIO: SIMPLICITY, AUSTERITY, SPIRITUALITY

I arrived back in Rome yesterday after a fabulous Christmas and New Year break in Wisconsin and Illinois with several friends and a ton of relatives, mostly the young and very small kind! I finally met Harry, 15 months-old, the only one of my 20 great-nieces and –nephews that I had not met! And he will have a sibling in early March! I cherish every minute with family and always wish I could spend more time, although I’d have to zigzag across America – Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Arizona, Oregon and California – if I wanted to do it all in one trip!

It portends to be a quiet week for Pope Francis, with the exception of his visit yesterday afternoon to Greccio and Mass tomorrow morning in St. Peter’s Basilica for the feast of the Epiphany, a holiday in the Vatican and in Italy. The weekly papal schedule I check at Vatican Radio indicated no planned activities for today, Thursday or Friday.

However, I do have two stories for today: the papal visit to Greccio (including some photos I took there on a visit a while back), and announcement about Pope Francis’ monthly prayer intentions.

POPE FRANCIS TO SHARE MONTHLY PRAYER INTENTIONS ON VIDEO

(Vatican Radio) – Starting Wednesday January 6, the traditional monthly prayer intentions of Pope Francis will be available on video, thanks to a new initiative launched by the worldwide Apostleship of Prayer.

The Apostleship of Prayer, set up in 1844 by a group of Jesuit seminarians in France, is also launching a new international website and app aimed at facilitating collaboration and sharing of resources between teams from the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

Click To Pray is an App launched in November 2014 by the Apostleship of Prayer in Portugal to help young people to pray. In August 2015, the app was presented to Pope Francis during a private audience and the latest version will go live in January in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French.

The production of a video with Pope Francis sharing his monthly prayer intentions was done in collaboration with CTV, the Vatican Television Centre. The video, in 10 langauges, will be available on YouTube as well as on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, encouraging people all over the world to pray with the Pope each month. The first video will feature the Pope’s prayer intention for January: “That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice”.

FRANCIS AND GRECCIO: SIMPLICITY, AUSTERITY, SPIRITUALITY

The “Francis” in the title could easily refer to St. Francis or Pope Francis, although similarities might end with the beds: I imagine the 21st papal bed is more than the 13th century “bed” used by the saintly Francis – a wood floor with a rock for a pillow!

Pope Francis made a private visit to the Italian hilltown of Greccio in the Lazio region north of Rome on Monday afternoon. Greccio is celebrated as the place where, in December 1223, St. Francis set up the first nativity scene, using local animals and a carved image of the Christ Child in a manger to recreate the events of Our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem.

The tradition continues in the same hillside cave which has become a popular local shrine, and visitors can also see the monastic cell in the nearby convent where St Francis slept.

Pope Francis, in late morning, first went by car to Rieti, where he met privately with Bishop Domenico Pompili with whom he had lunch. Afterwards, accompanied by the bishop, he left for Greccio, arriving shortly before 3 p.m. He greeted a group of young participants in the diocesan meeting “Giovani Greccio 2016.” He also visited the adjacent church.

Upon arrival at the shrine he was welcomed by the Franciscan friars, and paused to pray before the fresco depicting the first creche realized in Greccio by St. Francis of Assisi. He then greeted the Franciscan community and, after a brief visit, departed by car for Rome. (Vatican Radio, VIS)

I have a special place in my heart for Greccio, especially after a visit a couple of years ago with Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi.

Before we visit the shrine, here are some pictures of the countryside around Greccio and at the shrine.

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As a tourist officer told us about Greccio, “Francis is everywhere at Greccio — in the impossibly small cell where he slept; in the equally cramped, five-foot-wide stone corridor ’dormitory’ for his early followers with crosses carved in the wall, apparently to mark individual ‘beds’; in another rough-rock cell outside where the bulging mountain forms a wall.”

Those “rooms” are reached by these stairs.

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Saint Francis, we are told, was very fond of the inhabitants of Greccio for their piety and austerity of life and he was close friends with one Giovanni Velina who, many say, was a landowner who supported Francis in his project to represent the birth of Christ.

The founding of the hermitage is steeped in legend. According to one local myth, Francis asked a young boy from the village to throw a chunk of coal in order to establish where the convent was to rise. From the doors of the city, the coal landed on the spur of rock where the sanctuary stands today.

Another legend has it that Francis asked a young man who had a bow and arrow to shoot one arrow and wherever it landed, the hermitage would be built. That arrow traveled what should have been an impossibly long distance and landed very high on the hills of Rieti where today we visit the Greccio shrine.

The antechamber to the room where the first living nativity scene was in 1223, and the “nativity” room. The 1223 living presepe scene is re-created every year.

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Over the years the sanctuary expanded from just a few rooms, and in the last years of Francis’ life, a small community was established there and Greccio was the only Rieti valley settlement that built structures dedicated exclusively to the friars during Saint Francis’ life.

Our visit to various rooms used by Francis, his followers and those who came after him brings us to the church that Saint Francis built in the early 13th century. It is covered by a barrel vault ceiling decorated with a star-speckled sky and the image of Saint John of Parma. The furnishings are quite interesting: the stalls in the choir, the lectern, and the rotating wooden support of the lantern that illuminates the pages of the choir book.

The choir room.

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The shrine also houses the Saint Bonaventure Dormitory. Legend says that it was erected during the period Bonaventure was Minister General of the Order (1260-1270). A narrow hallway in wood leads to fifteen small cells that are also in wood. The friars lived in these simple yet evocative spaces for centuries until 1915 when they moved into the upper floors of the building.

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According to legend, the first cell on the right sheltered two extraordinary friars: Saint Bonaventure, whom the structure was named after, and Saint Bernardine of Siena.

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The church adjacent to the shrine:

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