As morning broke over Exmouth on Tuesday 8 July our group of pilgrims set out on the road to Assisi. A mixed group we were, parishioners for the most part, but others too – friends, relatives, neighbours, young and old – known to each other after a fashion, but with work to do to get to know each other better, the kind of knowing that comes from living in close proximity, from sharing fellowship, from praying, eating, talking, listening, laughing, sympathising, encouraging, supporting and generally looking out for each other. The sort of things which turn a group into a living community. And indeed so it happened. Our disparate group, tentative at first, grew rapidly into a loving and caring community bound together by a common desire to be nourished and refreshed at the very well-springs of Franciscan spirituality in Assisi and the other places associated with the life and mission of St Francis and Santa Chiara.
As each day passed we entered more deeply into the spirit of the pilgrimage, aided by the warmth of the welcome extended to us wherever we found ourselves, whether in our convent residence or at the various significant holy places where we spent many hours in quiet prayer and contemplation. Aided and deepened too by the beauty of the liturgy – mass at the tomb of St Francis, at San Damiano where he first heard Christ`s call to `Repair my house`, at his mountain retreat in Greccio( where he inaugurated the first crib), at Porziuncula where he established the Franciscan order with a few young companions, at Fonte Colombo where he wrote the rule which would guide the Order of Friars Minor ever since, and at Le Carcere in the hills behind Assisi where he would go to restore his spirit through contemplation of nature and through prayer. And so very much more.
Fr Philip`s splendid preparations for our liturgies – readings, homilies, points for reflection, evening prayer – enabled us to draw ever closer to the spirit of Francis and Clare, to be gently led into the heart of what Assisi is all about and to be shaped by what we encountered there in the silence of quiet contemplation.
We returned as dusk fell on the evening of Monday 14 July no longer a disparate group but friends, changed by what we had seen and heard and felt. Changed by the sheer grandeur of all that we had observed and contemplated, knowing in a very real sense what Gerald Manley Hopkins, the young Jesuit Victorian poet meant when he said ` The world is charged with the grandeur of God`. He shared Francis` perception of God`s creation and like Francis he invites us to enter into it and to lift up our hearts in praise.
How privileged we have been to live and breathe in Assisi, to walk ( literally ) the paths where Francis and Clare walked, to hear the birdsong at San Damiano , to savour the beauty of the woods and flowers of the Rieti valley and to wonder at the rugged beauty of Umbria and Perugia – Francis` land. All of it suffused with that enduring Franciscan spirit.
All of us will be formed and shaped by our memories of these grace-filled few days and will face our individual futures secure in our trust and faith in our compassionate God who revealed himself so luminously and so beautifully in the simplicity, goodness, holiness and joy of the Poverello and Chiara in Assisi.
Coming as it has, at the commencement of our centenary year, our pilgrimage helps us to focus clearly on the themes of renewal and regeneration which we are putting before ourselves in all we are undertaking during the year ahead.It is a reminder that
We have been Welcomed.
We have heard the Word.
We have Worshipped in the Eucharist and in personal and community prayer.
We have been encouraged to `Bear Witness to the Truth ` of the gospel through the `ordinariness` of our daily lives.
We have been invited to care for the Welfare of the poor.
And through it all has shone a love and joy that is truly life-giving, affirming and enduring.
Laudato sii, O mi Signore.
Praise be to you ,O my Lord. (St Francis)
— JM 16 July 2014