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6/17/2007 3:41 AM
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Here is a translation of an interview by Giampaolo Mattei for Osservatore Romano with Mons. Domenico Sorrentino, Bishop of Assisi and the two neighboring cities that make up his diocese.

You cannot understand Francis
except through Christ

By Giampaolo Mattei

What is the significance of the Pope's visit to Assisi?
The occasion of the visit is the eighth centenary of Francis's conversion. It's a commemoration which brings us to the heart of the saint's choice of life. Conversion means Christ. Francis cannot be understood without Christ. I think this is what the Pope would like to stress very strongly.

When I first proposed to the Holy Father to visit Assisi in this special year dedicated to his conversion, I was very impressed that he imeddiately accepted.

On more than one occasion, including publicly, Benedict XVI has expressed his interest in Francis. He has said that although the Poverello's message has many valences that make him very relevant today - for example about peace, or about the respect for nature - this must not make us forget that above all he was a 'convert' - a man who was gripped by the Mystery of God.

What does it mean for the Diocese of Assisi/Nocera Umbra/Gualdo Tadino to welcome the Successor of Peter?
Benedict XVI is the last in a long list of Popes who have visited our city. It is an honor and a great joy for us to welcome the Pope. Our ecclesiastical community has been preparing for this visit above all on the spiritual level.

The story of Francis's conversion, especially the words spoken to him from the Crucifix of San Damiano - "Go, Francis, repair my house" - suggested that we should use this to make our pastoral plans, as a starting point both for individual and communal purposes. The civilian community has been very responsive.

What are the highlights of this brief but very intense visit by the Holy Father?
The Holy Father will be a pilgrim in the footsteps of Francis, almost like reliving the important stages in his conversion. And so, visiting Rivotorto first of all, it will evoke what Francis said about the beginnings of his conversion which was marked by his service to lepers. In his visit to San Damiano and to Santa Chiara, the focus will be the Crucifix that actually reoriented his life.

In the Piazza of St. Francis, next to the Basilica in which his mortal remains are venerated, we will have the Eucharistic concelebration, which will bring out the eucharistic dimension that was very evident in the spirituality of Francis. In the Cathedral of San Ruffino there is the baptismal font where he was born into the faith.

The Pope's meeting with priests and religious will highlight the call to holiness, the sense of communion, the beauty of the priesthood, for which Francis ha special veneration. And in the final stop, at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which encloses the Porziuncola, beats the Marian heart of Franciscanism. And there, the Pope wants to present St. Francis to the youth of today as a role model.

What message does the pilgrimage have for all Italy, in this particular historical moment?
The message of Christianity, which after 2000 years of history, is still able to show the freshness of its origins. In the figure of St. Francis, the Gospel takes concrete form, something lived, as well as something prophetic. Christ re-emerges as the truth for man and the sense of history. It is also an invitation to hope, along the lines that the Italian church spelled out at the Verona convention.

Assisi speaks a universal language that is understood by the whole world. What is the relevance today of St. Francis's testimony?
There's a great need today to return to the essentials. The world has achieved extraordinary results regarding man's scientific, technical and economic possibilities, but it is struggling through obvious contradictions, particularly with moral uncertainty, the loss of values, a depressing skepticism, an inability to construct brotherhood and peace. Francis shows that conversion to Jesus Christ gives meaning to man and to history.

In his final testament he promises: you will pass from bitterness to sweetness. That was the fruit of his embracing Christ in the leper. Francis shows us that Jesus is the way to true happiness.

What is Assisi's great secret, what attracts this uninterrupted stream of visitors from all parts of the world?
Assisi is a city with a great history, and one of holiness. Francis is not our only saint, obviously. Just think of St. Clare. But there are others. There is no doubt, however, that Francis has branded it indelibly. The world looks at Assisi because of him. It is for him that the city has become an oasis of the spirit, a laboratory of peace, of the conservation of nature, of dialog among peoples. People talk about a 'spirit of Assisi.' But the Pope comes to remind us that the basis for all this was a change of life in the name of Christ.

Can you give us a picture of what it's like in your diocese - the principal characteristics of your pastoral activities?
The diocese as it now configured resulted from the union of previously individual churches, each of which has its own rich history. When one goes beyond Mt. Subasio and looks towards Nocera Umbra and Gualdo Tadino, one can breathe a different air, in a way. You will hear other names, like St. Rinaldo in Nocera, or the Blessed Angelo in Gualdo Tadino. But these differences are increasingly giving way to unification.

The same thing can be said of Assisi itself, which has a complex situation. Pope Benedict's 2005 Motu Proprio, Totius Orbis, provided that the great pastoral traditions of the papal Basilicas under the Franciscan Conventuals, on he one hand, and under the Minors, on the other, should all converge into a single diocesan action.

The path of communion has been opening up with a basis of calm on all sides which promises fruitful results.

But I must say that the diocese, like the rest of Umbria, and of Italy, is prey to the temptations that come in a time of secularization and of deviation from Christian roots. Our priests all work with commitment, but many are growing old and there are less vocations. And so the involvement of lay faithful and the presence of religious are both a great resource and a great help.

A renewal is definitely called for to respond to new challenges. In particular, we must stress ministering to the youth and ministering to vocations. Whatever we are doing pastorally that is rooted in the theme of conversion must also be done with the no less demanding context of communion and mission.

The Pope especially wanted an encounter with the new generations. Can you tell us what will happen?
Francis converted when he was a young man, He remained 'young' in spirit and he speaks effectively to the heart of young people. The Pope said when he was inaugurated that "The Church is young!" One feels that, here in Assisi.

That us why the Pope wanted to dedicate the climax of his Assisi pilgrimage to the young people - who are responding very well. They have been preparing with a lectio divina in which the Word of God is approached by following the footsteps of Francis.

There will be youths from all over Umbria, even from other parts of Italy, who will be accompanied by Franciscan advisers. I think the Holy Father would like to give back Francis to the young for his authentic experience of Christ. So this encounter will also be a bridge to the Agora of Italian youth which will take place in Loreto on September 1, which will be graced by Pope Benedict's presence.

Excellency, you have just published a book called L'esperienza di Dio which you presented to the Holy Father last Wednesday. In the light of those reflections, can you tell us what you feel as a pastor about this visit?
In this book - which is dedicated to Benedict XVI and published on the occasion of the Franciscan centenary - I wanted to reflect on the dynamics of Christian spirituality, inspired by all the stories of the saints. Francis plays a special role in it, because the book takes off from his conversion, with the words that he himself said about it in his testament.

It's a book about the theology of personal experience, and Francis was without a doubt a great theologian of this kind. It is providential that it has come out in the context of a papal visit, so it seemed natural to dedicate it to Pope Benedict. My heart overflows with gratitude to him. We hope that the visit will be a wave of grace that will lead to fruits of conversion and holiness."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/17/2007 3:52 AM]
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6/17/2007 12:10 PM
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Lella has found this extended 'Franciscan' reflection by Cardinal Ratzinger in the book Immagini di speranza (I]Images of hope), published in Italy in 1999. The chapter is actually entitled 'Porziuncola: What indulgence means' - referring to the indulgence conceded by Pope Innocent III in 12 16 to pilgrims who came to the Porziuncola.

Porziuncola: What indulgence means
By Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

If one comes to Assisi from the south [as one does coming from Rome, for instance], on the plain that extends below the city, one sees first of all, the majestic basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, from the 16th-17th centuries, with a a classistic facade added on in the 19th century.


To be honest, it leaves me rather cold - because it is hard to associate the simplicity and humility of St. Francis with such a magnificent exterior. But we find that in the center of the basilica - a medieval chapel whose old frescoes tell us episodes in the story of salvation and in the life of St. Francis who lived through important experiences here.

The Porziuncola chapel.

In that poorly lit low-roofed space we can perceive something of the meditation and the emotion that the faithful have experienced here over the centuries, those who have found it a place of refuge and orientation.

In the time of St. Francis, the surrounding territory was filled with woods, it was marshy and uninhabited.

In the third year of his conversion, Francis came across this little church, almost in ruins at the time, which belonged to the Benedictine abbey of Mount Subasio. As he had done earlier with the churches of San Damiano and San Pietro, which he had restored with his own hands, Francis set to work even here, in the chapel of the Porziuncola dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, in whom he venerated the Mother of all goodness.

The state of abandon in which he found these small churches must have seemed to him a sad sign of the Church itself. He did not know himself that in restoring those building, he was also preparing to renew the living Church itself.

It was in this chapel in fact that the definitive call came to him, that gave his mission its true form and allowed the birth of teh order of the Friars Minor, which was initially not conceived as a religious order, but simply as a movement for evangelization that would gather the people of God once again to return to the Lord.

What happened once to Saint Anthony of Egypt in the third century happened now to Francis. During Mass, he listened to the Gospel of the Lord calling his apostles and entrusting to them the task of announcing the Kingdom of God, and to go out into the world for this purpose, without belongings or any worldly security.

Initially, Francis did not understood the text at all. He asked the priest to explain it to him, and at that point, it became clear to him that that, too, was his mission. He took off his shoes, and wearing only a tunic, he set about to announce the Kingdom of God and penitence.

Around him there gradually gathered companions who, like the Twelve Apostles, set out likewise to announce the Gospel. for them, as for Francis, it meant joy in a new beginning, joy for the change that had come about in their lives, for the courage of penitence.

The Porziuncola became for Francis the place where he finally understood the gospel, no longer approaching it through theories and explanations, but wanting this time to live it literally. He realized that these were not words in the past, but an appeal that as directly and explicitly addressed to him as an individual.

And so, it was also at Porziuncola that he handed St. Clare the religious habit, initiating thereby the female side of his Order which was called on to provide interior support to the friars' evangelical mission with prayers.

It was also why, when he felt he was near death, he asked to be taken to the Porziuncola.

Porziuncola means 'little portion', a little piece of land. Francis never wanted it to become the property of his friars - he preferred that the Benedictines allowed them use of it. That is how his new order would express its true propriety and authentic newness - by being property-less.

Thus the words of Psalm 16 applied to them, which in the Old Testament expressed the particular destiny of the priestly tribe of Levi, to whom no land would belong, because their only land was God himself: "You, oh Lord, are my part, and my legacy- and yes, I am most pleased with my legacy."

We have seen that the Porziuncola is above all a place, but thanks to Francis of Assisi, it has also become a reality of the spirit and of the faith, an actual place that we can enter, and through it draw from the story of faith and from its unfailingly effective power.

Later the Porziuncola would not only be linked with great stories of conversion in the past, it would not represent just one simple idea, but it would linked in a direct way to penitence and grace, thanks to the so-called 'pardon of Assisi' which we should more properly call the 'pardon of Porziuncola.'What does it really mean?

According to a tradition that must surely date back at least to the start of the 13th century, in July of 1216, Francesco visited Pope Honorius III in nearby Perugia, shortly after the Pope's election, and made him an unusual request: He asked the Pope to grant plenary indulgence for all the sins done in the past by anyone who cane to the Porziuncola, confessed and did penance for these sins.

The Christian today may well ask what such a pardon could mean, since it still requires personal penitence and confession. To understand it, we should remember that at that time, despite so man changes, the essential elements of the penitential discipline of the early Church remained. Among these was the conviction that after baptism, pardon could not be granted simply through absolution but - as it was earlier for baptism - that it needed a true change of life, an interior dismissal of evil. The sacramental act had to be accompanied by an existential act, by a profound and real work on one's sins, and this was called penitence. Pardon did not mean that this existential process became superfluous, but that it receives sense, so that it is done right.

In Francis's time, the pilgrimage was an established principal form of penitence imposed by the Church, in close relationship with the pardon of sins, especially a pilgrimage to Santiago (de Compostela in Spain),or Rome, and above all, to Jerusalem. The long, dangerous and difficult trip to Jerusalem could really become for many pilgrims an interior voyage. In any case, a very concrete aspect was that in the Holy Land, the offerings brought by the pilgrims had become the most important source of support for the local Church. We should not turn up our noses at this - it was a way through which penitence acquired a social value.

Therefore, if as tradition has it, Francis had made the request that all this could be obtained through a praying visit to the Porziuncola, it was also linked to a new element: the indulgence, which was to change the entire penitential practice. We can understand that the cardinals were not happy with the granting of this privilege by the Pope and were concerned about the economic maintenance of the Holy Land, so that the 'pardon of Porziuncola' was initially reduced to only one day of the year, August 2, which marked the dedication of the Church.

At this point, however, we ask whether the Pope could do this simply. Can a Pope dispense with an existential process as intended in the penitential practice of the Church? Obviously no. Whatever is an interior exigency of human existence cannot be made superfluous by a juridical act. But the pardon of Porziuncola was not about this.

Francis, who had discovered the poor and poverty itself, was urged in his request by concern for those persons who did not have the means or the strength to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; those who could not give anything except their faith, their prayers, their willingness to live their very situation of poverty according to the Gospel.

In this sense, the indulgence of Porziuncola is the penitence of those who are already afflicted, on whom life itself already imposes penitence enough. Without doubt an interiorization of the very concept of penitence was implied, and even if the necessary and accepted visible expression of it was lacking, a pilgrimage to the simple and humble site of the Porziuncola was also an encounter with the radicality of the Gospel as Francis himself had experienced in that place.

It cannot be denied that to the idea of indulgence, which here truly assumes its specific character, was linked the danger of abuses, as history has taught us in sufficiently tragic terms. But if we remember only the record of abuses, then one falls prey to a loss of memory and an attitude of superficiality. As always, it is always more difficult to see what is great and pure compared to that which is gross and evil.

I certainly cannot explain the whole complex weave of experiences and knowledge that developed out of the Porziuncola indulgence. I can only trace the more important lines. The concession of this particular indulgence soon led to a further step. The humble folk themselves, with their simple faith, ended up asking - why only for myself? Could I not possibly communicate to others what has been given to me spiritually as one can materially? They were thinking above all of the poor souls, those who were dear to them and had preceded them to the next life and whose destiny they could not be indifferent to. They]y were aware of the errors and the weaknesses of those who were near and dear to them and who could have even caused them much displeasure. Why could they not be concerned for them? Why not seek to them some good even beyond the tomb, to go to their aid if possible in the difficult journey of souls towards God?

An ancient human sentiment is made evident here which has found multiple expressions in the cult of ancestor worship and of death throughout man's history. Christian faith had not in fact negated the value of all this but sought to purify this sentiment and make it emerge in its most authentic sense.

"If we live, we life for the lord. If we die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord," Paul says (Rom 14,8). This means that the true limit is no longer death, but belonging or not belonging to the Lord. If we belong to him, then we are all near to one another through him and in him.

Therefore - it was the logical consequence - there is a love which goes beyond death. Therefore, to whoever asked if something of the power given by pardon could be communicated even to beyond the tomb, the answer was yes, with the formula 'per modum suffagii' - by means of prayer. The prayer for the dead, which the Church always had, thus gained a particular intensity. It was this promise that made the indulgence a great invitation to prayer - beyond all the abuses and misunderstanding about it.

I must add that in time, the indulgence which was at first reserved only to the Porziuncola was extended first to all the Franciscan churches and finally, to all parochial churches if the visit was done on August 2. In my childhood memories, the day of the pardon of Assisi remains as one of great interiority, on which one received the sacraments in a climate of great personal meditation, in a day of prayer.

In the square facing our parish church on that day, a particularly solemn silence would reign. One senses that Christianity was a grace and that this grace unfolds in prayer. Independently of any theory of indulgence, it was a day of faith and silent hope, of a prayer one knew would be fulfilled and that mattered most of all for the dead.

Nevertheless, in time, another idea became added to all this, which may seem to us rather odd today, but which did contain an important truth. The more indulgence is understood as a way of placing oneself at the service of others, the more it gave way to a concept that gave a theological foundation to it and at the same time, opened it up to further interior development. The prayer addressed to the next world necessarily implied the idea of the communion of saints and the communication of spiritual benefits.

At this point, you would ask - but what does all this mean? Is this not some sort of religious mercantilism? The question is more acute when one takes into account that one is talking her about a treasure of the Church, which consists in the accumulated merit of the saints. What does it all mean? Is not every person meant to be responsible for himself? What significance can the good works done
by others have for me?

These are the questions we have, because, despite all the socialist ideas, we continue to life in the wretched and restricted individualism of modern times. Each of us lives in relationship with others and depends on others, not only from the material point of view, but also spiritually, culturally, morally.

Let us try to exemplify these concepts starting with the negative side. There are persons who not only destroy themselves but also bring others to ruin, leaving behind them destructive forces that push entire generations negatively. If we think of great seductive ideologies of our century, we know how real this is, how it can become a contagious diseases that involves everyone else.

But, thanks be to God, this does not hold true only for the negative. There are also persons who live behind them an excess of love, a memory of pain that was suffered and lived to the very end, with joy, sincerity and truth, which others can appreciate, which accompanies and sustains them. There really is something of a vicarious substitution in the depths of existence. The entire mystery of Christ rests on this.

Now one can say, all right, that's good. But all we need is the love of Christ, we don't need anything else. Only he frees us and redeems us - all the rest is presumption. How can we add to the infinity of his love with our finitudes? That is true, but not completely. In fact, the greatness of Christ's love that it does not leave us to be passive recipients but involves us totally in his work and in his passion. A famous passage in Paul's Letter to the Colossians expresses it: "In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church" (Col 1,24).

I would also like to refer to another New Testament passage in which I think this truth is expressed wonderfully. The Apocalypse of St. John speaks of the bride, the Church, which stands for redeemed humanity. While the whore Babylon appears dressed in luxuriously flashy garments and ornaments, the bride is simply dressed in white though it is of that pure and shining byssum which is particularly precious. And in parentheses, the text comments: She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones" (Ap 19,8). This radiant white fabric which is the garment of eternity is woven in the lives of saints.

Let us leave metaphor. In the spiritual field, everything belongs to everyone. There is no private property. The good of one becomes mine, and mine becomes his. Everything comes from Christ but because we belong to him, even that which is ours becomes his and is invested with saving power. This is what is meant by the expression 'treasure of the Church' or 'the merits' of the saints.

To ask for indulgence means entering into this communion of spiritual goods and placing oneself in turn at its disposal. The change in he idea of penitence which started in Porziuncola has brought us to this point: even spiritually, no one lives for himself alone. Only then can concern for the salvation of one's own soul be freed from anxiety and selfishness, because it becomes a concern for the salvation of others.

Therefore the Porziuncola and the indulgence which originated there becomes a mission, an invitation to place the salvation of others above my own, and int his way, to find myself. It means no longer asking, will I be saved? but rather, what does God want of me so that others may be saved?

Indulgence points to the communion of saints, to the mystery of vicarious substitution, to prayer as a way of becoming one with Christ and with his will, He invites us to take part in weaving the white garment of the new humanity, whose true beauty comes from its simplicity.

Indulgence is basically a bit like the chapel of Porziuncola. Just as it is necessary to go through the rather cold and alien spaces of a great edifice in order to find at its center the humble chapel that touches our heart, so also we need to traverse the complex weave of history and theological ideas to arrive at that which is quite simple: prayer, in which we let ourselves into the communion of saints, to cooperate with them in the triumph of good over the apparent omnipotence of evil, knowing that in the end, all is grace.

6/17/2007 12:14 PM
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Pope Benedict makes pilgrimage to Assisi

ASSISI, Italy,June 17 (AP)- Pope Benedict XVI began a pilgrimage to this hill town Sunday to mark the 800th anniversary of the conversion of St. Francis from the life of a medieval playboy into a man who stripped away his worldly wealth to serve God.

The pontiff was paying tribute to a man who would become one of the Church's most beloved figures amid a Vatican campaign to encourage rank-and-file faithful to decisively take up God's call in their everyday lives.

Benedict flew by helicopter to the outskirts of Assisi where he was greeted by Italian Premier Romano Prodi.

Benedict, 80, had a heavy schedule for his 11-hour visit in the muggy air of the Umbrian town, with its steep, stony streets, including several speeches, moments of private prayer before St. Francis' tomb in the Basilica of St. Francis and an early evening encounter with young people.

The late Pope John Paul II made six pilgrimages here during his papacy, including a visit to pray for peace a few months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.

Pope Benedict XVI kneels in front of the St. Damian's crucifix inside the St. Clare basilica in Assisi, in the third of his three private vists to Franciscan shrines after arriving in Assisi, prior to celebrating Mass in the courtyard below Assisi's St. Francis Basilica. He is greeteds by Poor Clare nuns after he venerates the Crucifix.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/17/2007 7:14 PM]
6/17/2007 12:47 PM
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The Lower and Upper Basilica of St. Francis
and the porticus, seen from the Piazza delle Logge

Basilica and friary, seen from the plain below

Pope, in Assisi, urges end
to Mideast wars, terror

By Philip Pullella

ASSISI, Italy, June 17 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Sunday made one of his strongest peace appeals, calling for an end to all wars and saying the people of the Middle East have had enough of "the horrors of combat, terrorism and blind violence."

The Pope made his appeal at the birthplace of Francis of Assisi, the saint who is a symbol of peace and also the Catholic Church's patron of animals and the environment.

"I consider it my duty to launch from here a pressing and heartfelt appeal for a stop to all armed conflicts that bloody the earth," he said after celebrating an outdoor mass in front of the pink stone basilica where the saint is buried in a crypt.

"May weapons be silenced and may hate give way to love everywhere. May offence give way to forgiveness and discord to unity," he said at the mid-point of a day-long visit to one of Christianity's most visited and venerated places.

It was Benedict's first visit to the hill town of Assisi, where his predecessor John Paul held three historic meetings with representatives of world religions, the last in 2002 after the September 11 attacks, to jointly repudiate terrorism and the concept of religion as a justification of violence.

Speaking to thousands of people in a small square in front of the basilica, which has been completely restored after a ceiling partially collapsed in a 1997 earthquake, the Pope said he heard the cry of those suffering because of war.

"Our thoughts turn in a particular way to the Holy Land, so loved by Francis, to Iraq, Lebanon and the whole Middle East," Benedict said.

"The populations of those countries have known for too long the horrors of combat, of terrorism, of blind violence, of the illusion that force can resolve conflicts, of the refusal to listen to the reasons of other people and grant them justice," he said.

Dressed in green and white vestments, he called on the international community to promote "responsible and sincere dialogue ... to put an end to so much pain and give back life and dignity to persons, institutions and populations."

The purpose of the Pope's visit was to mark the 800th anniversary of what is known as the conversion of St Francis.

Francis, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi, had lived a carefree life as a soldier and playboy until one day while praying before a crucifix in a ruined wayside chapel he heard a voice say "Go, Francis, and repair my house."

He later gave up all worldly possessions and formed a fraternity to help the poor. Over the centuries it would become one Christianity's most important religious orders.

Francis, who became known as "the little poor one of Assisi," died in 1226 and was declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church two years later. He is the saint perhaps most widely revered by non-Christians.

The Pope, who was later due to address young people, began his day by praying in front of the same crucifix that is said to have spoken to St Francis.

He also visited the so-called "upper basilica" decorated with Giotto's famous frescoes of the life of Saint Francis and prayed before the saint's tomb under the main altar
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/17/2007 4:06 PM]
6/17/2007 1:39 PM
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At 10 a.m., the Holy Father presided at the Eucharistic Celebration in the Lower Piazza of the Basilica of St. Francis. Concelebrating with the Pope were Cardinal Attilio Nicora, Pontifical Legate for the Basilicas of St. Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli, the Bishops of Umbria, and the Ministers-General of the Franciscan orders.

After a greeting by the Archbishop of Assisi/Nocera Umbra/Gualdo Tadino, Mons. Domenico Sorrentino, the Holy Father delivered this homily, translated here:

Dear brothers and sisters,

What would the Lord tell us today, as we celebrate the Eucharist in the evocative setting of this piazza, in which are concentrated eight centuries of holiness and devotion, of art and culture, in the name of Francis of Assisi?

Today, everything here speaks to us of conversion, as Mons. Sorrentino has reminded us, whom I thank from the heart for the kind words he addressed to me. With him I greet all the Church of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino and the pastors of all the churches of Umbria.

I am grateful to Cardinal Attilio Nicora, my legate for the two Papal Basilicas of this city. And I send an affectionate greeting to all the sons of Francis, present here today with the ministers-general of their various orders.

I express my cordial respects to the President of the Council of Ministers [Prime Minister Romano Prodi] and all the civilian authorities who honor us with their presence.

To speak of conversion means going to the heart of the Christian message and to the roots of human existence. The Word of God that was just proclaimed enlightens us, placing before our eyes three model converts.

The first is David. The passage about him, taken from the second Book of Samuel, is one of the most dramatic conversations in the Old Testament. In the center of this dialog is a searing verse, with which the Word of God, offered by the prophet Nathan, lays bare a king who has reached the peak of his political fortune but has fallen to the lowest level in his moral life.

To grasp the dramatic tension of this dialog, we should bear in mind the historical and theological context in which it took place. It is a horizon bound by the story of love whereby God chose Israel as his people, establishing with it an alliance, and being concerned with assuring Israel both land and liberty.

David is a link in this story of God's continuing concern for his people. He is chosen at a difficult moment to be placed alongside King Saul and thereafter to be his successor. God's plan included his descendants, in the messianic design which would find in Christ, 'son of David', its full realization.

The figure of David is thus an image of both historic and religious grandeur - all the more contrast with the abjection to which he had fallen, when, blinded by passion for Bathsheba, he took her away from her husband, one of his most faithful warriors, and later coldly ordered his murder.

It is a shivering thought. How could one elected by God fall so low? Man is truly grandeur and misery. He is great because he carries the image of God and is the object of God's love. He is miserable because he can make terrible use of the freedom which is his great privilege and end up being against his creator.

The verdict of God, as pronounced by Nathan to David, illuminates the most intimate fissures of conscience, where armies, power, public opinion, do not count, where one is alone with God only. "You are that man" are words which nail David to his responsibilities.

Profoundly affected by these words, the king develops sincere repentance and opens himself up to the offer of mercy. And that is the way to conversion.

Inviting us to this way, alongside David, is Francis. From what his biographies say of his youthful years, nothing makes us think of any sin as great as those imputed to the ancient king of Israel. But Francis himself, in the Testament that he prepared during the last months of his existence, looked at his first 25 years as a time "when I as in sin" (cfr 2 Test 1:FF 110).

Beyond specific manifestations, 'sin' was his having thought and organized a life that was centered on himself, with vain dreams of earthly glory. When he was the 'king of feasting' among the youths of Assisi (cfr Cel I, 3,7:FF 588), he did not lack a natural generosity of spirit. But it was still very far from Christian love
which gives itself without reservation.

As he himself recalls, he found it bitter to look at lepers. Sin kept him from dominating physical repugnance so that he could recognize in them brothers to love. Conversion brought him to show mercy and in turn this obtained mercy for him.

To serve lepers, up to even kissing them, was not simply a philanthropic gesture, a 'social' conversion, so to speak, but a true religious experience, dictated by the initiative of God's grace and love" "The Lord," he said, "led me to them" (2 Test 2:FF 110). It was then that bitterness turned to "a sweetness of the soul and body" (2 Test 3: FF 110).

Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, to convert to love is to go from bitterness to 'sweetness', from sorrow to true joy. Man is really himself, and realizes himself fully, to the degree that he lives with God and of God, recognizing and loving him in his brothers.

Another aspect of the way to conversion emerges in the passage from the Letter to the Galatians. And explaining it is another great convert, the Apostle Paul. The context of his words was the debate within the early Christian community, in which many Christians who came from Judaism tended to link salvation to the fulfillment of works according to the ancient Laws, thus negating the newness of Christ and the universality of his message.

Paul presents himself as witness and town crier of grace. On the road to Damascus, the radiant face and powerful voice of Christ rid him of his violent zeal as a persecutor of Christians and lit in place a new zeal for the Crucified One who reconciles people both near and far on the Cross (cfr Eph 2,11-22).

Paul had understood that in Christ all the Laws had been fulfilled and that whoever adheres to Christ unites with him and fulfills the law. To bring Christ - and in Christ, the only God - to all peoples became his mission. Christ in fact "is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh,
(cfr Ef 2,14).

His very personal confession of love expresses at the same time the common essence of Christian life: "Insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me" (Gal 2,20b). And how can one respond to this love, if not by embracing the crucified Christ up to living that same life? "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2,20a).

Speaking about being crucified with Christ, St. Paul not only points to his new birth in Baptism, but to all his life in service to Christ. This link to his apostolic life appears clearly in the concluding words of his defense of Christian freedom at the end of the Letter to the Galatians: "From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body" (6,17).

It is the first time, in the history of Christianity, that the words "marks of Jesus' [stigmata] appear. The dispute over the right way to see and live the Gospel is, in the end, not decided by the arguments of our own thought - it is decided by the reality of life, by the communion lived and suffered with Jesus, not only in ideas and words, but to the depth of existence, involving the body itself, one's flesh.

The bruises and scars received in a long history of passion were the testimony of the presence of the Cross of Jesus in the body of St. Paul - they were his stigmata. It wasn't circumcision that saved him. The stigmata were a consequence of his baptism, the expression of his dying with Jesus day by day, the sure sign of his being a new creature (cfr Gal,6,15).

Moreover, in using the word 'stigmate', Paul also refers to the ancient practice of branding on the skin of the slave the seal of his owner. The slave was thus 'stigmatized' as the property of his master and was under his protection. The sign of the Cross, written through long suffering on the skin of Paul, was his pride - it legitimized him as a true servant of Jesus, protected by the love of the Lord.

Dear friends, Francis of Assisi brings us back today all these words of Paul, with the power of his own testimony. From the time that the face of lepers, loved because of love for God, gave him some intuition of the mystery of 'kenosis' (cfr Phil 2,7) - God's coming down in the flesh of the Son of Man, from the time that the voice from the Crucifix of San Damiano planted the program for his life in his heart, "Go, Francis, repair my house" (2 Cel I,6,10:FF 593), his path was nothing else but the daily effort to imitate Christ. He fell in love with Christ. The wounds of the Crucified One cut into his heart before they were imprinted on his body at La Verna. He could truly say with Paul: "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me."

Now we come to the evangelical heart of today's Word of God. Jesus himself, in the passage just read from the Gospel of Luke, explains to us the dynamics of true conversion, indicating as a model the woman sinner who was redeemed by love.

One must acknowledge that this woman dared greatly. Her manner of placing herself before Jesus, washing his feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with perfumed oil, was scandalous to whoever looked with pitiless eyes of judgment on persons in her condition.

On the contrary, we are struck by the tenderness with which Jesus treats the woman who had been exploited and adjudged by everyone else. Finally she found in Jesus a pure eye, a heart capable of loving without exploiting. In the look and in the heart of Jesus she received the revelation of God-Love.

Lest it be misunderstood, let us note that the mercy of Jesus is not expressed by setting aside moral law. For Jesus, good is good and bad is bad. Mercy does not change the meaning of sin but burns it up in the fire of love. This purifying and healing effect is realized if there is in man a corresponding love, which implies recognizing the law of God, sincere repentance, the intention to start a new life.

Much is forgiven to this sinner in the Gospel because she has loved much. In Jesus, God comes to give us love and ask for love. And what else, my dear brothers and sisters, was the life of Francis as a convert if not a great act of love? This is revealed by his intense prayers, rich with meditation and praise, his tender embrace of the Holy Child in Greccio, his meditation on the Passion in La Verna, his 'living according to the Holy Gospel(2 Test 14: FF116), his choice of poverty, and his searching for Christ in the faces of the poor.

It was this conversion to Christ, to the point of desiring to 'transform himself' to him, to become a complete image of him - which explains the way he lived, by virtue of which he seems to us so relevant to the great issues of our time, such as the search for peace, the conservation of nature, the promotion of dialog among all men. Francis is a true teacher in these things. But he is, because he starts with Christ.

Christ is 'our peace' (cfr Eph 2,140. Christ is the very principle of the cosmos, because in him, everything has been done (cfr Jn 1,3). Christ is the divine truth, the eternal Logos, in which every 'dia-logos' finds its ultimate basis. Francis profoundly incarnates this Christological truth which is at the root of human existence, of the cosmos, and of history.

I cannot forget in today's context the initiative of my Predecessor of holy memory, John Paul II, who assembled here, in 1986, the representatives of the Christian confessions and of the world's religions for an encounter to pray for peace. It was a prophetic intuition and a moment of grace, as I said a few months ago when I wrote the Bishop of Assisi on the 20th anniversary of that event.

The choice to celebrate the encounter in Assisi was prompted precisely by the testimony of Francis as a man of peace, whom so many view with sympathy even if they are from other cultures and religions.

At the same time, the light of the Poverello on that initiative was a guarantee of Christian authenticity, since his life and his message rested so visibly on his choice of Christ - a guarantee then that would neutralize beforehand any suggestion of religious indifferentism, and which has nothing to do with authentic inter-religious dialog.

The 'spirit of Assisi' which continues to spread itself from that event is opposed to the spirit of violence, of the abuse of religion as a pretext for violence. Assisi tells us that loyalty to one's own religious conviction, loyalty above all to Christ crucified and resurrected, is not expressed in violence and intolerance, but in a sincere respect for others, in dialog, in a proclamation that appeals to freedom and reason, in the commitment for peace and reconciliation.

It cannot be an evangelical attitude, nor a Franciscan one, to fail to unite welcome, dialog and respect for everyone with the certainty of faith that every Christian, like the Saint of Assisi, must cultivate, proclaiming Christ as the way, the truth and the life for mankind (cfr Jn 14.6), the only Savior of the world.

May Francis of Assisi obtain for this particular Church, for the churches of Umbria, and all the Church in Italy - of which, together with Saint Catherine of Siena, he is the patron - and to all in the world who call on him, the grace of a true and full conversion to the love of Christ.


At the end of the Mass, the Pope introduced the Angelus with these words:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Eight centuries ago, the city of Assisi could hardly have imagined the role that Providence had assigned it, a role which has today made it well-known throughout the world as a true 'place of the spirit."

What gave it this character was the event which took place here and imprinted it indelibly. I refer to the conversion of the young Francis, who after 25 years of a mediocre daydreaming life, that was dedicated to the quest for worldly pleasures and successes, opened himself to grace, rediscovered himself and gradually recognized in Christ the ideal of his life. My pilgrimage today to Assisi is to recall that event in order to relive its meaning and its consequences.

I lingered with particular emotion at the little church of San Damiano where Francis heard from the Crucifix the programmatic words, "Go, Francis, repair my house" (2 Cel I,6,10: FF 593). It was a mission that began with the full conversion of his heart, to become thereafter an evangelical yeast that he cast with full hands on the Church and on society.

At Rivotorto I saw the place where, according to tradition, the lepers lived whom the saint served with mercy, beginning in this way his life as a penitent, and also the Sanctuary which evokes the poor dwelling used by Francis and his first brothers.

I went to the Basilica of St. Clare, Francis's 'little plant'. And this afternoon, after a visit to the Cathedral of Assisi, I will visit the Porziuncola, from where Francis, in the shadow of Mary, guided his expanding fraternity, and where he drew his last breath. There, I will meet with the youth, in the hope that the young Francis, convert to Christ, may speak to their hearts.

At this time, from the Basilica where his mortal remains rest, I wish to share his words of praise: "Highest, Almighty, good Lord, all praises be to you, all honor, glory and every blessing" (Canticle of Brother Sun 1:FF 263). Falling in love with Christ, he encountered the face of God-Love, of whom he became a passionate singer, a 'jester of God.'

In the light of the evangelical Beatitudes, we understand the gentleness with which he knew how to live with others, presenting himself humbly to all, a witness for peace and a peacemaker.

From this city of peace, I wish to send a greeting to the representatives of other Christian confessions and other religions who in 1986 accepted the invitation of my venerated Predecessor to experience here, in the hometown of St Francis, a World Day of Prayer for Peace.

I consider it my duty to issue from here an urgent and heartfelt appeal that all the armed conflicts which are bloodying the earth may cease, that the weapons be silenced, and that everywhere, hate may give way to love, offense to forgiveness, discord to unity.

We feel the spiritual presence here of all those who weep, suffer and die because of wars and their tragic consequences in any part of the world. Our thoughts go particularly to the Holy Land, so loved by St. Francis, to Iraq, to Lebanon, to the entire Middle East.

The populations of these countries have known, for too long, the horrors of combat, of terrorism, of blind violence, the illusion that force can resolve conflicts, the refusal to listen to the other side and give it justice.

Only responsible and sincere dialog, supported by the generosity of the international community, will put an end to so much pain and give back life and dignity to persons, institutions and societies.

May St. Francis, man of peace, obtain for us from the Lord that those who accept to be 'instruments of his peace' may multiply, through thousands of small acts in our daily life; that those who have roles of responsibility may be inspired by a passionate love for peace and for the indomitable will to achieve it, choosing the right means to obtain it.

May the Holy Virgin, whom the Poverello loved with tender heart and sang with inspired words, help us to discover the secret of peace in the miracle of love that was fulfilled in her womb with the incarnation of the Son of God.


At the end of the Mass, the Pope greeted a delegation of civil authorities in the Sacred Convent. Then, accompanied by Fr. Vincenzo Coli, custodian of the Sacred Convent, he paid a visit to the Tomb of St. Francis in the Lower Basilica, where he lit a Lamp of Peace.

After the visit, the Holy Father returned to the Sacred Convent for lunch.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/17/2007 7:28 PM]
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From Lella's blog, here is APCOM's report on the Holy Father's lunch in Assisi today:

At lunch with bishops,
Franciscans and Prodi

Assisi (PG), June 17 (Apcom) - The Pope had a table in the center of the Refectory. Flanking him for lunch were Prime Minister Romano Prodi and Cardinal Attilio Nicora.

Around the central table, a huge rectangle of tables that accommodated about 300 luncheon guests, including 180 Franciscan friars.

Also at the papal table were the Bishop of Assisi, Mons. Domenico Sorrentino, Mrs. Prodi, and Fr. Marco Testa, superior-general of the Franciscan Orders.

The Pope arrived to great applause from the Franciscan community and their guests. The prayer before the meal was said in Latin.

Then lunch was served: ham and potato croquettes as antipasti; ravioli in tomato sauce, rabbit fillets, beef steak, with green salad and artichokes - all served with a red wine from the Abruzzi.

Finally a cake which was decorated with the papal coat of arms. The Pope got up to slice the cake. He gave no speech, just a few words to thank everyone for 'a beautiful day.'

Guests said there was a festive fraternal atmosphere throughout the one-and-a-half-hour meal, with many moments of applause.

Each of the guests received a 'peace lamp' from their Franciscan hosts "as a reminder of the lamp that St. Francis wished should lawyas burn before the image of Christ."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/17/2007 6:49 PM]
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Pope Benedict XVI kneels in front of St. Damian's crucifix inside St. Clare basilica, in the third of his three private visits
to Franciscan shrines after arriving in Assisi, prior to celebrating Mass in the courtyard below Assisi's St. Francis Basilica.
He is greeted by Poor Clare nuns after he venerates the Crucifix.

The Santa Chiara complex in central Assisi.
The Basilica of Santa Chiara (St Clare) with its massive lateral buttresses, rose window, and simple Gothic interior, begun in 1257, contains the tomb
of the saint and 13th-century frescoes and paintings.

Here's a translation of an item in Il Messaggero today that tells us Cardinal Ratzinger was a frequent visitor to Assisi.

Papa Ratzinger in the
footsteps of St. Francis


ASSISI, June 16 - Discreet steps, clothed in cardinal's garments, almost in shadows, although he was celebrating Mass to mark the 750th anniversary of the death of St. Clare.

It happened two* years ago when Cardinal Ratzinger last came to Assisi for a public activity. [But if it was to celebrate the anniversary of Clare's death, it would have been in 2003, as she died in 1753! Maybe the sources used the expression 'a couple of years ago' which the writers interpreted literally, but all they had to do was check the dates!]

But then, he was just another high-ranking prelate, like so many others who visit Assisi, and few really paid attention. Certainly, there was no mass movement of the media, security people, organizations, religious and laymen, ready to welcome the same man they welcomed today, only dressed differently then.

Mayor Claudio Ricci, who was then vice-mayor, was at the Basilica of St. Clare for that Mass.

"I was immediately struck by his extraordinary intellectual capacity, his profound culture and spiritual refinement," he recalls. "He impressed me as cardinal because I thought he was a great minister - his homilies were always polished and theologically profound but communicated with extreme simplicity."

Many were impressed by the way he looked at people, and Ricci explains: "He looks you straight in the eye and is able to establish immediately a very personal and direct dialog."

But the Pope has many other past ties with the city of St. Francis. It is an affection that has grown over a quarter century.

"When he was a cardinal," recalls Mother Superior Immacolata Lamminger of the Poor Clare German Capuchin sisters in the monastery of Santa Croce, "he came to visit us every now and then, brief visits of 1-2 days, but he did this for over 20 years."

Today, the sisters would meet Joseph Ratzinger again in the Chapter Room of the Sacred Convent but for the first time as Pope. But their memories of that cardinal with the clear direct look remains fresh and sharp.

"Cardinal Ratzinger," said the sisters, "would come to Assisi to take a day off from his routine, to see the city, and he always chose to come to our convent because we are Germans."

"We always had great esteem for him," said Mother Immacolata, "but he also became a familiar presence for whom our regard deepened. I remember him as a gentle soul, a good man, very respectful towards others. We, of course, look forward with great joy to seeing him again."

"We will bring him only one gift," she said. "Our prayers. That is the true principle of our calling and that which can be of best help."

The president of he Umbria region, Maria Rita Lorenzetti, said: "Umbria and Assisi welcome Pope Benedict XVI, with all the warmth, affection and enthusiasm that is natural to our people. We are honored by his visit to this region which is not only the land of Francis but also of Saint Benedict - two great figures of history, not only of the Church, but for all humanity."

The bishop of Assisi, Mons. Domenico Sorrentino said the Pope's visit comes in what the diocese has proclaimed as the Year of Conversion - "not only because it is the eighth centenary of Francis's conversion, but because our Church itself has wanted to stress this aspect and we are committed to follow and teach the way of conversion. The Holy Father is very happy about it."

Il Messaggero, 17 giugno 2007


Dear sisters,

When Bishop Sorrentino and I agreed on this visit, I said right away, "I must meet the Bavarian Capuchin nuns! For me they are such a profound part of Assisi and I have so many beautiful memories of being with them in their motherhouse, before and after the earthquake. A visit to Assisi without meeting the German sisters would not be a full experience."

Therefore I am very glad that we are together now, almost as if we were in your own convent. I am very grateful and happy that centuries ago, Providence made it possible to have your monastery here, which continues to receive young girls from Germany, particularly from Bavaria, who have decided to come here and follow the way of the Lord, in communion with St. Francis - a way of poverty, chastity and obedience, but above all, a way of love for Christ and for his Church.

I know that you pray a lot for me and all the Church. Knowing that there are so many persons who support me with their prayers, so many dear sisters who pray and sustain my efforts from within the Church, means constant reinforcement for me. And I must say thank you for all that.

This year, we celebrate the conversion of St. Francis. We know we always need conversion. We know that all our life, is an upward path - often difficult but always beautiful - of successive conversions. And we know that in this way, day after day, we come ever closer to the Lord.

St. Francis shows us how in his life - starting from his first profound encounter with the Crucifix of San Damiano - he continued to mature in communion with Christ, until he became one with him when he received the stigmata.

That is what we search for, what we strive for - that we may hear better the voice of the Lord, that it may penetrate our heart, that it may shape our life increasingly, so that within. we may become similar to him, and the Church lives in us.

As Mary in her person was the living Church, through your praying, believing, hoping and loving, you too will be the living Church, one with our only Lord.

Thank you for everything. I am truly grateful to the Lord that we have been able to meet today.

We also brought you a little gift - of course, I thank you for the flowers! This is an image of the Madonna to remind you of this visit.

I think I have time to listen to one more song.....[The nuns sing]... Thank you! We used to sing that often in the seminary in Traunstein, and it brings me back to my youth. Then as now, it makes me perceive all the joy in my heart for the Lord and for the Mother of God. And now, I can give you my blessing...

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 12:18 AM]
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Here is a translation of a story in Il Giornale today by a veteran Vatican correspondent who reveals another circumstantial background for the Pope's imminent liberalization of the Old Mass:

Ratzinger's liturgical turning point:
Giving free way to a rite that was
neither abolished nor prohibited

By Andrea Tornielli

Benedict XVI has signed the text of the Motu Proprio that will facilitate the use of the pre-Vatican II Missal in liturgical celebrations, making clear that it was never abolished or prohibited, but that instead, it represents a treasure of the Church.

There is a precedent that had remained secret to this day on the reasons for his decision, a text which the cardinals of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prepared in November 1982 and which Il Giornale is now able to reveal.

The publication of the Motu Proprio should take place in the next few days, probably before the start of the Pope's summer vacation. It has been a well considered decision, following long collegial consultations, that`Ratzinger has taken in behalf of faithful Catholics who remain attached to the pre-1969 Mass.

John Paul II, with an indult, had already foreseen the possibility of using the pre-Conciliar Missal freely and had requested bishops to be generous in allowing celebration of the Old Mass. But in many dioceses, requests by traditionalists have met with often ungrounded refusals.

Benedict XVI - who, as a cardinal, often expressed his thoughts about what was taking place in the name of liturgical reform - now intends to move forward.

The text of the Motu Proprio will be accompanied by a pastoral letter which will explain the profound reasons for this step, and ask the bishops for their obedience, patience and 'understanding.'

On November 16, 1982, at the request of Papa Wojtyla, a meeting presided by Cardinal Ratzinger as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the participation of Cardinals Baggio, Baum, Casaroli O(who was then Secretary of State), Oddi and Archbishop Casoria, had decided that "the Roman Missal in the form in which it was used up to 1969 - independent of the 'Lefebvre question' - should be accepted by the Holy See for all masses said in Latin."

With two conditions: that the use of the old liturgical texts also presumes full acceptance of the new norms issued after Vatican -II and should not be taken to mean that the new norms are 'heretic or invalid'; and that for the public Masses celebrated in the parishes on Sundays and religious holidays, it is the 'new liturgical calendar' which must be observed.

All the participants agreed unanimously, answering 'affirmative', Yes, to the question of whether the Mass according to the old rite was valid.

[What reasons might have prevented such a reasonable document from being made known and put into practice????]

That meeting also anticipated a document against liturgical abuses, identified as one of the reasons for 'the present crisis in the Church', as well as in the remote future, the possibility of 'a synthesis of the two Missals.'

That future today seems much less remote. Benedict XVI's decision is clearly not a step backwards, but a stage in the liturgical reform intended by the Council, but which has not been fully realized.

In his presentation letter, Benedict XVI will preemptively answer objections to this liberalization that claim this is 'lack of obedience to the Council" or 'a rupture of unity."

Above all, as Ratzinger reminded us in 1998, "it was not the Council that changed the liturgical texts." What it did, he said, "was to order a review of the texts, and to this end, it laid down some fundamental principles," defining what is liturgy and providing a 'standard of judgment' for every celebration.

He said it was in ignoring these essential rules and the norms prescribed by the conciliar constitution that "then yes, the Council is being disobeyed."

Ratzinger has also explained several times that "in the course of its history, the Church has never abolished nor prohibited orthodox [in the generic sense] forms of liturgy, because to do so would have been alien to the spirit of the Church itself" because "a liturgy that expresses the true faith is never an assemblage put together following pragmatic criteria which could be arbitrary and manipulable, today being this and tomorrow being something else."

Instead, he says, liturgy is a living reality that "expresses the life of the Church, which condenses the faith, prayers and the life itself of generations, and which at the same time embodies in concrete form the action of God and man's response." Therefore, he points out, the Council ordered a possible reform of liturgical texts but did not prohibit preceding texts.

Finally, the Pope will point out that "there have always been many forms of the Latin rite." In fact up to Vatican-II, other rites coexisted with the Roman rite - the Ambrosian, the Mozarabic, that of Braga, of the Carthusians, of the Dominicans.

"No one was ever scandalized that the Dominicans, whom we find in many of our parishes, did not say mass like secular (diocesan) priests but followed their own rite. We never had any doubt that their rite was Catholic as much as the Roman rite, and we were proud that Catholicism has such a wealth of so many different traditions."

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 12:26 AM]
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The Pope meets the Franciscans in the Upper Basilica. Angela Ambrogetti has this brief report for PETRUS, translated here.

ASSISI - Before leaving the Holy Convent of the Basilica of St. Francis today, the Pope met with the members of the Franciscan community at the Basilica as well as the participants of the Chapter-General meeting of the Franciscan Order of Minor Friars, led by Minister-General Fr. Marco Tasca.

Benedict's message to them was an invitation to penitence as an exemplary concept to be encouraged and to be bear witness to it forcefully and consistently.

"You are called on to do this with that harmony with the Church which Francis always showed," he said, as he thanked them for the spirit of obedience with which they received his Motu Proprio Totus Orbius in 2005 [in which the Pope decreed that the Franciscans in Assisi should be under the pastoral jurisdiction of the Diocese}.

He congratulated the new Minister-General and referred to the work of the current Chapter General meeting, which brings together brothers from different countries and cultures to speak and listen to one another 'in the language of the Holy Spirit.'

At the same time, he pointed out that without prayer, there can be no mission. "Francis was a master of the way of Beauty which saves - may all the friars imitate him."

The Gospel, he told, them was the only criterion and program to follow. He urged them to bring back to their brothers 'the peace you have given and received' during the days of their chapter meeting.


Here is a translation of the written message delivered by the Pope to the head of the Franciscan order when he met the Participants of the Chapter General meeting of the Friar Minors (Conventual) and the Community of the Sacred Convent at the Upper Basilica of St. Francis on Sunday afternoon.

To the Most Reverend Fr. MARCO TASCA
Order of Friars Minor, Conventual

It is with great joy that I greet you, Most Reverend Father, and all the conventual friars minor gathered in Assisi for your 199th Chapter General meeting. I am happy to be doing so in this Papal Basilica where splendid works of art recount the miracle of grace that the Lord fulfilled in St. Francis.

I find it providential that this takes place in the context of the eighth centenary of the conversion of Francis. Indeed, with my visit today, I wished to underline the significance of this event, to which one must always turn to in order to understand Francis and his message.

He himself, almost synthesizing in one word his interior experience, could not find a concept more pregnant with meaning than that of penitence: "The Lord told me, brother Francis, to start penitence thus" (Testament,1: FF 110). Therefore, he thought of himself essentially as a 'penitent' - in a state of permanent conversion, so to speak.

Abandoning himself to the action of the Spirit, Francis converted increasingly to Christ, transforming himself into a living image of Him, in the ways of poverty, charity and mission.

Therefore it is your task to testify to his message with great impulse and consistency. You are called on to do it with that ecclesiastical harmony that characterized Francis's relationship with the Vicar of Christ and all the pastors of the Church.

In this respect, I am grateful for the prompt obedience with which - along with the Minor Friars, and corresponding to the special ties of affection that have always linked you to the Apostolic See - you accepted the dispositions of the Motu Proprio Totius Orbis on the new relationship of the Papal Basilicas of St. Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli with the local church which baptized Francis and which played such a part in his life.

I greet you specially, Fr. Marco, whom the trust of your brothers has called to the demanding task of Minister General. May it be an auspicious sign for you that it comes on the 750th anniversary of the election of St. Bonaventure to the same position.

With the examples of St Francis and St. Bonaventure, along with the other elected officials, may you and the great family of the Franciscan order be guided with wise prudence to keep faith with the roots of the Franciscan experience and to be attentive to the 'signs of the times.'

The event of the Chapter General brings together friars coming from so many nations and diverse cultures to speak and listen to each other through the language of the Spirit, thus keeping alive the memory of Francis's saintliness. It is a truly extraordinary occasion to share the 'wondrous things' that God makes possible even today through the sons of the Poverello dispersed around the world.

I hope that the Capitulars, as they thank God for the growth of the Order, particularly in the missionary countries, may profit from this meeting to ask yourselves what the Holy Spirit asks of you in order to continue announcing with passion, in the footsteps of your Seraphic Father, the Kingdom of God at this beginning of the third Christian millennium.

I learned with interest that you chose as the central theme of your reflections during the days of the Chapter Assembly that of formation for mission work, underscoring that this formation is never given once and for all, but should be considered a permanent journey.

Indeed, it means a journey of multiple dimensions, which must be centered on the capacity to allow yourselves to be shaped by the Spirit in order to be ready to go wherever He calls. And this can only be based on being attentive to the Word in an atmosphere of intense and continuous prayer.

Only in this condition can one comprehend the true needs of the men and women of our time, in order to offer them answers that draw from the wisdom of God and to announce to them what one has experienced profoundly in one's own life.

It is necessary that the great family of the conventual friars minor continue to be impelled by the words that Francis heard from the Crucifix of San Damiano: "Go and repair my house" (2 Cel I,6,10): FF 593).

Each brother must be a true contemplative, with eyes fixed on the eyes of Christ. Each one must be able, as Francis was before the leper, to see the face of Christ in our brothers who suffer, and to bring to everyone the message of peace.

To this end, each one must make his the way of conforming to the lord Jesus that Francis lived in the various place symbols of his itinerary of sainthood: from San Damiano to Rivotorto, from Santa Maria degli Angeli to La Verna.

Therefore let it be a firm principle for every son of St. Francis that which the Poverello expressed with the simple words: "The Rule and life of the friars minor is this - to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rb Im1: FF 75).

In this respect, I am glad to learn that even the conventual friars, along with the entire great Franciscan family, are engaged in re-living the stages which brought Francis to formulate the propositum vitae confirmed by Innocent III around the year 1209. Called to live 'according to the form of the holy Gospel" (Testament, 14: FF 116), the Poverello comprehended himself completely in the light of the Gospel, and the perennial relevance of his testimony comes from that.

His 'prophecy' teaches us to make the Gospel the criterion for facing the challenges of every age, even ours, and to resist the deceptive fascination of fleeting modes in order to be rooted in the design of God, and in that way to discern the true needs of men. I hope that the brothers will know how to accept this 'program' with renewed impulse and courage, trusting in the strength that comes from above.

The Conventual Minors are asked above all to be heralds of Christ: approach everyone with gentleness and trust, in an attitude of dialog, but always offering ardent testimony of our only Savior. Bear witness of the beauty of God, which Francis sang as he contemplated the wonders of creation.

Among the stupendous picture cycles that adorn this Basilica and in every angle of that marvelous temple that is Nature, let your lips raise the prayer that Francis said after the mystic rapture of La Verna, exclaiming twice: "You are Beauty!" (In praise of God in the highest, 4.6: FF 261).

Yes, Francis is a great master of the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty. May the friars imitate him in irradiating the beauty that saves. And you can do that particularly well in this stupendous Basilica, not only through the treasures of art housed here, but above all, through the intensity and decorum of liturgy and the fervent proclamation of the Christian mystery.

To the Capitulars, I hope you will return to your respective communities bringing back the freshness and relevance of the Franciscan message. To all I say: bring back to your brothers the fraternal experience of these days as light and strength, capable of lighting up the horizons of daily life that are often clouded; bring to everyone the peace that you have given and received.

Addressing the Immaculate Virgin, Tota Pulchra, the All-Beautiful, and imploring the intercession of St. Francis and St. Clare to whom I entrust the work of this Chapter General, I impart to you, Most Reverend Father, to the Capitulars all the members of the Order, the Apostolic Blessing as a token of special affection.

Assisi, June 17, 2007


The Pope leaves St. Francis Basilica and the Holy Convent to proceed
to his other afternoon appointments in Assisi:

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/21/2007 8:10 AM]
6/17/2007 8:33 PM
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Here is a translation of a report from PETRUS:

The Pope calls on the clergy of Assisi
to keep whole St. Francis's message and spirit

By Angela Ambrogetti

ASSISI - Children wearing white-and-yellow caps were on the lawn in front of the Upper Basilica of the Sacred Convent to greet Benedict XVI with songs as he left the Franciscan complex to go to the Cathedral of San Ruffino, the diocesan church of Assisi, to meet the clergy and other religious orders.

First, the Pope spent some moments of adoration in the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and stopped at the font where both St. Francis and St. Claire had been baptized.

As he did at the Mass earlier today, he stressed the theme of conversion. "If today we talk about the conversion of Francis, thinking of his radical change of life as a young man, we cannot forget that his first 'conversion' came with the gift of Baptism," he said.

Therefore, he said, Francis's life should serve as a call to the millions of pilgrims who come to Assisi drawn by Francis's charisma, but "they should be helped to grasp the essential nucleus of Christian life and to live by his 'standard' which is in fact, holiness."

Pilgrims, he said, should feel not only 'human' admiration for the saint, but should come to meet Jesus through him. And that is why, he said, "In Assisi, a high-profile pastoral line of action is more than ever necessary." Perhaps more spirituality rather than showmanship?

"Assisi has the gift of attracting people from so many cultures and religions in the name of a dialog which has indispensable value," he pointed out. "John Paul II lent his name to the icon of Assisi as a city of dialog and peace. For John Paul II, it was clear that Assisi's vocation for dialog is linked to the message of Francis, and it should remain true to the pillars of his spirituality. With Francis, everything comes from God and returns to God."

Benedict sought to shed light on the real nature of John Paul II's gestures, which have been so often misunderstood and enucleated.

"Francis is a man who lived for others because he was a man of God. To want to separate, in his message, the horizontal from the vertical dimension is to make him unrecognizable."

Therefore, the Pope called on the clergy and religious "to develop a way of proclaiming Christian faith that is capable of rising to today's challenges."

"It is important that your spiritual and pastoral traditions remain firm in their perennial values, even as they are renewed in order to give an authentic response to new demands."

To the religious, he said, "The name of Francis, along with that of Clare, demands that this city distinguish itself with a particular missionary impulse. But precisely because of this, it is also necessary that the Church in Assisi live an intense experience of communion. That is the context for the Motu Proprio Totius Orbis, in which I stated that the two papal Basilicas of St. Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli - although they will continue to have the special attention of the Holy See through the Pontifical Legate - should come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop in pastoral matters. I am truly happy to learn that this new way has been undertaken under the sign of great willingness and collaboration, and I am certain that this will bear much fruit."

He spoke of local churches as images of the universal Church. "There is a mutual interior rapport between the universal and the particular. The individual churches, while they live their identity as 'portions' of the People of God, also express a communion and a 'deaconship' with respect to the universal church which is dispersed all over the world, inspired by the Holy Spirit and served by the unifying ministry of the Successor of Peter."

"This 'catholic' openness must be found in every diocese and should mark in some way all the dimensions of its life. But it is accentuated when a Church has a special charism which attracts and works beyond its confines. And who can deny that such is the charism of Francis and his message?

"All the pilgrims who come to Assisi urge this Church to go beyond itself. It cannot be denied that Francis had a special relationship with his city. In a way, Assisi has embodied the way of saintliness of this great son of the city."

In short, the Pope said, this charism must be respected, but it must not isolate the Church from the rest of the community.

"One may experience fatigue or fear when facing the new demands and difficulties of our day, but we should trust that the Lord will give us the strength necessary to do what is asked of us."

Here is a translation of the full text of the Pope's address:


Dearest priests and deacons, and members of the religious orders!

I must say that i sincerely wanted our meeting to take place in this historic Cathedral where normally, the Diocesan Church meets around the Bishop. After having been this morning among the People of God in their various components at the Eucharistic Celebration outside the Basilica of St. Francis, I find it fitting to have a special meeting with you, especially because of the great number of consecrated persons in this Diocese.

I thank Mons. Sorrentino, the Pastor of this Church, for having conveyed your sentiments of communion and affection - an affection I have immediately felt. I thank you from my heart.

I cordially greet the Emeritus Bishop Sergio Goretti, who, as we have heard, guided this Church for 25 years, a Church illustrious for so many stories of saintliness. I remember so many beautiful encounters we have had over the years right here in Assisi. Thank you, Excellency.

As you know, the occasion which brought me today to Assisi is the commemoration of the eighth centenary of the conversion of St. Francis. I come as a pilgrim myself. As a student, and later when I was preparing myself for a professorship, I studied St. Bonaventure, therefore, also St. Francis. I had been on spiritual pilgrimages to Assisi a lot before coming here physically.

And so, on this long pilgrimage of my life, I am happy to be with you today int his Cathedral. Having come to follow the footsteps of the Poverello, much of what I will say will start from him.

In this Cathedral, however, I cannot fail to remember the other saints which have brightened the life of this Church, starting with its patron San Ruffino, along with San Rinaldo and the Blessed Angelo. And of course, alongside Francis is Clare, who was born around the corner from this Cathedral.

Just now, I saw the font where tradition says both St. Francis and St. Clare had been baptized, and later, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother.

This leads to my first reflection. If we speak of Francis's conversion today, we think of the radical change of life that he decided as a young man, but we should not forget that his first 'conversion' came with the gift of Baptism. The full response that he would give as an adult would simply be the maturation of that seed of holiness that he received earlier.

It is important that in our life and in our pastoral work, we should be more aware of the baptismal dimension of sanctity, which is a gift and a mission for all baptized persons. This was the dimension referred to by my venerated predecessor in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, when he wrote: "To ask a catechumen, 'Do you want to receive baptism?' is to ask him at the same time, 'Do you want to be a saint?'" (n. 31).

The millions of pilgrims who pass through these streets, drawn by the charisma of Francis, should be helped to grasp the essential nucleus of Christian life and to live by his high standard which is, precisely, saintliness. It's not enough that they admire Francis: through him they should be able to encounter Christ, to proclaim him and love him with 'right faith, sure hope and perfect charity" (Prayer of Francis before the Crucifix, 1:FF 276).

The Christians of our time often find themselves facing the tendency to accept a diminished Christ, admired for his extraordinary humanity but rejected in the profound mystery of his divinity. Francis himself undergoes a kind of mutilation when he is presented as representing important values appreciated by today's culture, but forgetting that the profound choice he made - we could say, the core of his life - was his choice of Christ.

In Assisi, more than ever, there is need for a high-profile pastoral line. Towards this end, you priests and deacons and consecrated persons, must strongly feel the privilege and the responsibility of living in this land of grace. It is true that whoever passes through this city receives a beneficial message even from the very stones and from its history. It is true that stones speak, but that does not exempt us from making a robust spiritual proposition that can also help in facing the many seductions of the relativism which characterizes our time.

Assisi has the gift of calling on people of different cultures and religions in the name of a dialog which has irrenunciable value. John Paul II has lent his name to this icon of Assisi as the city of dialog and peace. I have noted, in this respect, that to honor the memory of his special relationship with this city, you have dedicated a hall to him with paintings that show him at this Cathedral.

For John Paul II, it was clear that Assisi's vocation for dialog is linked to the message of Francis, and therefore, it should remain true to the pillars of his spirituality.

With Francis, everything comes from God and returns to God. His praises of 'God in the highest' reveal a soul that was constantly rapt in dialog with the Trinity. His relationship with Christ found its most meaningful place in the Eucharist. His very love of his fellowmen came from his experience of God's love. When, in his Testament, he recalls his meeting with the leper as the initial event of his conversion, he underscores that he was led by God himself to that embrace of mercy (cfr 2 Test 2:FF 110).

The various biographical testimonies agree in describing his conversion as a progressive opening up to the Word that comes from on high. The same logic emerges in his asking and offering alms motivated by the love of God (cfr 2 Cel 47.77). The way he looked at Nature was in fact a contemplation of the Creator in the beauty of his creatures. His own wish for peace is expressed as a prayer, since the way to express it was revealed to him: "God give you peace!" (2 Test:FF 121).

Francis was a man for others, because he was first a man of God. To wish to separate, in his message, the 'horizontal' dimension from the 'vertical' is to make Francis unrecognizable.

It is your task, as ministers of the Gospel and of the altar, and as religious men and women, to develop a way to proclaim the Christian faith which can rise to the level of today's challenges. You have a great history, and I wish to express my appreciation for what you have already done.

Although I am here today as Pope, you know that it is not my first visit here, and that I have always carried away the most beautiful impressions. Your spiritual and pastoral tradition must remain firm in its perennial values, while renewing itself to give an authentic response to new demands.

Therefore I wish to encourage you to follow faithfully the pastoral plan that your Bishop has proposed. It points to the demanding perspectives of communion, charity, mission, which all have their roots in an authentic conversion to Christ.

Lectio divina, the centrality of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharistic adoration, contemplating the mystery of Christ through the Marian perspective of the Rosary, assure a climate and spiritual tension without which all pastoral commitments, fraternal life, the very commitment to the poor, risk being shipwrecked because we are weak and we get tired.

But take courage, dearest ones! The Church in all the regions of the world look on this city and this ecclesiastical community with special sympathy. The name of Francis, coupled with that of Clare, requires that the city distinguish itself by a special missionary thrust. But precisely because of this, it is necessary that this Church itself has an intense experience of communion.

That is the perspective for the Motu Proprio Totius Orbis, through which, as your bishop mentioned, I decided that the two great Papal Basilicas of St. Francis and Santa Maria degli Angeli - although they will continue to have the special attention of the Holy See through the Papal Legate - should come under the pastoral jurisdiction of the Bishop of this Church.

I am truly happy to know that obedience and collaboration have marked the beginning of this new way, and I am certain that it will be very fruitful.

Actually it was a decision that was ripe for many reasons. It was already suggested by the new life that the Second Vatican Council had breathed into the theology of the local Church, showing how it expresses the mystery of the universal Church. The local Churches are indeed 'formed in the image of the universal Church: in them, and starting with them - in quibus et ex quibus - the one catholic Church exists" (Lumen gentium, 23).

The universal and the local have a mutual call on each other. The individual churches, while they live their identity as 'portions' of the People of God, also express a communion and a 'diaconate' with respect to the universal Church that is dispersed all over the world, animated by the Holy Spirit, and served by the unifying ministry of the Successor of Peter.

This 'catholic' openness must be found in every diocese and should mark in some way all the dimensions of its life. But it is accentuated when a Church has a special charism which attracts and works beyond its confines. And who can deny that such is the charisma of Francis and his message?

All the pilgrims who come to Assisi should impel this Church to go beyond itself. It cannot be denied that Francis had a special relationship with his city. In a way, Assisi has embodied the way of saintliness of this great son of the city. That is demonstrated by my own pilgrimage today, in which I am visiting so many places, certainly not all, connected with events in the life of Francis.

I also wish to stress that the spirituality of Francis of Assisi helps, both in understanding the universality of the Church, which he expressed in his particular devotion to the Vicar of Christ, and in understanding the value of the local Church, seeing how strong and filial was his relationship to the Bishop of Assisi.

We must rediscover the value, not only biographical but 'ecclesiological', of that meeting between the young Francis and Bishop Guido, to whose discernment and into whose hands he delivered, having stripped himself of everything, his choice to live for Christ (cfr 1 Cel I, 6, 14-15: FF 343-344).

The timeliness for the unitary structure assured by the Motu Proprio was also prompted by the need for more coordinated and efficient pastoral action. The Second Vatican Council and subsequent Magisterium underscored the need for persons and communities in consecrated life - even those with pontifical privileges - to be situated organically, following their Constitutions and the laws of the Church, within the life of the local church (cfr Decr. Christus Dominus, 33-35; CIC 678-680).

In any case, these communities, if they expect welcome and respect for their own respective charisms, should avoid living as 'islands' but should integrate themselves with conviction and generosity into the service and pastoral plan adopted by the bishop of the entire diocesan community.

I address a special thought to you, dearest priests, who are engaged every day, along with the deacons, in the service of the People of God. Your enthusiasm, your communion, your life of prayer and your generous ministry are indispensable. One may experience fatigue or fear when facing the new demands and difficulties of our day, but we should trust that the Lord will give us the strength necessary to do what is asked of us.

We pray - and we can be sure - that he will not allow vocations to lack if we ask him in prayer, and at the same time, seek them out and cultivate them through a youth and vocational ministry that is inventive and ardent and able to show the beauty of the priestly ministry. In this context, I gladly welcome the superiors and students of the Pontifical Regional Seminary in Umbria.

To those of you in consecrated life, make your life testify to the hope that you have placed in Christ. You constitute a great wealth for the Church, whether you work in the parish ministry or help pilgrims who often come to seek hospitality, but also expect spiritual witness.

In particular, those of you who are in cloisters, learn to hold high the lamp of contemplation. To each of you, I would like to repeat the words that St. Clair wrote in a letter to Agnes of Bohemia, asking her to make Christ her 'mirror': "Look at this mirror every day, queenly spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually scrutinize it for your own face..."(4 LAg 15 : FF 2902).

Your life of concealment and prayer does not subtract you from the missionary dynamism of the Church, but places you in its heart. The higher the apostolic challenges are, the more need there is for your charism. Be visible signs of the love of Christ for all the other brothers and sisters who are exposed to the labors of apostolic work and lay commitment.

In confirming to you my affection and trust, and in entrusting you to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and your saints, starting with Francis and Clare, I impart to all a special Apostolic Blessing.

Cathedral of San Ruffino

In this church St Francis (1182) and St. Clare (1193) and many of their original disciples were baptised. When hearing Francis preaching in this church in 1209, Clare of Assisi became deeply touched by his message and she realized her calling. Once St Francis was witnessed praying in this church while, at the same time, he was seen jumping on a chariot of fire in the Porziuncola (as related by Tommaso da Celano, Vita I, chap. XVIII)

This stately church in Umbrian Romanesque style was the third church built on the same site to contain the remains of bishop Ruffino, martyred in the 3th century. The construction was started in 1140 according to the designs by Giovanni da Gubbio, as attested by the wall inscription visible inside the apse. He may be the same Giovanni who designed rose-window on the fa├žade of Santa Maria Maggiore (Assisi) in 1163.

In 1228, while he was in Assisi for the canonization of Saint Francis, Pope Gregory IX consecrated the high altar. Pope Innocent IV then inaugurated the finished church in 1253.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 12:16 AM]
6/17/2007 9:48 PM
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The Pope bids goodbye to Assisi
with an appeal to the youth

By Angela Ambrogetti

ASSISI - It was the youth of Assisi and Umbria who received Pope's Benedict final message in Assisi today, telling them also of his emotions on a day that has been dedicated to the theme of conversion as the central message of St. Francis.

From the Cathedral of San Ruffino where he addressed the local clergy, the Pope proceeded to his last stop of the day, the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli.

First, a private visit to the Porziuncola and to the Chapel dedicated to the Passage of St. Francis, and then his encounter with the youth in the Piazza of the church.

Welcoming him to the Basilica were Father Alfred Bucaioni, custodian of the basilica; its Rector Fr. Rosario Gugliotta; and the parish priest Fr. Francesco de Lazzari.

Speaking to more than 10,000 youth gathered outside the Church later, he said, "St. Francis speaks to everyone, but I know that he has a special attraction to you, the young ones."

Nevertheless, he added, "Unfortunately, we do not lack - rather, there are many, or too many - young people who seek mental landscapes that are as fatuous as they are destructive in the artificial paradise of drugs. How can we deny that there are many young people - as well as older ones - who seek the life that Francis had before his conversion? Beneath that lifestyle was a desire for happiness that lives in every human heart. But can that life give true joy? Francis certainly did not find it there."

The Pope said even Francis's juvenile wandering about is typical today of many teenagers who move around "trying to amuse themselves far beyond the confines of their own hometown" or navigate the Internet "searching for information and contacts of every kind."

"But you yourselves, he told them, "can verify on your own, through your own experiences, that a dissolute life does not give true happiness. The truth is that finite things can give us flashes of joy, but only the Infinite can fill our heart."

Then there is the question of vanity, he said. "Today, it is common to talk about 'image building' or publicity-seeking. In order to have a minimum of success, we are supposed to credit ourselves before the eyes of others with something unprecedented, something original. In a way, this could simply be an innocent desire to be well received. But often, it involves pride, an excessive promotion of oneself, selfishness and a will to dominate. In fact, to center life on oneself is a mortal trap. We can be ourselves only if we open up to love, loving God and our brothers.

Then there was Francis's early dreams of seeking glory in battle. "Even today," the Pope said, "the struggle for life can hurt and it can be very noisy. We need an interior silence so that we do not pass our whole life deafened by clamorous but empty voices, and thereby failing to hear God's voice - the only one that counts because it is the only one that saves."

Do not be content with crumbs, he told them. "Do not be afraid, my dearest ones, to imitate Francis, above all in the capacity to return to yourselves. He learned how to keep a silence within himself to keep an ear out always for the word of God. Step by step, he allowed himself to be led by the hand towards a full encounter with Jesus, until he made Jesus the treasure and the light of his life."

Trust in the God who became man, as Francis did, the Pope told the youth. "When he stripped himself of everything and chose poverty, the reason was Christ, and Christ only. Jesus was his all, and he did not need anything else."

The Pope then spoke about vocations, in the priesthood or the consecrated life. "Francis, who was a deacon, not a priest, had a great veneration for priests. Although he knew that there was misery and fragility even among the ministers of God, he saw them as ministers of the Body of Christ, and this was enough to draw from him a sense of love, reverence and obedience. That is why I invite those among you who hear the call of the priesthood or the consecrated life, to say Yes to God. As John Paul II often loved to say, I too would like to tell you, 'Open your doors to Christ! It is beautiful to be Christian.'"

He spoke to them about the Second Vatican Council and its teachings, especially on inter-religious dialog, which have become the 'common and indispensable patrimony of the Christian sensibility'.

"It is time for young people to seriously enter, like Francis, into a personal relationship with Jesus. It is time to look at the history of this third millennium which has just started as something that more than ever needs to be leavened by the Gospel."

Benedict's address to the youth ended with an appeal and a promise for their next appointment together: "Be with me, dear young people, as you were with John Paul II. We shall see each other again in Loreto at the beginning of September, when I expect to see you all at the Agora of the youth."

Night had fallen. Benedict XVI left Assisi by helicopter. From the air, one could look down on the hills and fields of Assisi, on the Sacred Convent and the Basilica, where in the heart of the city, rest the mortal relics of a saint who speaks loudly to us today, above all to youth in search of true spirituality.

The lowland region of Santa Maria degli Angeli

Saint Francis had a special affection for the Blessed Virgin Mary (2 Cel 198). He was especially fond of a small chapel in the Umbrian plain
below Assisi, dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels, and popularly known as the "Porziuncola", or small portion.

The Porziuncola, over which the Basilica, right, was built to shelter it.

It was the property of the Benedictine monastery of Monte Subasio. This chapel was the place where Francis received his evangelical calling
on 24 February 1208, when he heard the Gospel of the mission of the apostles.

In this chapel the Order of Friars Minor was born. It was also in the Porziuncola that the Second Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano was born
on Palm Sunday 1211, when Clare embraced the evangelical form of life of Francis and the brothers.

The Porziuncola was the venue for the chapters of the Order, and for the sending of the missionaries to various provinces in Italy, Europe and
the Holy Land. It was also at the Porziuncola that Francis desired to end his days, and where he died in the evening of 3 October 1226.



Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address to the youth, after greetings from two youth representatives, Marco Giuliani and Ilaria Perticoni:

Dearest young people,

Thank you for your warm welcome. I sense the faith that you have, your joy in being Christian Catholics. Thank you for the affectionate words and for the important questions that your two representatives have addressed to me. I hope to say something during this encounter in reply to these questions, which are questions about life. I will not be able to give you exhaustive answers, but I will try to say what I can.

But first, I want to greet all of you, the young people of the Diocese of Assisi, Nocera Umbra and Gualdo Tadino, with your bishop, Mons. Domenico Sorrentino. And I greet the young people from all the other dioceses of Umbria who have come here with your pastors. And of course, all the young people from other regions of Italy who are accompanied by your Franciscan advisers.

And finally, a cordial greeting to Cardinal Attilio Nicora, my legate for the Papal Basilicas in Assisi, and to the Ministers-General of the various Franciscan orders.

We are welcomed here, along with Francis, by the heart of the Mother, "the Virgin made Church", as he loved to call her (cfr Saluto alla Beata Vergine Maria, 1: FF 259). Francis had a special affection for the Porziuncola chapel, which is kept in this Basilica.
It had been one of the churches that he himself repaired in the first years of his conversion, and where he listened to and meditated on the Gospel of missi0n(cfr 1 Cel I,9,22: FF 356).

After the first steps at Rivotorto, it was here that he set up the 'headquarters' of the Order, where the friars could assemble as in a maternal womb, to regenerate themselves and go out again filled with missionary drive.

Here, he also obtained for all a spring of mercy in the experience of the 'great forgiveness', which all of us always need. And finally, it was also here that he underwent his encounter with 'sister death."

Dear young people, you know that the reason that has brought me here to Assisi is the desire to relive the interior journey of Francis, on the occasion of the eighth centenary of his conversion.

This moment of my pilgrimage has a special significance. I have thought of this as the climax of my day. St. Francis speaks to everyone, but I know that he has a special attraction for you, the young ones. This is confirmed by your presence here in such number, as well as by the questions you have posed.

His conversion came when he was in the fullness of his life, of his experiences, of his dreams. But he had lived 25 years without finding sense in life. A few months before he died, he would remember it as that time "when I was in sin" cfr. 2 Test 1: FF 110).

What did Francis mean by sin? It is not easy to say, if we go by his biographies, each of them with a different design. An effective portrait of his lifestyle can be found in the Legend of three companions, which says, "Francis was so happy and generous, dedicated to games and songs. He would wander around Assisi night and day with friends like him, so generous in spending that they dissipated what they had or could earn in dining and other pleasures"
(3 Comp 1,2: FF 1396).

We can say the same thing of so many young people in our day. Today they can even amuse themselves far beyond their own city limits. So many young people gather together for all kinds of pastime during weekends. They can even wander about virtually by navigating through the Internet, looking for information and contacts of every kind. And unfortunately, there are also many young people - too many! - who look for mental landscapes as fatuous as they are destructive in the artificial paradise of drugs.

How can we deny that there are many young people - and not so young ones - who are tempted to imitate the life of the young Francis before his conversion? Beneath that lifestyle was the desire for happiness which dwells in every human heart. But could that life bring true joy? Francis certainly did not find it that way.

You can verify it for yourselves, dear young people, on the basis of your own experiences. The truth is that finite things cam give flashes of joy, but only the Infinite can fill the heart. As another great convert, St. Augustine, said: "You created us for you, O Lord, and our heart will be uneasy until it rests in you" (Confess. 1,1).

The same biographical text tells us that Francis was rather vain. He liked to have sumptuous clothes made for him and he was always in search of originality (cfr 3 Comp 1, 2: FF 1396). Whether it is vanity or the search of something original, that is something that has affected us in some way. Today, it is common to speak about 'image building' or publicity-seeking. In order to have the minimum of success, we need to distinguish ourselves in the eyes of others with something unprecedented, something original. In a way, this could simply be an innocent desire to be well received. But often, it involves pride, an excessive promotion of oneself, selfishness, a desire to dominate. In fact, to center life on oneself is a mortal trap. We can be ourselves only if we open up to love, loving God and our brothers.

An aspect that also impressed his contemporaries about Francis was his ambition, his thirst for glory and adventure. This led him to the field of battle, and he ended up being imprisoned for a year in Perugia. The same thirst for glory, once he was set free, would have taken him to Puglia, with a new military expedition, but it was on this occasion, at Spoleto, that the Lord made himself felt in his heart, causing him to turn back and to start paying attention to his Word.

It is interesting to note how the Lord took Francis at his word - his desire for self-affirmation - in order to show him the way to a holy ambition projected towards the infinite: "Who can be more useful to you: the master or the servant?"(3 Comp 2,6: FF 1401), that was the question he heard in his heart. As if to say: Why be content with being dependent on men, when there is God who is ready to welcome you to his house, into his royal service?

Dear young people, you have reminded me of some problems of youth, of your difficulty in constructing a future, but above all, of the effort to discern the truth. In the story of the passion of Christ, we find Pilate asking, "What is truth?" (Jn 18,28). It is the question of a skeptic who says, "You say you are the truth, but what is truth"? And therefore, since truth is unrecognizable, Pilate means to say: Let us do what is most practical, what will succeed best, not look for the truth. So he condemns Jesus to death, because he is after pragmatism, success, his own fortune.

Even today, many say: But what is truth? We can find fragments, perhaps, but how can we find the truth? It is really difficult to believe that the truth could be Jesus Christ, the true life, the compass of our life.

But if we begin, as we are greatly tempted, to live only according to the possibility of the moment, without truth, then we truly lose criterion and we also lose that foundation for common peace that can only be the truth. And the truth is Christ.

The truth of Christ has been verified in the lives of saints throughout the centuries. Saints are the great track of light in history which shows us: this is life, this is the way, this is the truth. And so, we have the courage to say Yes to Jesus Christ: "Your truth is verified in the lives of the saints. We will follow you."

Dear young people, coming here from the Basilica of the Sacred Convent, I thought that to talk for about an hour by myself may not be a good thing. So, I think, now might be the moment for a pause, for a song. I know you have many songs, maybe I can listen to one now.....

We heard the song say that St. Francis heard the voice. He heard in his heart the voice of Christ, and what happened? He understood that he should place himself at the service of his brothers, especially those who suffered the most. That was the consequence of his first encounter with Christ.

This morning, going to Rivotorto, I took a look at the place where, according to tradition, lepers were confined - the least of men, the most marginal - about whom Francis had felt an irresistible sense of repugnance. Then, touched by grace, he opened his heart to them. And he did this not just by pious almsgiving - it would have been little - but kissing them and serving them. He himself confessed that what had once been bitter to him now became "sweetness of soul and body" (2 Test 3: FF 110).

And so, grace began to shape Francis. He became increasingly able to keep his eyes fixed on the face of Christ and to listen to his voice. It was then that the Crucifix of San Damiano addressed him and called him to a bold mission: "Go, Francis, repair my house which, as you see, is all in ruins." (2 Cel I, 6, 10: FF 593).

Stopping this morning at San Damiano, and later at the Basilica of St. Clare, where the Crucifix that spoke to Francis is now kept, I too looked at the eyes of Christ. It is the image of the Crucified and Risen Christ, the life of the Church, which speaks even to us if we pay attention, as 2000 years ago, he spoke to his apostles and 800 years ago, spoke to Francis. The Church lives continuously from such encounters.

Yes, dear young people, let us allow ourselves to encounter Christ. Let us trust in him and listen to his word. He was not only a fascinating human being. Of course, he was fully man, similar in every way to us, except in sin (cfr Heb 4,15). But he is more than that: God became man in him, and therefore, he is the only Savior, as his very name says. Jesus means 'God saves'.

One comes to Assisi to learn from St. Francis the secret for recognizing Jesus and experiencing him. Here is what Francis felt for Jesus, according to his first biographer: "He always carried Jesus in his heart. Jesus on his lips, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in all his body...Indeed, travelling so much, meditating and singing Jesus, he would forget he was travelling. He would stop to invite all creatures to praise Jesus" (1 Cel II, 9, 115: FF 115). And so we see, that communion with Christ also opens our heart and our eyes to Creation.

In short, Francis was truly enamoured of Jesus. He found him in the word of God, in his brothers, in nature, but above all, in his eucharistic presence. In this respect, he wrote in his Testament: "Of the Son of God in the most high, I see nothing else corporally in this world but his most Sacred Body and Blood"(2 Test 10: FF 113).

That Christmas in Greccio expresses his need to see Jesus in his most tender humanity as a baby(cfr 1 Cel I, 30, 85-86: FF 469-470). The experience of La Verna, where he received the stigmata, shows the degree of intimacy he had reached in his relationship with the crucified Christ. He could truly say with Paul: "To me, life is Christ" (Phil 1,21). When he stripped himself of everything and chose poverty, the reason for it all was Christ, only Christ. Jesus was his all - he needed nothing else.

But precisely because he was a man of Christ, Francis was also a man of the Church. The Crucifix of San Damiano had instructed him to repair the house of Christ, which is in fact the Church. Between Christ and the Church is an intimate and indissoluble relationship. To be called on to repair it implied, certainly, something specific and original in Francis's mission.

At the same time, that task was nothing else basically but the responsibility given by Christ to every one who is baptized. To each of us he says: "Go and repair my house." We are all called on, in every generation, to repair anew the house of Christ, the Church. Only in that way, the Church lives and becomes beautiful.

As we know, there are so many ways of repairing, edifying, constructing the house of God, the Church. It is built through several different vocations, from the layman to the family to the consecrated life and to priesthood.

I would like to say a few words about this last vocation. Francis, who was a deacon, not a priest (cfr 1 Cel I,30,86: FF 470), had a great veneration for priests. Although he knew that even among the ministers of God, there is such misery and weakness, he saw them as ministers of the Body of Christ, and that was enough to draw from him a sense of love, reverence and obedience (cfr 2 Test 6-10: FF 112-113).

His love for priests is an invitation to rediscover the beauty of this vocation, which is vital for the people of God. Dear young people, surround your priests wih love and thanks. If the Lord should call any of you to this great ministry or to any form of consecrated life, do not hesitate to say Yes. It is not easy, but it is beautiful to be a minister of the Lord. It is beautiful to spend one's life for him.

The young Francis also felt a truly filial affection for his bishop, and it was in his hands that, stripping himself of everything, he professed a life that would thenceforth be totally consecrated to the Lord (cfr 1 Cel I, 6, 15: FF 344).

He felt in a special way the mission of the Vicar of Christ, to whom he submitted his Rule and entrusted his Order. If the Popes have shown such affection for Assisi throughout history, it is in a sense a reciprocation of the affection that Francis had for the Pope. I am happy, dear young ones, to be here, in the footsteps of my predecessors, particularly of the friend, the beloved John Paul II.

As in concentric cicles, the love of Francis for Christ spreads not only throughout the church but to all things, seen in Christ and through Christ. Thus was born the Canticle of Creation, in which the eye rests on the spledor of Creation: from brother sun to sister moon, from sister water to brother fire. His interior vision had become so pure and penetrating that he could see the beauty of the Creator in the beauty of his creatures. The Canticle of brother sun, before being a most elevated page of poetry, is an implicit invitation to respect creation. It is a prayer of praise raised to the Lord, the Creator of everything.

Likewise, Francis's commitment to peace must be seen as an emblem of prayer. This aspect of his life is of great relevance in a world which needs peace so much but has not succeeded in finding the way to achieve it. Francis was a man of peace and a peacemaker. He showed it in the gentle way that he faced men of other faith, without keeping silent about his own faith, as he did in his encounter with the Sultan (cfr 1 Cel I, 20, 57: FF 422).

If today, inter-religious dialog, especially after the Second Vatican Council, has become a common indispensable patrimony of the Christian sensibility, Fanacis can help us dialog authentically, without falling into an attitude of indifference in confronting the truth or into attenuating our Christianmessage.

His being a man of peace, of tolerance, of dialog, was born of his experience of God-Love. His greeting of peace was, not in`identally, a prayer: "God give you peace" (2 Test 23: FF 121).

Dear young people, your presence here in great numbers says how much the figure of Francis speaks to your heart. I gladly re-convey his message to you, but above all, his life and his testimony. It is time for young people who, like Francis, will seriously undertake and know how to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus. It is time to look at the history of this third millennium which has just started as one that more then ever needs to be leavened by the Gospel.

Once again, I will make mine the invitation that my beloved predecessor, John Paul II, always loved to address especially to the youth: "Open your doors to Christ." Open them as Francis did, wthout fear, without calculation, without measure.

Dear young people, be my joy as you were the joy of John Paul II. From this Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels, I invite you to our next appointment at the Holy House of Loreto, at the start of September, for the Agora of Italian youth.

To you all, my blessing. thank you for everything, for your presence, and for your prayers.


Afterwards, the Pope greeted several representatives of the youth. He then left the Basilica by car for the sports field Migaghelli where he boarded the helicopter to go back to Rome, where he was expected to arrive at the Vatican heliport around 7:50 in the evening.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 4:48 AM]
6/18/2007 11:30 AM
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When the Pope makes an 11-hour visit during which he delivers 5 major statements, then it's too much to expect that the MSM newspapers would be able to report on it adequately the next day. For the most part, though, the reportage today at least picked up the most important points he made yesterday.

Angela Ambroggeti of PETRUS must be thanked for her instant reports that enabled us yesterday to get the gist of the Pope's last three addresses since the Vatican only posted the text of the homily and the Angelus message.

Although Benedict's appeal for peace and peacemakers in the Middle East obviously merited the lead in the MSM reports, none missed the Pope's emphasis on 1) the need to look at St. Francis not merely as a pacifist or ecologist, but above all as a convert to Christ, whose humanism and all the other virtues that contemporary society sees in him derive from his commitment to Christ, and 2) the fact that inter-religious dialog should not mean religious indifferentism nor a dilution of Christian affirmation.

As usual, what is lacking in MSM coverage of the Pope is local color. But there was one article today in La Stampa that gave an unusual account of what the Pope talked about with the Italian Prime Minister when they sat together during the luncheon at the Holy Convent of Assisi yesterday. Here is a translation -

Prodi tells the Pope:
'It's hard to govern
in a poisonous climate'


ASSISI - Romano Prodi's state of mind must truly be tense if he felt the need to confide to Benedict XVI his misgivings about the Italian political situation.

He apparently did so with the appropriate tact one uses when speaking to the Pope, according to an account by Rita Lorenzetti, president of the Umbria region [where Assisi is located), who was one of the guests seated at the same table at the luncheon yesterday in the Refectory of Assisi's Holy Convent.

She says the Pope posed a series of questions to Prodi which led them to discuss many current issues, including the current 'civil war' between the Palestinian factions and the recent visit of President Bush, which both agreed had been a 'positive' development.

For his part, the Pope said he was greatly concerned about the difficulty faced by Christians who live in Muslim countries.

Then the Pope asked about the Italian situation, to which Prodi reportedly answered: "The situation is not exactly rosy, and it requires much patience to govern, but this is not enough. Everything is too complicated, and the climate is not easy - everyone is against everything, and this does not help anyone."

Without naming names, Prodi reportedly tried to explain the many reasons behind the current political 'confusion' - and from his questions, according to Lorenzetti, the Pope appeared to be very informed about specific situations. He refrained from commenting but continued to ask questions.

However, ethically sensitive issues like DICO or the plan to legislate biological wills were not brought up. Least of all, the new wave of insults against the Pope at the Gay Pride parade and rally in Rome Saturday, which was attended by some of Prodi's cabinet ministers.

The atmosphere was described as relaxed and cordial during the 90-minute lunch.

Prodi led those who welcomed the Pope when he arrived in Assisi yesterday morning by helicopter. Before the Pope arrived, the Bishop of Assisi, Mons. Domenico Sorrentino, was heard remarking to him, "Today will be a day of prayer for Italy." Prodi answered, "But not even a novena will suffice!"

La Stampa, 18 giugno 2007


This wireservice newsphoto yesterday
caught my eye because of the poster
on the Franciscan centenary seen on
the wall. Very odd not to have seen
any other closer photo of it.
[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/18/2007 11:32 AM]
6/18/2007 3:48 PM
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Pope to preside at funeral Mass
for Cardinal Felici tomorrow

VATICAN CITY, June 19 (AP) - Benedict XVI will preside Tuesday at a funeral Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for Cardinal Angelo Felici, who died in Rome Sunday.

The 87-year-old Vatican diplomat and former head of the Congregation for Saints Causes spent the greater part of his life in the Vatican's foreign service. Born in a town near Rome, Felici studied Canon Law before joining the Vatican's Secretariat of State, where he worked for 19 years.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI sent him on a mission to Jerusalem after the Six-Day War between Arabs and Israelis. Before heading the Vatican department responsible for candidates for sainthood, Felici served as papal nunzio, or Vatican ambassador in the Netherlands, Portugal and France. He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

It is traditional for popes to preside over the funeral of members of the College of Cardinals who die in Rome.

[According to the Vatican bulletin that announced the Cappella Papale tomorrow, Cardinal Felici wa also emeritus President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei]
6/18/2007 3:48 PM
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Pope to preside at funeral Mass
for Cardinal Felici tomorrow

VATICAN CITY, June 19 (AP) - Benedict XVI will preside Tuesday at a funeral Mass in St. Peter's Basilica for Cardinal Angelo Felici, who died in Rome Sunday.

The 87-year-old Vatican diplomat and former head of the Congregation for Saints Causes spent the greater part of his life in the Vatican's foreign service. Born in a town near Rome, Felici studied Canon Law before joining the Vatican's Secretariat of State, where he worked for 19 years.

In 1967, Pope Paul VI sent him on a mission to Jerusalem after the Six-Day War between Arabs and Israelis. Before heading the Vatican department responsible for candidates for sainthood, Felici served as papal nunzio, or Vatican ambassador in the Netherlands, Portugal and France. He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

It is traditional for popes to preside over the funeral of members of the College of Cardinals who die in Rome.

[According to the Vatican bulletin that announced the Cappella Papale tomorrow, Cardinal Felici was also emeritus President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei]

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 2:14 PM]
6/19/2007 2:13 PM
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Thanks to Curt Jester for leading us to this story from the site of Fordham University, the Jesuit university in New York.
I hope the whole text will be available soon, and that it could be read by Catholic dissidents who seem to think of the Church as the parliament of the faithful, who can vote its principles down and out if they so wish! Yet, there are so many otherwise intelligent, even brilliant, people out there who have become so blinded by their own personal convictions that they forget what the Church is - it was divinely instituted, and cannot be an 'institution' in the worldly sense. Joseph Ratzinger has unfailingly sought to remind us of this and continues to do so.

Cardinal Dulles speaks
on 'The Ecclesiology
of Pope Benedict XVI'

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., called Pope Benedict XVI a leader who maintains a great sense of the continuity of tradition within the Catholic church and its original teachings, and who seeks to 'preserve and apply' those teachings through his papal role, at a lecture on the "Ecclesiology of Pope Benedict XVI," held June 2, on the Rose Hill campus.

Cardinal Dulles said that Pope Benedict XVI views the church as universal, deriving its spiritual authority, or essence, from Christ's ascension and the original 12 disciples.

"[Pope Benedict XIV believes] the church is not a product of human creativity," Cardinal Dulles said, "She does not become whatever the leaders and members wish to make of her. The church is prior to all human initiative. Ours is not to innovate, but to preserve and apply the church teachings."

Cardinal Dulles, who met then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1971 and who has since exchanged writings with him, said that in the last 20 years, the Pope's view on Vatican II reforms, such as decentralization of the church, has 'matured.' Today, the Pope has a 'full-orbed' vision of the church derived from the models of People of God, Mystical Body, Sacrament and Communion.

On the question of church and state, Cardinal Dulles said that the Pope comes 'surprisingly close' to endorsing the American principle of separation of the two bodies.

He does not want the [Catholic] church involved in politics, he said. The church depends on the state to keep justice. Consequently, the state cannot inculcate moral training, but depends on religious conviction, which makes people moral and respectful of one another. The church and state complement each other.

Cardinal Dulles's talk was part of a lecture series, Food For The Mind, sponsored by the Office of Alumni Affairs at Fordham's Jubilee reunion, held June 1 through 3 on the Rose Hill campus.

Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,600 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx, Manhattan and Tarrytown, and the Louis J. Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 2:56 PM]
6/19/2007 2:56 PM
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Many Italian newspapers today, including Osservatore Romano and Avvenire, published editorials and commentary about the Holy Father's statements in Assisi Sunday - not so much about his impassioned appeal for peace and competent peacemakers in the Middle East, but for the fresh wind that he brought to dispel the dubious clouds of false incense around a so-called 'spirit of Assisi' that followed the inter-religious World Day of Prayer for Peace held there in 1986.

(If you have not yet done so, please read the texts of the Papal addresses in Assisi. English translations have been posted in the reports on this thread regarding the individual events at which they were delivered. They are truly beautiful and memorable, as most of the texts he personally writes are, but the variety of ways in which the Pope presents the life of Francis and his message, depending on the audience he addresses, is most instructive and illuminating.)

I will translate the OR and Avvenire pieces later (see below), but I thought this one, which came out in a Sicilian newspaper, La Sicilia, yesterday, says it best. Thanks to Lella for posting it on her blog. Here is a translation:

Fresh wind from Assisi
By Giuseppe Di Fazio

Ecologists and pacifists have taken advantage. So have intellectuals and directors who have reduced to tatters the figure of Francis of Assisi, unilaterally and arbitrarily usurping his message. As have those Christians and even devotees of the saint who have 'mutilated' him [a term used by the Pope Sunday], reducing 'the spirit of Assisi' to nothing more than a do-goodism for all seasons, the antechamber of religious indifferentism, and the pretext for publicity-seeking marches of all colors and varieties.

Benedict XVI, visiting Assisi Sunday, meant to pick up the pieces, recompose the entire Franciscan mosaic, restore the essential link between the values preached by Francis and the root of his life choice - Christ.

Without having made that radical decision to follow Christ, all the Franciscan themes - respect for nature, peace, dialog, the choice of poverty - would be simply words, good intentions.
And the relationship among religions is reduced to nothing more than fragile irenism.

The message of Assisi, as re-stated by Pope Benedict, sounds explosively relevant in its simplicity - radical for young people who are looking for unadulterated answers to their questions about the absolute, and prophetic for a world that is increasingly torn apart by armed conflicts.

It was said in the past that Cardinal Ratzinger was critical of Papa Wojtyla's initiative for an inter-religious summit in Assisi.

On Sunday, Benedict XVI clearly showed he is in continuity with his predecessor, while clearing up the equivocations that have been generated by that event.

As he pointed out, a 'mutilated' Saint Francis also corresponds to a 'diminished' Christ, one who is reduced to a mere prophet of values, "admired in his extraordinary humanity, but rejected in the profound mystery of his divinity."

In Assisi, Benedict XVI called for a 'high-profile line', undiscounted and unadulterated, in proclaiming through words and example, the true spirit of Assisi.

A world that is drifting violently is not served by warmed-over, 'do good' platitudes.

Here is the front-page editorial from the Osservatore Romano issue of June 18-19, 2007:


He re-consigned to the Third Millennium the life and witness of Francis. He re-stated for Assisi its misison of welcome, dialog, and reconciliation. And he re-addressed mankind with his strongest invocation for peace, tragically shattered today by a blind perversity towards violence and war.

A pilgrim in the footsteps of the Poverello, Benedict XVI issued from Assisi a message of great ecclesiastical breadth and of profound social relevance. By his words, he confronted the conscience of the world with the fearless and demanding message of Assisi's 'convert of love.'

With his Magisterium, he reaffirmed the truth of the Christological and evangelical message of a man who belonged totally to God and so belonged totally to others, who loved God fully and therefore loved all men fully.

In Francis's humble but welcoming hometown, the Pope paid tribute to a home for humanity, an oasis of hope, a pulpit for peace.

There were so many outstanding moments that marked Benedict XVI's day in Assisi. But there was one, in particular, which showed the most intimate core of his being.

During his encounter with the youth of Umbria, the Pope recalled his predecessor John Paul II. That brought on long, intense and warm applause from the thousands of young people who were gathered in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. From the heart of the Successor of Peter came a simple, "GRAZIE!"

Benedict then continued by saying "Be my joy, as you were a joy to John Paul II."* And the assembly responded by chanting out theIr affection for him, "BE-NE-DET-TO! BE-NE-DET-TO!", whose joyous echoes seemed to resound throughout the whole region.

A father's 'Thank you' and a filial 'Benedetto!' A meeting of souls, a harmony of hearts. A delicate, touching ecclesiastical family moment.

*[These are the words in the text released by the Vatican yesterday, but when Angela Ambroggeti reported for PETRUS last Sunday, the words she quoted were "Be with me, as you were with John Paul II" - which is very poignant, and somehow stronger - because more 'naked' - than saying "Be my joy...", as poetic as this may be.]

And here is the editorial from Avvenire today:

Pacifism, environmentalism,
'the spirit of Assisi' -
all must be re-centered around Christ

By Luigi Geninazzi

Papa Ratzinger has re-launched the spirit of Assisi. He did it from the Piazza of the Lower Basilica where John Paul II had prayed for peace in 1986 alongside religious leaders from all over the world.

"Let the weapons be silent, put an end to the conflicts which bring bloodshed to the world" was the 'urgent and heartfelt' appeal that Benedict XVI made Sunday, echoing that raised by his predecessor in January of 2002: "Never again war! Never again violence! Never again terrorism!"

In Assisi last Sunday, one could perceive not only a spiritual continuity but even a physical super-imposition of Benedict XVI's figure on that of John Paul II. The same cry of condemnation, the same anguish "for all those who weep, suffer and die because of wars", the same dramatic plea to listen to each other's reasons.

Because, today more than ever, everything is tangled in a murderous spiral of violence - and from Iraq to Palestine, passing through Lebanon, civil war threatens to engulf all of the Middle East.

"To put an end to so much pain and restore life and dignity to persons, institutions and peoples," there is an urgent need for "responsible and sincere dialog, sustained by the generous support of the international community," said the Pope.

The Holy See will not tire of reproposing 'a negotiated and regional solution", which the Pope last discussed with President Bush, as the only sensible option after the failure of unilateral strategies and the use of force.

Benedict XVI also wished explicitly to refresh "the icon of Assis as a city of dialog and peace." And he did this on the very special occasion of the 8th centenary of Francis's conversion, precisely to underline that without that conversion to Christ, there could never have been a 'spirit of Assisi.'

The Pope's message was: if we truly want to understand the greatness of the Poverello, we cannot do this only on tghe basis of his love for peace and for nature.

"Francis is a true master in these matters, but he is, because for him, it all comes from Christ," says the Pope, in effect denouncing the misuse of the 'spirit of Assisi' by pacifists and environmentalists of every kind.

In the direct and clear words typical of the Ratzinger Pontificate, we are told that "Francis suffers multilation when he is used simply to attest to values that are undoubtedly important, but forgetting that the heart of his life was his choice of Christ." In this context, the desire for peace has its essential basis in conversion - "not what we might call a social conversion, but a true religious experience."

Francis's real message is very relevant today and overwhelming - he reminds us that to be truly 'a man for others', one must first be 'a man of God'.

And his message of peace and brotherhood has a particular resonance in the Middle East - where once, in the middle of the ferocious clash of civilizations that the Crusades represented - Francis faced the Muslim Sultan of Egypt and spoke to him of universal brotherhood.

But today in the Holy Land, persons use the name of God as a hammer to incite others to hatred and to violence. The cause of peace itself is badly in need of conversion.

It is not an easy message for fanatics and fundamentalists who believe only in themselves.

But this - and the centrality of Christ in all causes for the good of mankind -is the Spirit of Assisi that Papa Ratzinger has redefined, in the name of St. Francis and in continuity with Papa Wojtyla's prophetic intuition.

Avvenire, 19 giugno 2007


Having translated all three pieces now, I am more than ever impressed by the concise, direct and organic formulation of the Pope's message in Assisi by the writer for La Sicilia, whose editorial easily outshines those of his colleagues in Osservatore Romano and Avvenire.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 5:43 PM]
6/19/2007 6:32 PM
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Pope chooses family as theme for 2008 World Peace Day message

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has chosen "The Human Family: Community of Peace" as the theme of next year's World Peace Day message, the Vatican announced.

The awareness that all populations belong to a larger family created by God is especially important in today's world, which faces "a crisis of international organizations" and other serious problems, the Vatican said in a statement June 19. It did not elaborate.

The pope will write a message on the theme, to be released ahead of the World Peace Day celebration Jan. 1. Pope Benedict's two previous messages have focused on truth and the person as fundamental elements of peace.

The Vatican said the pope chose the theme of the unity of the family because he was convinced that "the perception of a common destiny and the experience of communion are essential factors for the realization of the common good and for the peace of humanity."

"Every person, every population is called to experience and feel themselves part of the human family conceived by God as a community of peace," it said.

The Vatican statement cited the Second Vatican Council's teaching that the world's populations form a single community and have a common origin in divine creation.

"Every group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of every other group, and still more of the human family as a whole," it said, quoting from the council's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes.")

Just as the dignity of the person created in the image of God is affirmed in the Old Testament, the idea of the unity of the family is also one of the original truths of Christianity, the statement said.

6/19/2007 6:56 PM
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Some time last week, a priest who works in the Vatican (one gathers, as a working journalist for the Press Office itself) started writing for PETRUS using the pseudonym Fra Sistino. His first contribution was a commentary on why the mass media, including the Vatican's own, appear to avoid showing Pope Benedict XVI in his more personal moments - when we see him acting and interacting as a human being, Joseph Ratzinger, not just Benedict XVI.

This is, of course, most evident in the coverage of the Wednesday general audiences - not only does the TV coverage end before the Pope goes down to meet individuals and groups, one on one. But even during the greetings, when he acknowledges visiting groups, the camera almost never shows him and his reactions close up.

Today, Fra Sistino filed a commentary specifically citing the TV and newspaper coverage of the Pope's visit to Assisi. (From his title, it is also evident he is no fan of Prime Minister Prodi!] Here is a translation:

The Pope in Assisi -
between the joy of the faithful
and an unlikely lunch companion

By Fra Sistino

How beautiful Assisi is! What tenderness in the faces of the nuns who had just met the Pope! What joy among the people who ran out to the streets to catch a glimpse of the Pope! What serenity on the Pope's face as he prayed in the Franciscan shrines!

Oh yes! Unfortunately, we hardly saw anything of that on TV! In Assisi, with the Pope for a whole day, how many wonderful things took place! The little city - symbol of a spirituality that has unfortunately been obscured by ideology - was in celebration last Sunday.

A celebration even by those people who had worked weeks so that everything would be perfect, beautiful, unforgettable, for this visit. Sisters of every order praying, friars running to and fro...Even Franciscans who may not have completely 'digested' the Pope's Motu Proprio asking them to work within the pastoral plan of the diocese.

Papa Ratzinger, yet again, was the Professor explaining Vatican-II to Franciscans today who may be too wrapped up in the affairs of the world.

At the same time, one wonders at his luncheon break with an 'indigestible' tablemate, Romano Prodi - the Prime Minister who, having given tacit support to the Gay Pride parade that freely insulted the Pope Saturday, came to Assisi to kiss the Pope's ring the next day - and to receive Communion. And what about 'eucharistic consistency' for Catholic politicians?

How wonderful it would have been if instead, the program had allowed the Pope more chances to mix about with the people! If they had distributed more tickets for the Mass! And if the TV channels and the newspapers the day after had shown us more of Ratzinger's Francis rather than Prodi in Assisi.

Instead, RAI showed only the Mass, and a ramshackle transmission in the afternoon on a tertiary channel that people never view. [The more complete transmissions on Sky-TV, Telepace and SAT-2000 are available only to people who have satellite-TV service. Vatican TV (CTV) covers all the events - even if it cuts off what it considers 'superfluous' - but it has no direct broadcast facilities. It simply feeds its material to those who do, and it is up to the latter to decide what to use, when and how to use it.]

What a pity that those who work directly for the Pope don't seem to love him as much as we simpler workers do! What a pity that even many of my own brothers appear to ignore the 'perfect joy' of our Seraphic Father!

What a pity you could not see the joy among the sisters who were blessed by the Pope, or the joy of Benedict before all the children who greeted him with song on that lawn with the big PAX before he left the Basilica of St. Francis!

[At least, video online shows us much of the meeting with the youth of Umbria, thank God for little blessings.]


Here is a translation of Fra Sistino's earlier commentary, posted in PETRUS on 6/14/07.

The error of hiding
the Pope's 'humanity'

By Fra Sistino

Why does TV hardly ever show the sweet tenderness of Benedict XVI, his splendid humanity - certainly completely different from that of John Paul II, but equally moving, if not more so?

The moment the Pope is handed a glass of water, immediately the official cameras switch to a boring panoramic shot. As if the thousands of persons present at the Pope's public appearances do not see what's happening and do not count.

And yet, these are beautiful moments which make beautiful images - also the photographs most requested - because they show us the man, not just the Successor of Peter. Images which, in fact, bring the latter nearer to us because they show us his personal nature.

We see these in the pictures that Arturo Mari took for years of Karol Wojtyla, and in the past two years, of Joseph Ratzinger. Mari is retiring. The rest of the Osservatore Romano pool is splendid and will know, like so many other photo-reporters, how to capture these personal moments.

There's the official pontifical photo agency Felici, for instance, and a whole bunch of young photo-journalists who, fortunately, have provided us with snapshots of our smiling, joyous Pope.

Together with my colleagues covering any public event of the Pope, I see with what affection he approaches people. I see the tenderness with which his secretary hands him his glasses, or hands him a piece of candy to help clear his voice.

It is beautiful to see such moments. They don't take anything from the respect and reverence that priests like us, and the public, have for the Vicar of Christ. On the contrary!

The things that offend us are of a different nature. Like the intolerant attitudes of certain 'unskilled' Vatocan officials who behave as though they are omnipotent. Or the fear of declaring the faith by prelates who end up 'wasting' the great potential of the Church, and therefore of us all, the people of God. Prudence should never be confused with cowardice.

My colleagues and I are grateful, instead, to all those who - in every audience, in every public event for the Pope - do all they can to that it becomes beautiful, intimate, and real, for all concerned.

My colleagues and I are grateful to those who help make the Pope better known to his flock, and who make us appreciate the gifts of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger.

Whoever has had the gift of meeting him knows that he looks at you as he holds your hands in his - the way I imagine Jesus would have done.

And so we thank people like Arturo Mari who made us see John Paul in his hospital bed, in the mountains, being jocular with the crowds. As we thank him, for instance, for that picture of Benedict XVI crouched down to look at a simple creche beneath his Christmas tree at the Vatican. A photograph some Vatican authorities would consider un-Papal, but a stupendous one. [In fairness, the Osservatore Romano did use that photograph on its front page.]

We love the Pope even more for being a person - but perhaps, not everyone understands that.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/19/2007 8:02 PM]
6/20/2007 2:07 AM
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Pope Benedict XVI presided at a Mass this afternoon at St. Peter's Basilica for Cardinal Angelo Felici, who died in Rome Sunday, at age 87.

As the Mass was a late afternoon event, the Vatican Press Office did not post anything on it till the next day. Here's the VIS story:

VATICAN CITY, JUN 20, 2007 (VIS) - At 5 p.m. yesterday at the altar of the Cathedra in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father presided at the funeral of Cardinal Angelo Felici, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," who died on Sunday June 17 at the age of 87.

In his homily, Benedict XVI recalled the words Servant of God John Paul II wrote to Cardinal Felici on the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest, the 25th of his consecration as a bishop: "Your episcopal ministry," Pope John Paul affirmed, "has been entirely dedicated to the good of the faithful, and to the beneficial mission of the Roman Pontiffs and the Apostolic See."

"Today," Pope Benedict added, "we wish to give thanks to the Lord for the abundant harvest of apostolic fruits that Cardinal Felici, with the help of divine grace, was able to gather in the various areas of his enlightened and valuable pastoral and diplomatic activity."

The late cardinal worked in the Secretariat of State before being appointed pro-nuncio in the Netherlands, later becoming pontifical representative in Portugal and in France. Subsequently he was appointed as prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and president of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei."

The Holy Father noted how among the late cardinal's papers was a print of the Virgin, "Mater Salvatoris, as venerated in the chapel of the Pontifical Leonine College where he studied as a young man. On the back it bears this invocation: 'I trust in you, Lord, and in Your Most Holy Mother, that I may not be eternally confused.' How many times must he have repeated the words of this prayer, written in his own handwriting with a view to his final departure. We may consider this as the spiritual legacy he left us: words which, better than anything else, today help us to reflect and to pray."


In the absence of any Vatican text, I posted the following translation of the Pope's messages of condolence sent Monday.

The first one is to Mons. Vincenzo Apicella, Bishop of Velletri-Segni, where Cardinal Felici comes from.

"The news of the pious death of the Lord Cardinal Angelo Felici, illustrious son of the city of Segni, fills my heart with affectionate regret and grateful remembrance of the fervent work rendered to the Holy See and the clear testimony of his diligent collaboration with my venerated predecessors who he served for long years with generous dedication and acknowledged competence.

"I think in particular of the services he gave first at the Secretariat of State, and then as Apostolic Nuncio to the Netherlands, to France and to Spain, and finally, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Cause of Saints and President of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

"I ask the Lord through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of All Saints, for the eternal reward of this most worthy prelate for his apostolic efforts, and I express to your diocesan community, to his family, and to all who knew him my sincere sympathy, accompanied with a special Apostolic Blessing of comfort."

The Pope also sent a telegram to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, as Dean of the College of Cardinals:

"I learned with sorrow the news of the passing away of our dear Cardinal Angelo Felici, and I wish to express to you and the entire College of Cardinals my sincere condolences, remembering with gratitude the valuable contributions he made for decades to the Holy See.

"I raise fervent prayers of intercession that the Lord may welcome him in joy and in eternal peace, and I send you and all who share our sorrow for the passing away of this most worthy Cardinal a comforting Apostolic Blessing."


One of the Italian newspapers mentioned that Cardinal Felici had lived for decades at Piaza della Citta Leonina, so he and the Pope would have lived in the same building for almost a quarter-century. Also, Velletri was the titular Church of Cardinal Ratzinger until he became Dean of the College of Cardinals and was assigned the church in Ostia instead.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 6/21/2007 12:15 PM]
6/20/2007 8:12 PM
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From Lella's blog, this item from Corriere delle Alpi today - here is a translation:

LORENZAGO - The Pope will lead two Sunday Angelus prayers while on vacation in the northeastern Italian Alps starting July 9.

The first one will be for residents in the Treviso area at Mirabello castle on July 15, and the second at the Piazza of Lorenzago, for residents of the CAdore and Belluno areas, on July 22.

Among the private visits the Pope may be making during his two week stay in Lorenzago, he is expected to go to Canale d'Agordo, the hometown of John Paul I in the province of Belluno, where Lorenzago is located. He will pray at the church there and meet with the late Pope's brother, Edoardo Luciani, at the family residence.

The details about the Angelus locations were finalized at a meeting in Lorenzago on Monday between the Bishops of Belluno and Treviso, and a Vatican delegation that included the Pope's secretary and the Pope's head of security.

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