From an Old Roman – Assisi
We left Lourdes on our last leg to Rome, 2nd October 1957, with a stop at Assisi on the 4th, the feast of St Francis. He is the Patron Saint of Italy and the 4th is a public holiday and the last day of school holidays. Assisi was full – so we went straight to the chapel of the Porziuncola in the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli to pray for the Porziuncola indulgence.
Tradition has it that this tiny chapel (5.3 by 3.2 metres) was built by hermits from the Holy Land c.360 who had a strong devotion to Our Lady. It passed to the Benedictines and became known as the chapel of St Mary of the Angels. About 1211, the Benedictines gave the chapel and a small portion of land (“Porziuncola”) to Francis who was answering the call from Jesus to “Rebuild my Church”.
Francis himself believed that the Porziuncola was the cradle of the Order and lived in a little hut near the chapel. Later, Pope St Pius V (1566-1572) had the present church built around the chapel, joining his devotion to Our Lady Help of Christians to that of “God’s little poor man”.
I’ve often thought that Francis’ message was more about “power” than about wealth. To lead a life of “powerlessness” is really “empty-ing oneself” and that is Francis’ starting point. His birth as a rich merchant’s son gave him power as well as riches; his friends were rich and powerful; his power blinded him to the poverty in Assisi, even to the primitive working conditions of the workers in his father’s factory. It was not until sickness (Covid-19?) pulled him up that he was putting power before people.
This was brought very clearly in the film “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” (c. 1972) where in every area of his life, family, work, religious, social, friends, when he put power before people, his life fell apart. It was only when he began to see Jesus in people, often through a veil of suffering, that he was able to embrace true poverty and people before power.
Mingling with the Italian pilgrims, at the Porziuncola that day, for this was THEIR PILGRIMAGE, I realised how Our Lady Help of Christians and saints like Francis bind us together in our Faith, no matter what our culture.