Assisi sprang to attention this morning at 7:15 with the noise of the blades of the helicopter transporting Pope Francis from the Vatican. But in reality the city was already active from the first light of dawn. The Umbrian village that gave birth to the Patron Saint of Italy, whose memorial the Church celebrates today, is literally besieged by pilgrims, journalists, volunteers, Franciscan brothers, sisters and so on.
Some 150,000 have arrived to assist at this historic visit of the Pontiff to his namesake’s birthplace, some 50,000 more than foreseen yesterday, divided between the churchyard of the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, where the Pope will meet young people in the afternoon, and the square in front of the Lower Basilica of Saint Francis, the place where the Pope will celebrate Holy Mass at 11:00 am.
While Monsignor Marini gives the last directives for the setting up of the stage, where a gigantic replica of the Crucifix of San Damiano reigns, further up, in front of the higher Basilica, a row of colorful umbrellas is positioned in front of the large screen that at present is transmitting the most significant images of the seven-month pontificate of Bergoglio, from his election on March 13 to the WYD of Rio de Janeiro.
<p>The day is grey; a light rain comes and goes but in no way does it affect the vast group of pilgrims who have placed themselves in strategic points that Pope Francis will go past. Assisi is small, the streets are narrow, the Squares can contain a maximum of 8,000 fortunate ones who had to be accredited to get a place to sit. So everyone rejoices at the thought of finally being able to touch and shake the Pontiff’s hand. Or at least they will be able to see him up close and breathe this explosive charism that is shaking the Church and the world.
This was confirmed to ZENIT by Domenica, an elderly lady of the province of Lecce, who together with her group traveled since 8:00 pm yesterday to arrive at 6:30 this morning and ensure herself a place in the front line behind the numerous barriers placed in every angle of the city (around 10 kilometers in total). A “real sacrifice,” especially for a lady of a certain age, but “it’s worthwhile,” said Domenica, called Mimina, because, she says, “the desire to see the Pope is too strong.” “I have had the desire in my heart to meet him and thank him since he was elected, because this Pope inspires trust, love, this Pope is everything,” she added.
Of the same opinion is a group of women who have come alone from Naples, who arrived and took their places at 4 o’clock in the morning. “This is a great Pope,” they said “and we are here in the hope of seeing him and of hearing in person what he will say in the Mass.”
According to one of those responsible for security, many people are here because of devotion to Francis, whether the Saint or the Pope, though this guard also suggests with a hint of cynicism that others come “for folklore,” attracted by the “sensationalism of the event.”
Perhaps. Though it’s hard to believe that so many people mobilized from all parts of Italy and from abroad only to be able to say “I was there!”
Then again, even that desire can be put to good use: to be called, perhaps by a gesture of the Holy Father or the curiosity to see what he is like in person, and then to find themselves here, within the embrace of the Church, to hear the words of this Pontiff, which leave no one indifferent.