Francis is going to Francis’ home and it cannot but be an event. The city of Assisi has been throbbing with excitement since last May 2, when the Pope, receiving in private audience the Franciscan Minister General, Father Marco Tasca, the Custodian of the Sacred Monastery of Assisi, Father Mauro Gambetti, and the director of the San Francesco review, Father Enzo Fortunato, announced his desire to visit the seraphic city on October 4, the feast of the Poverello.
A day before this historic visit, the atmosphere is truly electric. The desire to see the Pontiff in the places that marked the events and journey of faith of its Holy Patron is fervent both among the pilgrims and the 1,000 accredited journalists.
ZENIT talked about all this with the Custodian of the Sacred Monastery, Father Mauro Gambetti.
ZENIT: For the first time there is a Pope Francis and he is coming to visit the city of the Poverello’s birth.
Father Gambetti: It’s an historic meeting, because the Holy Father Francis put himself immediately in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, making his own some of the values that characterized the life of the Saint: Man of poverty, man of peace. Man who loves and protects Creation. The Pope is now shaking the Church, as the son of Pietro di Bernardone did in another way.
ZENIT: It’s no accident that, in his recent interview with the founder of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, the Holy Father said that his ideal of the Church is precisely that of Francis of Assisi: a “poor and missionary” Church. An ideal, he said today, that is “more than valid.” What effect have these words had on the Franciscan community?
Father Gambetti: Naturally, a positive effect. We are enthusiastic because it is as if we see Francis’ charism amplified and focused upon. Amplified by the echo of what the figure of the Pope gives and does; focused in fact because in this way it can be observed carefully by all, but also lived practically in the concrete choices of every day.
ZENIT: The Pope’s visit tomorrow will be a pastoral one, articulated however by numerous moments in which the Pope will stay alone in spiritual intimacy with his Patron.
Father Gambetti: It will be an intense day for all, especially for the Pontiff who wishes to touch all the places symbolic of the Franciscan spirit. Moreover, at the Basilica and the Tomb of the Saint, the Pope will visit the Room of the Spoliation, the place where Francis renounced material goods; the Cathedral of Saint Rufino, Mother Church of Francis; the Hermitage of the Prisons, which according to tradition is the privileged place of contemplation; the Rivotorto shrine; the Basilica of Saint Clare and the Basilica of Holy Mary of the Angels, within which is kept the Porciuncula, the little church that Francis restored with his companions and the place of his passing.
ZENIT: Among all these events, which is the most “curious” to attend?
Father Gambetti: All the stages are very interesting and I think we have a common denominator which I would like to summarize in three significant precisions. A “human” significance, because we will see the figure of the Saint in his humanity. A “spiritual” significance, because Francis sinks the roots of his humanity in the terrain of the Gospel. A “social” significance, because all that Francis has done and has said has touched the “nerves” of society at all times which did not stay closed in a Church. It can be said that Francis shook the foundations of the world: we are thinking of the topic of Peace, of the Protection of Creation, of poverty.
ZENIT: Poverty, in fact, a subject on which Pope Bergoglio often insists, so much so that tomorrow he will visit and then will lunch with the poor of the diocesan Caritas.
Father Gambetti: The Pope wished to add to the already numerous stages two other appointments of great significance: the Seraphic Institute, which is dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of the disabled, and the diocesan Caritas Center. Stages, these, which attest to the Pontiff’s attention to the “least,” already demonstrated on other occasions. Not only, then, will the Pope eat side by side with 57 poor persons, but also here, in the Sacred Monastery, we will lunch with 103 poor, to point out that the poor person renders explicit God’s blessing on a table.
ZENIT: You have already had the privilege last May 2 of meeting with the Holy Father. What impression did the Bishop of Rome make on you?
Father Gambetti: A lovable person, always ready to welcome and to be open to novelties. On that occasion, in fact, he accepted the proposal to use a tablet to visit virtually the tomb of Saint Francis, through a webcam positioned in the crypt, and of sending one of the first prayers: “Francis of Assisi, intercede for the peace of our hearts.”
ZENIT: There is so much talk of the expectations of the Franciscans, of the Brothers, of the Sisters, of the young people and pilgrims for this visit. However, in your opinion, what does the Pope expect?
Father Gambetti: I imagine that the Holy Father would like to see, touch, feel the perfume of the scenery and the stones which “generated” and “hosted” Francis. He would like to understand through the symbols, the icons and the frescoes how the biography of the Saint was reread; he would like to know how those Brothers live witnesses of his experience. He would like to offer a teaching to the whole of Italy which is recognized in Francis’ humanism for the values of peace, of fraternity and of dialogue. And I also think that, on his part, the Seraphic “will run” to meet the Pope to kiss his hands, because they touch the Word of life and hold the helm of Peter’s bark. He will certainly inspire in him a word that will illumine and direct the course of “his” Order, multiplying and diversifying itself in a rainbow of colors. He will also ask for a prayer for his sons and Brothers. Seeing himself called upon, Saint Francis will speak.[Translation by ZENIT]