ASSISI, Italy, JUNE 17, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI visited the main sites connected to the lives of Sts. Francis and Clare in his one-day trip to Assisi. The Pope says the key to understanding the life of Francis lies in the saint’s love for Christ.
The Holy Father arrived by helicopter to Assisi today in a journey that marked the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ conversion. He celebrated Mass in the piazza in front of the Lower Church of the Basilica of St. Francis.
“What is St. Francis’ life, once he converted, but a great act of love?” the Pontiff asked during the homily.
He continued: “This conversion to Christ, to the point of wanting to be ‘transformed’ into him, converting himself into a complete image, explains his unique life, a uniqueness that makes him still relevant to the great issues of our day.”
Among these issues, the Pope highlighted “the search for peace, the preservation of the environment and the promotion of dialogue among people.” He said: “Francis is a true teacher in these matters.
“But he is so with Christ as his starting point. Christ is in fact ‘our peace.’ Christ is the origin of the cosmos, since in him, all things have been made.”
Benedict XVI’s pilgrimage began early this morning. He first visited Rivotorto, where in Francis’ time “lepers were confined, whom the saint approached with such mercy, thus beginning his life as a penitent,” the Holy Father recalled.
“To serve the lepers to the point of kissing them was not a mere philanthropic gesture, a ‘social conversion’ so to speak, but an authentic religious experience brought about by grace and love of God,” he added.
The Bishop of Rome later visited the sanctuary that houses the “humble dwelling” of Francis and his early followers, in the church of San Damiano.
He then visited the Basilica of St. Clare and, in the Poor Clares’ chapel, adored the Blessed Sacrament and venerated the crucifix from which Francis heard the directive that would change his life: “Go, Francis, rebuild my church.”
“It was a mission that began with the full conversion of his heart, later to become Gospel leaven handed abundantly to the Church and society at large,” recalled the Pope.
After celebrating Mass, the Holy Father dedicated his Angelus address to an appeal for peace, particularly in the Middle East. He then visited the tomb of St. Francis.
Benedict XVI ate lunch with the Franciscan friars of the Sacred Convent. He also greeted the German-born Capuchin Poor Clare Nuns.
The Pope later met with the participants of the General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, currently in session.
After his meeting in the cathedral with priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, and seminarians, the Holy Father visited the Porziuncola, the chapel restored by St. Francis after discovering the vocation that would later lead him to the founding of the Franciscan Order.
In the plaza adjacent to the basilica, Benedict XVI was scheduled to conclude his visit to Assisi with an evening youth gathering aimed “to allow the young Francis, converted to Christ, to speak to their hearts.”