Although final preparations are still being made at the site where the Pope will celebrate Mass on Friday in Assisi, hundreds of pilgrims from across the globe are already in St. Francis’ birthplace and excited about the pastoral visit from the first pope in history to be called Francis.
Many try to hold onto their reserved seats as workers begin to place the famed cross of St. Damiano behind the main altar. Although many popes throughout history have visited the basilica housing the remains of the ‘poverello’ of Assisi, this pastoral visit is already proving quite unique.
Shortly after his election, Pope Francis explained why he took the name of Francis, explaining that he was reminded of the Saint after Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo urged him to not forget the poor. “Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi,” the Pope said at the time. “Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi.”
“I think he’s a very contemporary Pope, a people’s Pope,” Carol Wiener, a pilgrim from North Carolina told ZENIT. “He’s keeping his religious faith, he’s keeping a certain amount of formality, but yet he’s not afraid to be informal, to be friends with the people.”
“I think everything he does is wonderful,” she added. “And I think everything he does can only enhance people’s feelings about him, I think he’s just a wonderful Pope and he’s representative of all mankind and he’s trying to perpetuate peace all over the world.”
Members of the Orders of the Friars Minor are especially excited for the Holy Father’s visit. Brother Francesco, a Franciscan novice from Spoleto, Italy, explained his “great joy” over the Pope’s visit to his namesake.
“This visit is a sign of the times,” Brother Francesco said, “a pope who for the first time has taken the name of Francis and who comes to visit Francis. It is he who is making Francis reincarnate in the streets and throughout the world. This is why it is so important that he’s coming here tomorrow to visit St. Francis.”
The young Franciscan novice expressed his hope that the Holy Father will help the faithful, especially the youth, to understand the will of God in their lives.
“Pope Francis has inspired me so much, just as Pope John Paul II did when I was younger,” said Jose Aviles, a native of Ecuador who lives in neighboring Perugia. Aviles told ZENIT that the Holy Father’s way of being inspires all to open their hearts, “even if they are alienated from the world.”
“Pope Francis does it with words, with the Eucharist, with that emotion that he conveys. I’m here out of a devotion to both Saint Francis and Pope Francis,” he said. Aviles stated his belief that through pastoral visits, such as tomorrow’s, the Holy Father is following Christ’s call to preach the Gospel to all nations.
“I hope to receive the blessing of the Pope and also the blessing of God,” Aviles said. “Through the Church I’m receiving Jesus, through the Eucharist, through the Word, and through the message that the Pope will give us tomorrow.”