(Photo by Ingrid Henzler)
I begin with sincere and heartfelt thanks to the students and friars I live with at the Franciscanum who welcomed me as a brother and were patient with me as I struggled to learn a new language.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for three months now but time flies in the Lord’s vineyard. And that’s what Assisi feels like to me, living in God’s own backyard! Yes, it’s that close to heaven.
I first visited Assisi in 2003 and had a powerful spiritual experience here. Today, many pilgrims I speak with here express their own exceptional spiritual experiences. As one pilgrim said to me: you don’t have to go into a church to feel God’s presence here; it’s perceptible all throughout the city. Assisi’s motto after all is “La Città della Pace” (The City of Peace).
I welcome pilgrims from all over the world here as a religious/spiritual guide at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s estimated that as many as 5 million visitors – some pilgrims, some tourist – make their way to Assisi each year. The Scriptures provide the religious/theological relevance for this type of spiritual journey.
From the very roots of our Catholic faith, pilgrimages have been an integral and wonderful experience. It began when Christ was crucified for us and people came to pray at the foot of the Cross. Then miracles occurred at different times and places around the world, making them holy and sought-after places to visit.
During St. Francis’ lifetime it was (and still is today) a privilege to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. St. Francis, being in solidarity with the poor and marginalized, knew most people would never be able to afford the cost of such a pilgrimage.
St. Francis had a special devotion to the crucified Christ and (I believe) was divinely inspired to create for the poor an experience of pilgrimage they could have right where they lived. Hence, St. Francis is credited with the birth of “La Via del Dolore” (in Latin “Via Dolorosa” or in English “The Way of the Cross”). This devotion is meant to be walked and experienced.
In more ways than I can share now, my ministry at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio, was a foreshadowing of my ministry in Assisi. In Carey we welcome busloads of pilgrims, just as in Assisi. We provide a ministry of presence to those pilgrims who are more inclined to remain within themselves and their own personal experience. We walk alongside and share with those who come seeking directions or answers in their lives. We join our prayers with those who come seeking help for specific needs, such as healing or other favors for themselves or their loved ones.
As Franciscans, our life is one of relationships, no matter where we are, with people, their beloved family members (even their pets), and with all God’s creation. Ours is a privileged life simply because we serve others. And through our service, we share God’s love and encounter God’s love in one another, in all His creatures and His creation.
Pace e Bene,
Br. Don Bassana OFM Conv.