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On the Land in Umbria - Viva il Papa!

Anne Robichaud

I wrote this piece in 2002 and, at the time of this Pope's death, it seemed appropriate to read it over again today and reflect.

The Pope Comes to Assisi, 2002

This will be the Pope's 6th visit to Assisi. Other Papal visits took place in 1978, 1982, 1986, 1993, and 1998.

The Pope Visits Assisi in 1978

I remember distinctly the 1978 visit. It was November 5th and my husband Pino was out chopping firewood for our woodstove that day (winter was around the corner) and was not interested in going into Assisi to see the Pope. So I bundled up, got on my motorbike (no car then!) and rode into Assisi on my own.

An animated, enthusiastic crowd already packed the Piazza Inferiore right below the Basilica di San Francesco, as well as the area in front of the church. The lawn in front of the Upper Basilica di San Francesco was trimmed to read "PAX" and here, the Papal helicopter was to land.

I knew that I'd have very little chance to see anything. Hoping to get a good view of his arrival, I went up to the little church of Santa Margherita which overlooks the Upper Basilica and the great lawn in front. A determined little Franciscan Friar had the same idea. He had climbed up on the roof of the little church for a better view and reached down a hand to pull me up.

When the helicopter was sighted, the crowds below started to yell "Viva il Papa!", as did the Friar, who was jumping up and down in excitement. I had had no particular feeling of excitement up until then, but soon found myself shouting "Viva il Papa!" with the little Friar and we both frantically waved to the Pope.

As the helicopter flew in to land right in front of us, the Pope beamed and waved back at us from the window! The helicopter landed and the Pope got out, then walked across the lawn and spread his arms wide to greet the crowds in the Piazza Inferiore below. His opening words were "Buon giorno a tutti and I want all of you up there on the roofs to be very careful; I wouldn't want anyone falling"! The Friar and I whooped in glee and laughed as we hugged each other.

*April 5, 2005: I imagine that today, the little Friar, wherever he is, is remembering that moment. I am.

The Pope Visits Assisi on January 24, 2002

Pope John Paul II will be coming to Assisi, la citt della pace (city of peace), on January 24th, "Day of World Prayer for Peace", where he will pray at the Tomb of St. Francis for peace in the world and in particular, for all the victims of terrorist acts, remembering particularly those who died in New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11th, 2001.

Fr. Enzo Bertoldi, spokesman for the Sacro Convento (Franciscan monastery adjacent to the Basilica di San Francesco), comments: "This event ties to our own 'Saint of Peace' who took peace as the role model of his entire life".

Latest update, January 11, 2002

Work is going on daily (in freezing temperatures!) on the immense tecnostruttura (capacity for 3,000 people) that is being erected in front of the Basilica for this event. For quite some time now, Padre Vincenzo Cioli at the Sacro Convento has had daily meetings with representatives of the Holy See in order to work out all the details of this event.

Major lay leaders (as well as leaders of the world's major religions) are expected to join the Pope for the Day of World Prayer for Peace here in Assisi on the 24th: Carlo Azelio Ciampi (President of Italy), Silvio Berlusconi (Prime Minister), Romano Prodi (President of the European Community Commission).

Padre Vincenzo Cioli, Father Custodian of the Sacro Convento (Franciscan monastery adjacent to the Basilica di S. Francesco) here in Assisi, recently said, "This Day of Prayer will be more important than that of October 26th, 16 years ago, as never before have we felt such need for peace." After the September 11th tragedy, Pope John Paul II immediately thought of Assisi as the natural place for an encounter to promote world peace.

His train will arrive at the Assisi train station in S. Maria degli Angeli at about 10:30am (the train will leave the Vatican at 8:30am). A private car will bring the Pope up to the Basilica di S. Francesco, whereas the world's religious leaders will probably come up to the Basilica by bus. The Pope will lead a prayer service in front of the Basilica (in the Piazza Inferiore di S. Francesco) and commitments toward the peace effort will be made by the heads of all the religions represented: Greek Orthodox, Anglican, members of religions originating at the time of the Reformation (Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim leaders), as well as leaders of traditional African religions.

As the bells of the churches of Assisi alternate with music, the Pope will invite all to gather at one of the places of prayer inside the Sacro Convento, where each of the religious leaders will be conducting prayer services. The Pope and all religious leaders will join the Franciscans for a simple lunch in the Sacro Convento. The Pope has rooms there and after lunch, he will rest until 3:30pm when all the religious leaders will gather together again for a reading of the communal commitment to peace, which will be read in Italian, English and Arabic. After the pledge, the Pope will light a candle as will all the leaders. This is a tradition of all inter-religious meetings since the meeting on October 26, 1986 here in Assisi, also presided by the Pope.

Theme of this encounter: "Never again terrorism. Never again war. Never again revolution with violence. In the name of God, may every religion be a font of justice, forgiveness, peace, life, love."

Before returning to the Vatican, Pope John Paul II will stop at the Basilica di S. Chiara for a private visit with the cloistered Poor Clares at their convent adjacent to the Basilica. Afterwards, he will stop to pray at the site where St. Francis died on October 3, 1226; the Porziuncola, located under the dome of the 16th century Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli. The Pope will arrive at the station of S. Maria degli Angeli at 5:30pm and his train for Vatican City departs at 5:45pm.


www.sanfrancescoassisi.org: Basilica di S. Francesco

Slow Travel Photos: See larger versions of Anne's photos on our photo gallery.

Anne Robichaud lives near Assisi and gives lectures and tours. www.annesitaly.com

© Anne Robichaud, 2002. Do not republish without permission.

This essay was first published on Anne's website www.annesitaly.com. Edited by Slow Travel.

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