Pope to Visit Assisi Sunday

To Follow Footsteps of St. Francis

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI's visit to the tomb of St. Francis will be a pilgrimage that follows in the footsteps of the "little poor man of Assisi," says the local bishop.



The Pope will arrive in the Umbrian city by helicopter Sunday at 8:50 a.m. His trip will mark the 800th anniversary of the conversion St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).

Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino told L'Osservatore Romano that the Holy Father "will recall what Francis tells us about the beginning of his conversion, spent serving lepers."

At 9:30 a.m., the Holy Father will go by car to the Church of San Damiano and then to the Basilica of St. Clare at 9:50 a.m. for a brief visit and private prayer.

At that moment, said Archbishop Sorrentino, "we will relive the dialogue with the crucifix that changed St. Francis' life."

At 11 a.m., the prelate continued, in the piazza located in front of the lower Basilica of St. Francis, there will be a Mass that will underline "the particularly Eucharistic dimension of St. Francis' spirituality."

After the Mass, Benedict XVI will visit the tomb of St. Francis privately.

After lunch, the Pope will meet with a group of German-born Capuchin Poor Clares in the principal hall of the Sacro Convento.

He will then greet the participants of the general chapter of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor Conventual, and the community of the Sacro Convento.

A great sign

Father Marco Tasca, the recently elected minister general of the Fransicans, told ZENIT: "It is a great sign from God that the visit of Benedict XVI would coincide with the closing of our general chapter.

"It used to be that the chapter would go on pilgrimage to present its obedience to the Successor of Peter; but providence has wished to bless us with the presence of the Holy Father in our home, close to the remains of our father St. Francis."

"We are anticipating with emotion the Holy Father's words, which will surely light the path of our order for the near future," said the minister general.

The Bishop of Rome will continue in his pilgrimage to the Cathedral of St. Rufino, which houses the baptismal font where St. Francis was baptized. In the cathedral, Benedict XVI will meet with clergy and religious.

According to Archbishop Sorrentino, the meeting "will emphasize the call to holiness, the communal spirit, and the beauty of the priestly ministry for which St. Francis felt special veneration."

Beginnings

The Pope will then visit the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels where he will pay a private visit to the Portiuncula, the small church restored by St. Francis upon discovering the vocation that would eventually lead to the founding of the Franciscans.

"Beneath the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, where the Portiuncula stands, the heartbeat of the Marian heart of Franciscans will be felt," said the bishop of Assisi.

Later, in a meeting with young people in the piazza in front of the lower basilica, "the Pope will present St. Francis to today's youth as a role model for living."

The Pope is scheduled to return to Rome by helicopter shortly before 8 p.m.

Archbishop Sorrentino said that Benedict XVI's visit will highlight the importance of the conversion of St. Francis: "Francis shows us that conversion to Jesus Christ gives meaning to man and his history.

"In his testament he says: I went from bitterness to sweetness. It was the fruit of the embrace of Christ in the leper. Francis points out that Jesus is the only way to perfect joy."