The Roamin' Roman

Benvenuto! You have happened upon the blog of a wandering Catholic American college student studying for a year in Rome, the Eternal City. You will find here my pontifications, ruminations, reflections, images, and ponderings on my life in Rome. Ciao!

Sunday, October 23

Assisi of Francis and Clare

Yesterday the entire Catholic Studies group journeyed up to Assisi, a place I am sure many of you know very well or even have been to. What I love the most about Assisi is that it seems to be one of those timeless places, just a charming town inhabited with people who care about their town and what goes on there. It is such a wonderful living preservation of Old Italy - I don't think I will ever get tired of going there, crowds and all. Sadly, of course, I have no photos to share with you, still no camera (However, I have ordered a new one, and it is being hand-delivered to me by the mother of one of the seminarians here, who is coming to visit next week. So I will have photos again soon!). In a way, for me to have no camera for a while is good for me, it forced me to pay more spiritual attention to where I was (though, the lack was also a bit more distracting too...)

We left early in the morning to catch the EuroStar (snazzy fast train) to Folgnia, then caught a local train for the last few miles to Santa Maria degli Angeli (the town at the foot of the hill that Assisi is built on). On arrival we went first to the wonderful Basilica of the same name, this was my third time to Assisi so for me it was almost like coming home in a sense - I just wanted to say "ciao!" Then we caught the town bus to take us up the hill to Assisi itself, it took us to the upper entrance to the church of San Damiano, where we were scheduled to have Mass. I was excited to go there, I had not been over there before because tour groups tend not to go there - it is just outside the city walls and quite a ways down the steep slope of the hill. It is a wonderfully preserved church from Francis and Clares' era, and it is where St. Francis was when Christ spoke to him, telling him to "rebuild My church". So what did Francis do? He figured Christ meant just that, and worked to literally rebuild the church of San Damiano! Of course, soon enough he realized the real message, that Christ was asking him to reform THE Church, not A church, and the Franciscan order was born. So, in a very real sense, we visited the place "where it all began."

I must say, after visiting almost every other church in Assisi before finally being able to visit San Damiano, I am very sad that it is not on more tour itineraries -- it should be!! Please please, if you ever get a chance to go to Assisi, GO to this church (if you are physically able to do it, it is more difficult to get to due to the extreme slope); there is no other place that is more spiritually uplifting and peaceful in Assisi (other than perhaps the Carceri, see the archives from August on this blog to read about my visit there). Go here for more info on this church.

Let's see, after that we had lunch in the piazza of the church of St. Clare and then I split off from the others (come on, I've done the "tour group" round of Assisi twice already... I just wanted to explore). I ended up going up the hill a bit to visit the Cathedral of San Rufino, the other larger church that I hadn't seen before. It was fine, not incredibly memorable, but it seemed to be more of the "parish church" of the town rather than a tourist/pilgrim's stop. There was great gelato on the way up there though, that was great :)

After that I wandered along the higher roads to the Basilica of St. Francis, went through there for a bit and prayed at the tomb of St. Francis for some time. Bought some stuff, met up with a few of the others, and then headed back to the Basilica of St. Clare to meet everyone else. When we got there, there was an impressive group of Italian flag throwers (yes... exactly what you think, I guess it's a famous European art/sport, go here for more information!), throwing flags as part of an intricate dance around the square to the sound of a group of drummers providing the beat. Really it was quite beautiful, the sun was just starting to set over the western wall of the piazza overlooking the Umbrian countryside, and the fountain was bubbling in the square, tons of people were gathered around clapping and cheering, and the flags and the throwers were in bright colors. Quite a sight!

Inside the church of St. Clare it was pretty peaceful (considering the racket going on just outside), the last time I was here was in August on the feast of St. Clare. Then there was an enormous line to get to her tomb to pray, so I had decided to skip it then until I came back here - well, now I was back and there was no line, so down the steps I went! I also stopped into the side nave to pray before the crucifix of San Damiano (the one that spoke to St. Francis at the church of San Damiano), which the Poor Clare nuns brought up to this church with them when they moved out of the San Damiano convent.

So that was the first "half" of the day (little did I know it at the time...). We hopped on the bus to go back down to the train station to catch the train back to Rome around 6pm - we didn't think much of it, I mean, just get on the train, get back, study a bit and go to bed, right? Hmm. Not so much. We hear the train coming, and then we see it... and there's no seats on the train. Yikes! It's kind of hard to explain, but the way the train system works here in Italy is that most trains (the slower trains) do not require seat reservations. Instead, you buy a general ticket, good for one day of travel, and then it's just first-come-first-served seating on the train you end up on (think of it like a subway system or bus network). This means that there can be more people than seats, and this means that occassionaly you may end up on a train that you have to either stand the whole way or sit on the floor. Well - this train was REALLY full... our whole group got split up among different cars, and none of us got seats. Most of us were stuck standing in the middle sections between the cars, crammed like sardines. And on top of everything else the train was late. So I and the others I was with in the space between car 8 and 9 were pretty much stuck standing, squatting, sitting on the floor, leaning against walls/poles/people for almost three hours. Let me tell you, we were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived in Termini station in Rome!!!

So the story ends there, right? Nope, not exactly. But it gets a heck of a lot better, almost good enough to be worth the train ride. Fr. Carola, our chaplain who was our fearless leader through all of this crazy day, had agreed to go out with a few of the guys for dinner earlier in the day. Surprise surprise, as we are walking through the Termi terminal with all our limbs dragging behind us from exhaustion, he wants to know who wants to go eat! Four of us (including me, obviously) perked up enough to take him up on the offer and, so, our journey had not ended yet after all. We grabbed a bus, went down the Via del Corso towards the Gregorian university (where Fr. lives and teaches). After taking us through a bunch of lively back streets, brightly lit and filled with people eating late dinners, we ended up at this wonderful Italian family restaurant. Turns out Fr. knows the owner really well (witnessed his marriage and baptized his kid!) and so we sat down to a wonderful dinner, capped with fabulous tiramisu and chocolate tort and a glass of limoncello (famous Italian lemon liquor). When our host gave Fr. Carola the bill, Fr. opened it up and grinned... He showed us a handwritten note saying "Mi basta, 1 preghiamo" (1 prayer is enough for me). So we bowed our heads and said a prayer for him and his family and the business, thanked him immensely on the way out, and headed for home! :)

Whew. And that was all just yesterday, next I have to tell you what happened today! :) But first, I really need to go do some homework reading now... Have a blessed Sunday if I don't make it back here tonight!


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