Visits to Assisi inspire, humble pilgrims
By Katherine Long
On a hilltop in Umbria sits Assisi, a quiet medieval town of winding cobbled streets perched above the breathtaking valley below. It was in this town that St. Francis lived and died, and where he lived out his life’s vocation of serving God and the poor. It was here, too, that St. Clare devoted herself to the Franciscan way of life. It is to this town that members of the Franciscan religious orders, including Franciscan sister St. Marianne Cope, trace their roots.
While in Italy, many pilgrims had the opportunity to visit Assisi. More than just a respite from the hustle and bustle of Rome, peaceful Assisi had a profound spiritual impact on its visitors.
For Betty Frank, a parishioner of St. Joseph-St. Patrick’s Church in Utica and a secular Franciscan for the past 62 years, her most recent trip to Assisi was her fifth. But, she said, every trip is special. “It means so much to go to Assisi,” she said. “It spurs me on to follow, in my small way, in the footsteps of the saints and to continue to follow in the spirit of St. Francis.”
Father Joe O’Connor, who had the opportunity to preach at the Basilica of St. Francis while in Assisi, had also visited the town before. “I was anticipating that visit being the highlight of my trip,” he said. “You can really feel that spirit of peace there. It embraces you, it pulls you in. My hope was that we [the pilgrims] would find a retreat from Rome and be able to escape for a day and rest in the spirit of Francis – the same spirit that was able to empower St. Marianne to do what she did with her life.”
St. Marianne was in the heart of Sister Rose Marie Pelligra, OSF, during her visit to Assisi as well. “Assisi is a sacred place, holy ground,” she said. “Being there made me feel transformed spiritually.” It was an experience of God that “invigorated and reignited” her vocation and left her “wanting to live more fully what Francis lived, what Mother Marianne lived, what Christ Himself lived,” she said. “Assisi is a most powerful place.”