Pope preaches peace before Assisi visit
Umbria shrine gears to receive pontiff on St. Francis' feast day03 October, 19:59
(ANSA) - Assisi, October 3 - Pope Francis prayed for peace Thursday, the eve of a landmark visit to Assisi, shrine to his 13th-century namesake St. Francis, the poverty-loving but power-challenging patron of Italy taken as a model for the humble Argentinian whose common touch belies purposeful moves to re-energise the Catholic Church and reform its governance.
Francis said peace requires a more just and united world, while talking at a 50th anniversary celebration of the peace-themed 'Pacem in Terris' encyclical by Pope John XXIII, held at the Vatican by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
''The encyclical of the Blessed John XXIII clearly reminds us that there can not be true peace and harmony if we do not work for a more just and united society, if we do not overcome egotism, individualism and interest groups - on all levels,'' the pope said. ''It is the task of all people to build peace, following the example of Jesus Christ, through these two paths: promote and practice justice with truth and love (or) contribute, each according to his capacities, to holistic human development, following the logic of solidarity,'' the Pope said.
The last, intense preparations in Assisi were underway Thursday in preparation for the Francis's pilgrimage to the saint's tomb.
Vatican, Umbrian and Argentine flags flapped along the access road to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the most sacred place of the Franciscan order and the location where St. Francis died. Much of the road was already cordoned off and maxi-screens positioned, so that the more than 100,000 pilgrims expected can follow the pope's visit on Friday.
Major work was also underway in the square in front of the basilica where the pope will address 12,000 youths of the Umbrian dioceses.
The pope is visiting Assisi on Friday, as October 4, which is the feast day for Italy's patron saint, and also a day recognized by Italy for honoring "peace, brotherhood and dialogue among members of different cultures and religions," as Italian President Giorgio Napolitano reminded Italians in a letter on Thursday. The pope will visit important sites in the lives of St.
Francis and an important female follower of his, St. Clare of Assisi, a noblewoman who fled her family and an unwanted engagement to become a nun and found a convent.
The pope will visit the St. Damian sanctuary where Francis heard Christ's voice tell him, "Francis, go and repair my house which is in ruins".
It was also at the St. Damian sanctuary that while sick and under the care of St. Clare's nuns in 1225, St. Francis wrote the Canticle of the Creatures in praise of God and creation.
The pope will also visit the Serafico Institute for the rehabilitation and integration of people with severe sensory and mental handicaps - a place dubbed "a living cathedral" by the ex-bishop Sergio Goretti. Francis will say mass at the massive religious complex that carries the saint's relics as well as his name, the Basilica San Francesco - the mother church of the Franciscan Order, consisting of two large churches, the upper and lower basilicas, and the Sacro Convento friary.
The pontiff will eat lunch with the poor at the Santa Maria degli Angeli chapter of the Catholic charity Caritas, and then visit the Carceri hermitage, a place of caves and prison cell-like dwellings in the woods of Mount Subasio, outside Assisi, where St. Francis and his followers retreated for prayer and meditation. Francis will be the 19th pope to visit the sacred sites of St. Francis of Assisi. The first was Pope Gregory IX in 1228, just two years after the saint's death. John Paul II visited Assisi six times, and Benedict XVI paid his respects twice. The great modernizer, Pope John XXIII, visited Assisi on October 4, 1962, and prayed to St. Francis for reconciliation on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, which began the following week.
Umbria Governor Catiuscia Marini will give two gifts to Francis on Friday - funds to help the poor for Caritas, to help the poor, and a small cypress tree. A letter accompanying the gifts explains that the "little cypress is the direct child of the one planted by the saint in 1213 in the Verucchio convent of Rimini" making it a symbolic gift of "continuity with St. Francis across 800 years of history".
The Umbria Region will also be offering its famous olive oil this year to fuel the lamp on St. Francis's tomb, which will be lit by the mayor of Assisi - a rite that has been repeated annually since October 4, 1939, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed St. Francis to be Italy's main patron saint.