ASSISI - the Town of Peace
This is St. Francis' famous last greeting and blessing of Assisi, when in 1226 he was dying and was being carried to his deathbed in the simple stone cottage at Porziuncola in the valley below Assisi. In the following centuries Assisi has become one of the most visited places of pilgrimage, and in our time St. Francis' vision for Assisi must be said to be unfolding to an extent which is almost overwhelming. To day about 5 million people a year flock to Assisi - the extraordinarily beautiful, white-pink, small town, which - surrounded by medieval walls - is situated on Monte Subasio in the mountainous, rich, green countryside of Umbria in the centre of Italy. Many of these people come as pilgrims seeking deep spiritual help to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare, which is one of the gifts of Assisi. Others come as tourists, but leave Assisi as pilgrims. Why do all these people from all corners of the world and from all religions, spiritual traditions and cultures visit Assisi?
Having its origin in the centuries before the birth of Christ Assisi really begins to become well-known from the 13th century. In this turbulent time of the Middle Ages two of the greatest figures of the Christian Church are born. Saint Francis (1182-1226) and St. Clare (1192-1253). Both are born in privileged families with wealth and the possibility of a life in uncommon abundance in that age of poverty, but both give up everything to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Francis starts his mission of evangelization walking around Italy and other countries, and he becomes one of the most important inner reformers of the Christian Church. With her spiritual sisters Clare shuts herself up in a monastery which was the custom for the brides of Christ at that time.
Francis and Clare become founders of the order of mendicant friars and sisters, which already started to spread all over the world in their lifetime, and which - under the name "the Franciscan Family" with its many regular and secular orders - continues to be the largest monastic movement in our day. The ideals and understandings which Francis and Clare stand for in the Middle Ages prove to be so universal that also today we can find inspiration and support for our individual processes of surrender by studying and contemplating on the life and work of St. Francis and St. Clare.
In the time after St. Francis and St. Clare and also today Assisi is deeply influenced by the Franciscan monastic life. Everywhere we see monks and nuns - or brothers and sisters, as the Franciscans call themselves - walking smiling and joyful around the town. They celebrate masses and other prayers in most of Assisi's 14 churches, 10 inside and 4 outside the walls, and they look after the Franciscan holy sites, where they welcome pilgrims in the Franciscan spirit of joy, warmth and hospitality.
The Sacro Convento in Assisi (the mother house of the order at the tomb of St. Francis) has become one of the most significant convents on earth. Here the brothers take various initiatives to help the earth and humanity into the New Era, and they put the large, beautiful convent, the Basilica and their working power at the disposal of many national and international meetings, congresses and concerts in the spirit of the New Era. Every year innumerable events are held in Assisi, and the great religious celebrations of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the Feast of Francis, the Feast of Clare, the Feast of the Pardon of Assisi, the two big feasts of Mary etc. are attracting thousands of pilgrims.
Also the "inner" life in Assisi continues to be characterized by the fact that in this town a large number of friars and sisters carry on with a daily prayer practice. The 350 or so brothers and sisters in Assisi celebrate their daily masses - in the big churches several times a day. They meditate and pray their hours, not least in the Basilica of St. Clare, where the poor Clares, who continue to live an enclosed life, have dedicated their lives to constant prayers for the earth and humanity. All pilgrims visiting Assisi join this inner work and at the same time many continue their normal meditative practice.
In connection with the great peace meeting in Assisi on October 27, 1986, Pope John Paul II introduced a new concept: "The Spirit of Assisi". Subsequently this idea has spread like ripples around the earth, and today Assisi is a highly esteemed centre of peace efforts through dialogue. Assisi has become a living workshop, where "the Spirit of Assisi" - with divine co-operation - plays an unquestionable and growing role in the work of Christ at the transition into the New Era.
The meeting with "the Spirit of Assisi" does something to all people, and most seekers continue to return to Assisi again and again to receive the help of the holy town in their deeper surrender. Of course the experience of such a deeper inner connection to God, which people are granted in Assisi, could be described in many individual ways. Overall it could be described as: Assisi and a large area around Assisi is a sacred place, where the door to the Kingdom of God seems to be so open that divine vibrations of peace, joy, elevation and love continue to pour down and embrace all the people staying in Assisi. It is as if everything in Assisi - even the stones which are all from the holy mountain - is emitting the essence of St. Francis' greeting to people: "Peace and all good" and "May the Lord give you peace".