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On to Assisi!

November 8, 2012

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Today was a day of coalescence. Our time in Italy is drawing to a close and, as it does, I think each man in our small band of pilgrims is reflecting on everything that we’ve seen and experienced.

This morning we celebrated Mass at the altar of St. Michael the archangel on the main level of St. Peter’s Basilica. These celebrations becomes more meaningful as we draw deeper into community with one another and share our time around the table of the Lord each day.

Following Mass, our experience here was taken to yet another level (figuratively and literally) as we stepped into the first century Necropolis excavated below St. Peter’s to visit the Apostle’s original burial site. We “walked the streets” of the ancient city of the dead, eventually seeing the bones of St. Peter and the memorial that Constantine built around the inconspicuous altar that was erected over Peter’s grave (only one pillar of which was excavated). Here we stood just 10 feet away from the Apostle, crucified upside down in the Circus of Nero and, likely, cut down from his cross by having his feet chopped off. There are no words to describe the feeling of this place.

Soon after we made our way back to the hotel to grab an overnight bag and catch a train to Assisi, home of Sts. Francis and Claire. Assisi sits high atop a hill in the Italian countryside, marked by three landmarks: a large Cathedral on the South end of town, the huge basilica of St. Francis on the north and the fortress atop the city which served as a refuge for the people of the town in times of attack. As a city, Assisi dates back to the Etruscans (pre-Romans). It is everything you think of when you imagine a small village in Italy. Cobblestones pave the narrow streets, which dart in every direction, up and down the hill. Small pathways lead to seemingly endless staircases that take you up and down each hill. The town is much as it was when Francis and Claire walked the streets and the connection to the history of this place is amazing.

As we arrived in the late afternoon, the town was bathed in the waning light of the day. It shone like gold as we approached from the valley below.

Soon after checking into our hotel for the night we visited the Basilica of St. Francis, seeing his tomb. In the chapel just above it, a single spotlight shines of the crucifix over the altar, casting as beautiful shadow on the frescoed nave, calling all attention back to Christ. This was a wonderful reminder that, as we remember the lives of the saints, we remember Christ, who they glorified with their lives. We study their lives, not out of worship, but as examples of those who sought Christ with reckless abandon. May we all have the passion of saints.

Everyday here makes me feel a deeper connection to the church. The people and places that populated my Church History textbooks are no longer an obscure collection of facts to be memorized. They are alive and memorialized all at the same time.

As we sat around the dinner table tonight, each of us reflected on what the trip has meant to us thus far. One word kept finding its way to each of our lips: home. It’s hard not to feel at home here where so much of our history is buried. It’s also hard not to long to get back to our own homes and families to share the passion that comes from our experiences and our renewed passion to serve the kingdom of God through His church.

We will spend all day in Assisi tomorrow before heading back to Rome for our final day on Saturday. Please pray for us as our journey continues and let us know how we may pray for you.

God bless you!

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