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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pope Francis visits the city of Saint Francis

At 3:00pm local time today, the Holy Father, Pope Francis departed from the Vatican heliport and travelled to Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels) in Assisi, marking the celebration of the VIII Centenary of the Pardon of Assisi.

Upon his arrival, in the Migaghelli sports field in Santa Maria degli Angeli (Assisi), the Pope was welcomed by His Excellency, Domenico Sorrentino, Archbishop-Bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino; the Honourable Catiuscia Marini, President of the Region of Umbria; Doctor Raffaele Cannizzaro, Prefect of Perugia; and Doctor Stefania Proietti, the Mayor of Assisi.

The Pope travelled by car to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where he was welcomed by the Minister General of the Order of Franciscan Friars Minor, Father Michael Anthony Perry; by the Provincial Minister, Father Claudio Durighetto; and by the Custos of the Porziuncola (the little church located within the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels which was repaired by Saint Francis of Assisi), Father Rosario Gugliotta.

In the Porziuncola, Pope Francis remained for a long time in silent prayer, then in the Basilica, he shared with the faithful a Meditation based on the gospel passage taken from Matthew 18:21-35.  At the conclusion of his Meditation, he called on bishops and priests present to make themselves available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and he himself spent about an hour in the confessional, hearing the confessions of 19 individuals: one Franciscan brother, two priests, four scouts, one woman seated in a wheelchair and 11 volunteers working at the Basilica.

Before leaving the Basilica, the Pope left four blocks from the Holy Doors of the 4 Papal Basilicae in Rome.  His Holiness presented the block taken from the Holy Door in Saint Peter's Basilica to the Archbishop-Bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino.

The Pope then went to the infirmary of the Franciscan Convent where he met with religious who are sick and with those who are caring for them.  Finally, he arrived in the Square outside the Basilica where he greeted the faithful who were gathered there.

Meditation shared by His Holiness, Pope Francis
during his visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
commemorating the 800th Anniversary of the Pardon of Assisi

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like, before all else, to recall the words that, according to an ancient tradition, Saint Francis spoke in this very place, in the presence of all the townsfolk and bishops: I want to send you all to heaven! What finer thing could the Poor Man of Assisi ask for, if not the gift of salvation, eternal life and unending joy, that Jesus won for us by his death and resurrection?

Besides, what is heaven if not the mystery of love that eternally unites us to God, to contemplate him forever? The Church has always professed this by expressing her belief in the communion of saints. We are never alone in living the faith; we do so in the company of all the saints and of our loved ones who practised the faith with joyful simplicity and bore witness to it by their lives. There is a bond, unseen but not for that reason any less real, which makes us, by baptism, one body moved by one Spirit (cf Eph 4:4). When Saint Francis asked Pope Honorius III to grant an indulgence to all who visited the Porziuncula, he was perhaps thinking of Jesus’ words to the disciples: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (Jn 14:2-3).

Forgiveness – pardon – is surely our direct route to that place in heaven. Here at the Porziuncola everything speaks to us of pardon! What a great gift the Lord has given us in teaching us to forgive and in this way to touch the Father’s mercy! We have just heard the parable where Jesus teaches us to forgive (cf Mt 18:21-35). Why should we forgive someone who has offended us? Because we were forgiven first, and of infinitely more. The parable says exactly this: just as God has forgiven us, so we too should forgive those who do us harm. So too does the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father, in which we say: Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Mt 6:12). The debts are our sins in the sight of God, and our debtors are those who we, for our part, must forgive.

Each of us might be that servant in the parable burdened with so great a debt that he could never repay it. When we kneel before the priest in the confessional, we do exactly what that servant did. We say, Lord, have patience with me. We are well aware of our many faults and the fact that we often fall back into the same sins. Yet God never tires of offering us his forgiveness each time we ask for it. His is a pardon that is full and complete, one that assures us that, even if we fall back into the same sins, he is merciful and never ceases to love us. Like the master in the parable, God feels compassion, a mixture of pity and love; that is how the Gospel describes God’s mercy towards us. Our Father is moved to compassion whenever we repent, and he sends us home with hearts calm and at peace. He tells us that all is remitted and forgiven. God’s forgiveness knows no limits; it is greater than anything we can imagine and it comes to all who know in their hearts that they have done wrong and desire to return to him. God looks at the heart that seeks forgiveness.

The problem, unfortunately, comes whenever we have to deal with a brother or sister who has even slightly offended us. The reaction described in the parable describes it perfectly: He seized him by the throat and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ (Mt 18:28). Here we encounter all the drama of our human relationships. When we are indebted to others, we expect mercy; but when others are indebted to us, we demand justice! This is a reaction unworthy of Christ’s disciples, nor is it the sign of a Christian style of life. Jesus teaches us to forgive and to do so limitlessly: I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven (Mt 18:22). What he offers us is the Father’s love, not our own claims to justice. To trust in the latter alone would not be the sign that we are Christ’s disciples, who have obtained mercy at the foot of the cross solely by virtue of the love of the Son of God. Let us not forget, then, the harsh saying at the end of the parable: So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Mt 18:35).

Dear brothers and sisters, the pardon of which Saint Francis made himself a channel here at the Porziuncola continues to bring forth heaven even after eight centuries. In this Holy Year of Mercy, it becomes ever clearer that the path of forgiveness can truly renew the Church and the world. To offer today’s world the witness of mercy is a task from which none of us can feel exempted. The world needs forgiveness; too many people are caught up in resentment and harbour hatred, because they are incapable of forgiving. They ruin their own lives and the lives of those around them rather than finding the joy of serenity and peace. Let us ask Saint Francis to intercede for us, so that we may always be humble signs of forgiveness and channels of mercy.

His Holiness concluded his visit around 18:00 and traveled by car to the Migaghelli sports field for his return trip to the Vatican by helicopter.
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