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franciscan - January 1998

© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 1997

Minister's Letter

Sister Joyce, Minister Provincial of the European Province First Order Sisters, writes:

A pilgrimage to Assisi will never be the same again. It is still hard to believe how devastating the earthquake damage has been to the town since last September. Those churches and buildings revered because of their association with Francis and Clare, to which pilgrims have gravitated for over seven hundred years, have had to be abandoned. Communication networks flashed the awful information from continent to continent: Italy via USA via Scotland to Brixton, London. It was terrible to learn that lives had been lost, homes wrecked, churches and convents declared unsafe, priceless works of art unable to be restored. We faxed back our solidarity in prayer and concern for our Franciscan brothers and sisters there.

Francis, are you going to rebuild these ruins? Are you going to rework your 13th century miracle this century? Bishop Michael Hare-Duke TSSF wrote a poem in response, entitled Assisi, 4 October 1226, which he read at the St Francis Day Eucharistic celebration of our Scottish Third Order. I quote from it, with permission:

Four years of building constructed
a grandiloquent denial
of the Poverello’s message,
in soaring columns
two churches deep.
Three quarters of a millennium
the Church has paid its homage
and drawn its interest.
Now an earthquake
has shocked the neat exchange.
From the tragic rubble
does Francis’ spirit fly
with grateful liberation
to the autumn gold of Umbria?

Almost two millennia ago, a child was born in an obscure village, Bethlehem, in the Middle East. There was no media coverage, no e-mails or faxes. The news coverage and the significance of this event was dependent on angels, shepherds, a publican and a few kings. It has taken hundreds of years for the news to reach some parts of the world. Joy to the world; Emmanuel, God with us.
God is with us through such disasters as the Assisi earthquakes as well as the more easily understood good times. One Christmas, Francis was keen to celebrate the feast in the town of Greccio by preparing what we now regard as the first Christmas Crib, using live animals, etc. in the church as part of the eucharistic rite. Thomas of Celano describes it as an event in which ‘simplicity was honoured, poverty was exalted and humility was commended and Greccio was made a new Bethlehem – the whole night resounded with their rejoicing.’

This Christmas in Assisi, may they be encouraged by remembering Francis in Greccio, that ‘joy is a divine gift and comes only from union with God in Christ. As such it can abide even in days of darkness and difficulty’. (The Principles of the First Order).
May God grant you joy this Christmas season and blessings in the new year. §


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CSF European Province First Order Sisters: Registered Charity Number 286615
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