I am writing this little travelogue not because I am a tour guide or have a stake in the Assisi Chamber of Commerce, but that you might have something of the inside story, off the beaten path so to speak, of a few things that have transpired that would not ordinarily be apparent concerning the meetings that have been set up by His Holiness in that place. Most all Catholics who follow the history of our Holy Religion will agree that at some point, the mechanics of the Church will become so unraveled that it will require a direct, divine intervention to set things aright. Various private revelations, from La Salette, to those given to Pope Leo XIII and to Pope Saint Pius X, as well as Fatima, speak of such a time. And therefore it is reasonable to wonder if an important world meeting place of false religions, that is, Assisi, Italy, will have some relationship to the final age when the holy is replaced with the abominable.
The town of Saint Francis, called sometimes by his brethren the Seraphic Father, is a wonder to behold. Every true Roman Catholic should make a pilgrimage there at least once during the lifetime. Assisi, Italy is a bit distant from the major cities of Florence and Rome, but one can travel there easily enough by train or auto. I arrived initially in 1995 by train, after a meeting for my work which was given in Siena. My second visit to Assisi, in 1998, actually began in Nice, France, after participating at another conference, whereupon I rented an auto, headed to La Salette in France, and then proceeded along the edge of Les Alpes, through the Tuscany region and through what once was called the Papal Lands to Assisi.
The birthplace of the Franciscan order is a jewel of a city situated on the side of a mountain. It is surrounded by a Medieval wall of stone, replete with gates through which paved roads now run at the entrances to the city. When I first entered the town, in 1995, one could feel the presence of the spirit of Saint Francis. I think a lot of souls have felt his presence. It is a glorious spirit, rich in the purity of Catholic life from the 1100's and 1200's AD. One could easily imagine being transported back in time to the dawn of the Franciscans, when Francis gave up his fine clothes for a monk's poor garments of habit and rope belt. Even the ground seemed hallowed, and the purity in the air made one desire to take extreme care so as not to commit the least little venial sin.
There are many old churches in Assisi, even many that are still standing from the time of Saint Francis. The little church of San Damiano is still standing outside the walls of the city. In 1995 it was closed for construction, and when I mentioned this to a Franciscan monk, I think he was from Germany, he was stupefied. The irony was lost on me initially, until I remembered that this was the place where Jesus on the Holy Cross had once spoke to Saint Francis centuries before, saying:
"Rebuild My Church, for, as you can see, it has fallen into ruin."
Initially Saint Francis thought Jesus meant the little church itself, which was disheveled at that time also, and so he set about repairing its stones by hand. But after awhile he realized that Jesus meant also the larger Church as well, the Church of our faith. The Cross that spoke to Saint Francis has since been moved and is now kept inside the city walls, within the Church of Santa Chiara. When I first saw it I was awed and afraid, and humbled. I prayed for some time, and as I left I saw a boy of about to pay homage to the Cross. He went up towards the altar, just below the huge Cross, hesitated about what to do for an instant, then knelt down briefly before it and then went back to find his parents.
There is also the Cathedral of Assisi. One can see it from the plain far away from the town as its most prominent feature. Because the Cathedral is built on a slope, there is a high ancient wall which protects its southern flank that is quite striking. In 1995 there had been no damage to the structure, and all the great artwork of Giotto and all of the other inspired masters of that era could be seen in all their glory. Here truly, artists glorified the God of Heaven by their careful work, which they painted directly onto the walls and ceilings of the Cathedral. We can see, for instance, the famous painting of Saint Francis there, and murals composing the life of Saint Francis. In some of the works, Saint Francis is depicted to be standing by the Christ Child in the manger at Bethlehem; the artists made no distinctions concerning the difference in time frame. There is the main floor of the Cathedral, the main sanctuary area, and then a basement area - in both reside some of the great masterworks of religious art.
In Assisi there is also the Hermitage where Saint Francis and his brothers helped the sickly people. There the Seraphic Father slept on a bed of hard, bumpy stone, which can still be observed. The Hermitage is away from the walls of the city and it is surrounded by woods. Some years ago it was only accessible by a mountain hiking path. In fact I thought this would still be the case during my first pilgrimage, having read some of the older travel books, but in fact there is a paved road now. Around the Hermitage are all sorts of birds as there were during Saint Francis' time. It is a peaceful, tranquil setting. If one wants to do some hiking, there are mountain trails all around this area, and some of them lead to the top of the tallest mountains in the region of Assisi, which are above the tree line. I was determined to take this upwards hike, which is not too far, and straightaway I crossed the tree line and came to an area of grasses where sheep are allowed to graze. There are beautiful wildflowers of all colors growing with the grasses in summer, and small white stones, some shiny with flecks of various minerals or metals.
At the top of a small mountain, lacking any tree or shrub, a steady breeze was blowing when I arrived, which continually bent over the natural grasses. It was an amazing place, and the town of Assisi could be seen far below from the rim. The sky above was bright, azure blue, as one can only observe from higher elevations where there is a thinning of the atmosphere and a clarity of the surrounding ether. A person could lift one's spirit to God at this place. On the top of this hill some devout soul or group had made a little cross of white stones. It was a most dignified place to make such a cross, and it added to the ethereal nature of the location. I did not want to leave, being in a way closer to God there, but as the day grew late I finally started back down. This is my remembrance of my first visit to Assisi.
Unfortunately, things were not quite the same the second time around. There had been the earthquake in 1996, the only devastating earthquake to have transpired in all the time, almost 800 years, since Saint Francis had walked the city in his mortal state. This earthquake destroyed some of Giotto's greatest masterworks in the Cathedral of Saint Francis, as well as those of other master artists. During the official inspection of the damage, a secondary temblor caused additional extensive damage to the city, and loss of life occurred from the falling debris. Even to this very day Assisi is still reeling somewhat from the devastating blow, it having been determined for example that some of the paintings and other works of art had been irreparably damaged, and along with it a drop-off in tourism was experienced.
Among the popular culture of Italy there was for some time a feeling that the earthquake was a manifestation of God's wrath, due to the immensity of the sin of the people during the present age, but the Vatican reassured the citizenry and said no, there is nothing to worry about, God is good and He is a gentle and loving God who forgives the people of all their wrongdoings. The Cathedral was mostly closed during my second visit due to reconstruction and demolition, and the officials of the city had set up a slide show in an adjacent building in recompense for any visiting tourists. These were slides of the Cathedral and its paintings as it once was, that had been taken to make plates for a book of religious artwork. The show was set to the tune of jazzy, life inspiring, praisy music, and different slides were flashing one after the other on various walls. There was a modern viewing area in the center and one had almost the experience of being at a World's Fair pavilion or at the fancy religious merchandising booth of a liturgical trade show.
I also made the trek back up to my high mountain spot where I had once lifted my spirit to God. However, on my way up to the trail, strewn about the grasses and wildflowers I noticed some weird colored markers. When I arrived at the top of the small mountain, these markers were all around. They were constructed of wood wrapped with various colors of yarn with what appeared to be geometric designs embedded in the weave. These items were set up in some sort of ceremonial geometric arrangement. The lovely white cross of stones, which I made it a point to look for, had been removed. Perhaps some visiting animists, voodoo witchdoctors, or itinerant medicine men had decided to redo the once hallowed spot in the spirit of ecumenism, the RENEW program, and the springtime of Vatican II. This troubling change of events left me at a loss initially as to what action to take. I finally decided to gather up the voodoo into a pile. In fact a local shepherd happened along with his sheepdogs and sheep and helped me a bit in gathering up the stuff. Grabbing this huge armful of voodoo materials, or whatever, I then carried it down the mountain to be thrown in a refuse bin. When the townsfolk saw the materials I was carrying, I received some odd stares and I wondered if I might be reported to the local constable. Before throwing the rubbish out, I snapped a few pictures so that people might believe me that this odd event had even transpired in the locale where the Seraphic Father had once walked.
Is there a lesson to be learned in all of this? Clearly, if we can make an analogy to the state of our Holy Religion presently, we can conclude that there are still vigorous and ongoing changes in the life of the Church as evidenced by Assisi. We are not at the end of the devastatingly destructive era that began with the closing of the Vatican II Council, nor is there even a lull, but rather, it seems there has been an acceleration in the rate at which havoc and waste is being wrought to what once was a true guiding light for poor sinners. It has all been waylaid by an armed bandit who is set on taking revenge where he can in return for being thrown out of Heaven. And this is all possible because the ecclesial shepherds for the most part are no longer watching the flock as they should; some ignore or even encourage all manner of ghastly beasts to pillage poor souls who are searching for the straight and narrow path, the good path that few find for it is elusive and requires hard work. It is something that even a simple lay shepherd could understand and give witness to for the benefit of the ecclesial kind. Since for example the masterworks that God has given us have been neglected, that is, they have not been properly cared for, they are being taken away from us and destroyed. And we are speaking not only of inanimate objects such as religious artwork, that can be a help to us on our journey and glorify God in the process, but more importantly we can say that there is a lack of great saints, or even persons of sanctity or holiness, or even ordinary sinners who will enter Life with little room to spare, throughout the Church body today. We collectively have perverted the sense of right and wrong, and it has left us devastated, without a clue as to what compass to follow. It allows us to be lethargic, disoriented so to speak, as the abominable hits home even in our daily lives.
And instead of glorifying God in the form of reverence to the Holy Cross, idols to voodoo have been set up at the high holy places, not only in the holy town of Saint Francis, where once his spirit dwelled and brought the peace of God to those who sought Jesus in the Christ Child, but throughout the world in the form, for example, of certain seminaries which have become a haven for sodomites, as well as churches where God is no longer fervently worshipped and adored as the only Redeemer of all men. The fact that there are still toddlers filled with faith, kneeling at the Cross of Saint Francis, testifies against us that something is amiss in the training of young men and women.
And yet for the most part people nod approval with the goings on and say that Church leaders and laymen alike are doing the best they can. If we're doing the best we can under the circumstances, if we can do no more than idly watch as all manner of depravity and corruption is made manifest, then it may in fact be our final undoing, the straw that sets in motion a vigorous Heavenly response. But dear reader, do not cheer on any such Divine Intervention, for I can tell you that it will not go well with most of those who are on the watch at that time, whether their task has been to shepherd millions of people, or only their own children or their own lives and livestock in a careful and thoughtful manner. And so dear friends, it is hoped that this little travelogue might provide you with a small measure of insight concerning the events that are transpiring presently at Assisi, and still transpire, and how we cannot be too confident that the time of hastening toward the end of all things will not come to pass on our own watch. The Lord Jesus Himself tells us: 'Behold, I am coming soon!' It would behoove us then, to carefully consider if we are ready for the Lord's Return, and if we can say to Jesus that we multiplied our talents for Him even in the midst of all manner of destruction and carnage.
Hóstias, quæsumus, Dómine.
Mercifully look down, we beseech Thee, O Lord.