DAILY CATHOLIC     WEDNESDAY     August 4, 1999     vol. 10, no. 145

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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John Paul II Speaks on Basilica's Reopening after being Destroyed in '97 Earthquake

          ASSISI, AUG 2 (ZENIT).- On the occasion of the reopening of the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi, heavily damaged in the 1997 earthquakes, John Paul II sent a message to mark the "Celebration of Forgiveness." In his message for the celebration in the land of St. Francis, the Holy Father referred to the "forgiveness and reconciliation" that characterize the "city of peace," which is experienced today in a very special way.

          In his message, the Holy Father also referred to the meeting of world religious leaders held on October 26, 1986, and invited everyone to live "in the spirit of Assisi, a spirit of reconciliation, prayer and mutual respect."

          The "Celebration of Forgiveness" has been held in Assisi since August 2, 1216, when Pope Honorius III officially confirmed the great forgiveness or "Porziuncola indulgence" that Francis implored from Christ. It was in this chapel, constructed by the Assisi saint with his own hands, as John Paul II wrote in his message, that Francis "welcomed 'our sister, bodily death' singing."

          According to the Pope, the Porziuncola chapel, housed within the Basilica's walls, "preserves and offers a very special message and grace, which are present today and are a strong spiritual call to those who allow themselves to be attracted by their example." The Holy Father quoted Simone Weil's significant testimony, a "daughter of Israel, fascinated by Christ": "While alone in the romantic little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, an incomparable miracle of purity, where Francis often prayed, something stronger than myself forced me, for the first time in my life, to kneel down."

          The strength of Assisi, the Holy Father assures us, is "in the gift of gratuitous forgiveness, which gives us peace with God and with ourselves, infusing in us renewed hope and joy of living."

          "Within the old walls of the little church, one can taste the sweetness of prayer in the company of Mary, Jesus' Mother, and experience her powerful intercession." Thus, this place became for Francis the "land of meeting" with God's forgiveness. Because of this, "he wanted everyone to share in this personal experience of God's mercy and he implored for and received a plenary indulgence for all those who, having repented and confessed, come here as pilgrims to this little church to receive the remission of sins and the superabundance of divine grace," the Holy Father explained.

          The Pope concluded by saying that he wishes all "those who follow in the footsteps of the 'poverello of Assisi,' in a genuine attitude of penance and reconciliation, and receive the Porziuncola indulgence with the required interior dispositions, the joy of meeting God and the tenderness of his merciful love."

          Meanwhile further north, on August 2, Assisi rejoiced over an unforgettable "Forgiveness Celebration." Once again, the traditional event of love and reconciliation that characterizes the "city of peace," took place in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, recently restored, following the September 1997 earthquake. The Basilica houses the "Porziuncola," the small chapel built by St. Francis with his own hands. In the words of Fr. Massimo Reschiglian, Provincial Minister of the Minor Friars, today's celebration "is a sign of hope and a new beginning for the people of Umbria and Las Marcas who suffered the earthquake."

          The structural restoration of the Basilica began in October. The work entailed three miles of perforations in the walls, columns, and facade to insert steel cables to "tie" down the building. The vaults were reinforced with modern, extremely light resin, and the roof has been totally redone. An existing mathematical model of the Basilica and a computer have made possible the simulated reaction of the building to possible telluric movements.

          Fr. Giuseppe Bertuzzi, an architect who has closely followed all the phases of the work with "passionate competence," said that the most modern techniques have been used to restore life to this treasure of the spirit and allow pilgrims to visit the Basilica in complete safety.

          The restoration has left its imprint on the Basilica's appearance. The lighting is completely new, giving the impression at times of a "starlit sky." The tones of the wall coloring also give a new effect. Half of the 204,300 square feet of the Basilica's surface has been whitewashed with three layers of lime and splashed with natural earth of very light, almost white tones -- the custom in the 16th century.

          The work was financed by the Umbria Region to which Assisi belongs, with funds donated in view of the Jubilee of 2000. The restoration of other sites will be completed by October.

          "We have not opened a museum, but a holy place where even today the presence of the divine can be experienced by men," the Franciscan Provincial said.

          The last "Celebration of Forgiveness" before the Jubilee was given genuine expression in this shrine: a place which has "experienced the eruption of God's grace in the world," Fr. Giancarlo Rosati, the Basilica's custodian, said.

          Friar Rosati added that in the year 2000 "we will bring friars from all over the world so that they can welcome the greatest number in as many languages as possible, not only for the possibility of confession, but also to communicate Francis's experience of God." ZE99080205 and ZE99080203

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

August 4, 1999       volume 10, no. 145


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