These days, yellow and white banners – the colors of the Vatican flag – flutter off balconies and over pointed-arched medieval doorways cheerily blending with the vases of red geraniums hanging on Assisi pink limestone homes. The town launched into festive mode as of late September, preparing in collective euphoria for the arrival of Pope Francis on October 4th, Feast of his namesake, San Francesco.
For the big day, painted banners with a variety of messages draped homes, schools, apartment buildings and were strung out over the streets. The day before the Pope’s arrival, I stopped at the Caritas (shelter for the homeless and poor where the Pope would lunch), banners stretched out over the wrought iron fence: “Grazie di essere tra noi. Buon pranzo” (“Thanks for being with us. Have a good lunch”) and “La carita non avra’ mai fine” (“Charity will never end”).
Francesco, gardener, was loading his truck with prunings (last-minute yard clean-up) as Emanuele watched.
Orphaned Emanuele, who grew up with our children, now lives at the Caritas due to severe learning disabilities and would be lunching with Pope Francis the next day, October 4th.
We chatted about the event and as I left, I asked him to give regards to the Pope from “un’americana.” I looked up before leaving to note the banners hanging from apartment balconies next door: one urged the Pope to “not give up” and another urged him “force of will.” Banners around the town embraced him warmly, many with just a simple welcome message of “Benvenuto, Francesco” and one over a church proffered an embrace (“abbraccio”) from the entire parish. My favorite? Over a cafe entry on the “Papamobile route”, a torn sheet with this message lettered in black magic marker : “Your Holiness, please drop in for a coffee.” I wasn’t there when the Pope passed but I can imagine the grin.
With tour guests, I saw the Pope after his visit to the Hermitage on Mt. Subasio, the 15th -century monastery built over the site where St. Francis withdrew for prayer in the 13th-century.
It was late afternoon by this time with an intense schedule – fully present to all wherever he stopped – ever since his 7 30 a.m. arrival in Assisi. As his Papamobile passed me, I saw it slow down – to stop for the bouquet of flowers held up to him by a young man in a wheelchair.
And then his “Papamobile” turned into a narrow alleyway where only a few people could line the street, his vehicle slowing to a crawl. Clara was one of those able to grab his hand.
As she scooted by me, she held it up for me to see, beaming and telling me over her shoulder, “…and so many of my friends wished to touch this hand.”
No stopping Clara: she was on her way to the Pope’s next stop, the Cathedral of San Rufino ( where both San Francesco and Santa Chiara had been baptized, late 12-th c). I had been there that morning talking with the townspeople of Cannara and Spello as they added finishing touches to the floral tapestry masterpieces they had been creating all night as a Papal welcome. Infiorate glories carpet Cannara and Spello piazzas and winding medieval streets each year for the Feast of Corpus Domini. Those laid out for Pope Francis depicted immigrants, the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed (the center of his attention) and San Francesco holding up the church about to collapse (from the fresco of Giotto in the Basilica of St. Francis). A message there…?
I know the Pope’s twinkly eyes must have opened wide in astonishment at the site of the floral tapestries, ready for him to walk on into the Cathedral. But he did not. He walked around them.
Read more on the Feast of St. Francis
Read more about the preparations for the Pope’s visit
Read about the first Papal visit, to Lampedusa
Read more about Assisi’s excitement for the Pope’s visit
Click here to read about – and see! – the floral welcome for Pope Francis
Read about Spello’s astounding floral tapestries festival, le Infiorate
Click here to read about the St. Francis street fair