Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Power of Prayer

Sunday afternoon, June 22, we spent clambering around the Rocca Maggiore, the somewhat ruined castle that looms over Assisi. About the time of Francis the people stormed the castle and pulled parts of it down. Later it was restored, then fell into ruin and again restored! It has quite a history. We clambered over every square inch open to the public. Ezekiel (on the far left) is an expert hunter with bow and arrow, and he showed us how he would shoot from the windows of the castle if he’d been a soldier then. (Blow darts are his favorite weapon for hunting, however.) It was the view from the top of the tower that captivated us, because below the whole city of Assisi was visible, from Santa Chiara to San Francesco.

Later that evening we joined other religious orders in a long procession through the city celebrating “Festa del Voto” a religious/civic occasion celebrating how St. Clare saved Assisi from destruction by the Saracens. As her sisters prayed, Clare took up the Holy Eucharist and went to the door of San Damiano where the invading army was beginning to scale the walls. From San Damiano it is only two short kilometers to the city walls. Holding up the Blessed Sacrament she turned the invaders back. In gratitude the City of Assisi flowers to the tomb of St. Clare every June 22, the anniversary of the event and then takes a year’s supply of candles to San Damiano. We started in the piazza in front San Rufino then walked down the hill to City Hall. There we met the Mayor with a great fanfare of trumpets sounded by a cadre of men in red and blue tights. After the mayor joined the procession we went to the Basilica of St. Clare then, following the road outlined in small candles, to the city gate and down the slope to San Damiano. There after another fanfare the Bishop spoke and we knelt for the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It was all very welcoming, nobody was turned back!

I’ve learned of another time when Assisi was saved from destruction by prayer. During WWII the German officer in charge of Assisi had the city categorized as a “hospital city” thus avoiding aerial attacks, then he willfully disobeyed orders to destroy the city as the German army retreated.

The city inspires love and admiration. I think it must be because the buildings are so closely associated with the narrative of Francis, and the radical call of prayer, love and service and joy. Just looking at the buildings and imagining the early Franciscan movement I feel that our homely efforts are not far off the mark.

Prayer works! No surprise ending here, but sometimes I need to remind myself; it has changed my life and the lives of many other people I know.

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