May 8, 2022 – General Chapter 46
This was the I-can’t-believe-we-have-a-break day. The Chapter has been going full bore for a week, and today was the day that we could relax a bit, according to our preferences. The major options were a trip to Assisi or doing something around Rome. (The third option, of course, was to make up your own itinerary for the day.) I chose to go to Assisi because I hadn’t been there for quite a while.
The bus left at 7:30 am. Quoting Br. Antxon, “Not 7:26 or 7:35, but 7:30 am.” And indeed this was the case. The large bus was waiting and ready in the front courtyard of the Casa Generalizia, and some 30+ Brothers participated, Brothers from each of the three language groups. The drive there would take about 3 hours, but it was a comfortable ride and people settled down to having conversations, doing some reading or surfing on their phones, or simply watching the scenery or sleeping. I did the latter, since I’d only gotten about 5 hours or sleep.
Upon arrival, half the group – the older bunch, of whom I now consider myself one – made a beeline for the bathrooms near the bus parking lot, and then we received the overview of the day from Br. Antxon. It had been pre-arranged that two Franciscans would meet us near the “New Church” to take an English group and a Spanish group to different locations for input about the Franciscans and their experiences, including the efforts they have made to bring the major Franciscan groups together in recent years. We had some fine input and interactions that lasted for about an hour. After this, we were free to roam around the streets until the planned meal at a restaurant that was located near the bus park.
The plan was to go to Mass in Assisi, and the group I was with assumed that it would be in the large Basilica. So we dutifully went in that direction and went inside for the 12:45 Mass. I moved a little closer to the front in order to appreciate the artwork and choir that was singing behind the altar. Just before the Mass was about to begin, some of the others came to me to whisper that they’d just been informed – via Whatsapp? – that the Mass instead was going to be at the New Church at the other end of town, and that we were already late. So we left and rapidly made our way through tourists, older couples, baby prams, and the like to walk uphill to the other end of town as fast as we could. I went quickly, but I wasn’t going to go crazy with it and was the last in the line. Once we got there, we went inside and found most of the rest of our crew already there. (Some never made it and did end up going to the mass in the Basilica, with the bishop no less.) Br. Vincent handed me a piece of paper and said, “Please read this.” Thus I found out that I would be doing the first reading.
The church was quite small, but rather nice. It was located on the spot where the family house of St. Francis had been. The priest was one of the earlier Franciscan presenters, and everything went quite well, Vincent had prepared the readings, etc., and the singing was strong and sincere for both the English, Italian, and Spanish songs or responses. Afterwards, we were free to go off on our own. I ran off into the city and popped into the occasional shop or art store. I was impressed with the work of “Norberto”, a native of Assisi who had died 14 years ago but whose prints and paintings were rather clever and evocative. But even a small print, while of good quality, was 300 Euros. It was nice to see them, however, because of the clear talent of the artist and the whimsical character they included.
Eventually, I made my way to the restaurant, running into two Brothers who were also a little late for the 1:30 pm meal. The restaurant, which had “Oasis” in the name, was a large building across the street from the bus park and well hidden. The three of us couldn’t get into what appeared to be the front door, and so we walked around, seeing people inside but unable to determine how to get in. When we went back to what appeared to be the front, Br. Nestor rescued us, having seen us hovering around the windows and opening the door for us. The subsequent meal was very good. I especially liked the way they cooked the vegetables that were part of my special plate. The taste of the vegetables popped out in ways that never happens at the Motherhouse. I’d love to know their secret. They also served a liquer that was made of hazel nuts; I described it to one Brother as an alcohol Nutella. In the bus later, Br. Antxon said that the Brothers had made the same sort of liquer years back, and the rule was 3, 3, 3, 3. This referred to three kilos of young nuts, three kilos of sugar, three liters of alcohol, and three months. Sounds like something to try out at home.
We were then again released to wander about town for a bit, and I hit the streets, pursuing several interesting looking alleys and ending up on an almost empty road skirting the upper levels of the town. I’d also made sure to get to the cathedral and see the tomb of Saint Francis and the various chapels. While there were plenty of people around, I have to say that the place carried an atmosphere of peace and settledness. You could move around at your own pace, and there was a sort of devotional feel to it all when you were in the basilica or the area around the tomb of St. Francis.
The only stress that I experienced was when I discovered that it was getting close to the time for the bus to leave Assisi, and I was still at the other end of town. There was one thing that I had seen earlier and now wanted to purchase, so I quickly went to that store, told the lady that I was in a rush, and made my purchase quickly with her assistance. Then I fast-walked, again uphill, to the other end of town – probably faster than the earlier get-to-Mass time because we’d been told that the bust would leave at 4:30 with or without us. When it was 4:23, I thought that I would easily make it because I’d reached the town’s arch. But when I got there, I noticed that there were actually two arches, and the first town arch was 200 yards further, and the minutes were trickling by. But by speeding up a little more, I reached the bus at 4:29:10, somewhat exhausted and red-faced but in time to say “Here” at the roll call inside. The bus then went to the La Porziuncola inside the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli, about twenty minutes away, where we stayed until 5:30 pm.
The trip back to Rome was uneventful, although we arrived back a little late, at 8:30 pm. We went right to the dining room for a late supper, and to celebrate the birthdays of Keanne Palatino and Br. Michael French. Afterwards, and planned ahead, there was a gathering in the Den to have another birthday celebration with cakes that Hearther had purchased for Keanne, Michael, and me, since my birthday is tomorrow. The place had balloons and decorations as well. Upon arrival in the den at around 9 pm, it was already filled with some 20 people. We had a really nice celebration. Each birthday person was asked to say something, and the leftover sparklers from yesterday’s Secretariat of Association presentation were used as the backdrop for singing “Happy Birthday” – repeated at least two times because the sparklers kept sparkling. Really a fine evening and much appreciated by the others and by me.