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A Lifelong Dream that Became an October 2000 Journey

by Ron Fein

The first sight of the Basilica of St. Francis is from the Umbrian valley.  Magnificent is not enough to describe that vision.  The Basilica covers the largest part of the ancient town of Assisi as it sits atop Mt. Subasio.

Having been a Third Order Franciscan from my early days at Duns Scotus College and a First Order Franciscan for my three years of simple vows after completing the novitiate at St. Anthony Shrine in 1965, seeing and touching the places St. Francis walked was just amazing.  Our tour of 44 pilgrims was lead by Fr. Jim Bok, OFM.  For several days, we walked in the steps of St. Anthony of Padua (Padova, as they write in Italy)--but no tour of the life of St. Anthony would be complete without the trip to Assisi.  Fr. Jim said mass for us in many famous churches rich in Franciscan tradition. 

We began in Lisbon, Portugal, which is the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua.  He was named Fernando Bulholm at birth.  Padua is a short distance from Venice, Italy.

Before arriving in Assisi, we toured Rome and the Vatican.  One of Fr. Jim's Masses was at Greccio where we had the opportunity to see where Francis  lived in a cave hermitage and recreated the nativity scene.  Greccio is a rocky and hilly area, which must have been enormously difficult to travel in the days of Francis.  I am sure he either walked or rode a donkey, but even on a tour bus it was no picnic getting to his hermitage.

From Greccio we went to Assisi where we spent three days and nights in the mystical city steeped with sacred history for any Franciscan.  I never saw so many olive trees and vineyards in my life.  It is reported that the best olive oil in Italy comes from this Umbrian valley.  Most olives are harvested by mechanical tree shaking devices, but not in Assisi.  Their olives are so special and wonderful that they are picked by hand.  My wife purchased a bottle of Umbrian olive oil to use when we return to Cincinnati, Ohio.  We did not bring back any wine as we drank our share while over there!

The upper and lower Basilica of St. Francis would require years to study and digest the rich artistry and beauty.  In only three days, one needs to see things quickly.  As in most of Italy's famous churches, flash photography and video cameras are not permitted.  I am sorry to report that after receiving a plenary indulgence for the trip to Rome in the Jubilee Year of 2000, I have sinned.  Fr. Jim says I need more plenary indulgences for all the illegal photos and videos I shot.  But then, who else on our tour has pictures to share of the tomb of St. Francis, the famous Cimabue's fresco of St. Francis, the Stigmata or the original habit worn by St. Francis?  I will share my sinful gain with the other tour members and maybe they will pray to God for my for

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