The drive from Rome to Assisi in Umbria is a short day trip (185 km or 115 miles) along dramatic mountain scenery and countless medieval hill towns where the region’s volcanic soil, wet winters and sun-drenched summers grow grapes that produce some of the finest wines in the world.
For pilgrim travelers entering Italy’s Green Heart, it was a metaphor for a spiritual journey from the ecclesiastical Church of Rome to a land of religious fervor where saints walked the hillsides and forests and lived lives that changed the world. The gentle spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi continues to influence all who are open to the teachings of Francis who first heard God’s calling in a small church outside the city walls while praying at the Byzantine cross of San Damiano directing him to “Rebuild My Church”.
Today the link between Rome and Assisi is renewed with the 2013 inauguration of Pope Francis whose papacy continues to be marked by acts of simplicity and openness common and consistent with the teachings of St. Francis. I was reminded of this on a recent trip that began in Rome and ended in Umbria. I did get my “golden ticket” to see the Pope along with thousands of others in St. Peter’s Square that October morning. All that was going on now connected Rome to Assisi by more than an ancient pilgrim road. The name Francis echoed a spiritual reconnection between two men reminding those who listened to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment”.