2013-10-02 Vatican - Pope Francis is scheduled to travel to Assisi on Friday, October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.

During his one-day pilgrimage to the city where St. Francis was born, the Pope will follow in his footsteps stopping to pray in Churches, Chapels and other places that were meaningful in the life and conversion of the beloved Saint. Amongst these is the Sanctuary of St. Damiano where Francis heard God asking him to go out and rebuild his Church, the magnificent upper Basilica of St. Francis with Giotto’s paintings of his life, the tiny “tugurio” - or hut - where Francis and his companions lived in total poverty, the “Eremo delle Carceri” where Francis prayed and made penance in close contact with nature, the tiny Portiuncula Chapel where Francis began his journey of faith and where he died on October 3 1226, his place of burial in the lower Basilica of St. Francis. The Pope will also meet with the poor, the disabled and the sick, and he will lunch at the Caritas soup kitchen with dozens of poor people who go there every day for assistance and care.

Assisi of course is home to a large Franciscan family, all of whom all looking with joy and with expectation to Pope Francis’s visit to the city of St. Francis. Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni chatted to Franciscan friar Joseph Rozansky, International Director of the Franciscan office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. She began by asking him what his reaction was when the newly nominated Cardinal Bergoglio announced he had chosen Francis as his name.

Fr. Rozansky recalls the episode that saw Cardinal Hummes turning to Bergoglio during the conclave and saying: “remember the poor when you are Pope”. But regardless of that – Fr. Rozanky points out – “his way, his manner, during his first public statements, showed why he chose the name”. And he points out: “Francis is very popular because of the way he always “grabs the bull by the horn” in many ways; he was always very willing to say what the truth of the matter was”. So for me – says Fr Rozansky – “from the beginning that was part of the reason he chose the name. Little by little the other details are coming out like the issue of how we treat poor people, of what’s happening in their lives – or people in general for that matter – the whole pastoral approach of who we are and what we do, the whole ecological issue - environmental justice”.

Fr. Rozansky points out that next year is the 35th anniversary of Francis being named patron of ecology “so what we are trying to do is prepare a reading of what that means for today, because obviously Francis wasn’t an ecologist or an environmentalist, but at the same time he loved creation because that spoke of God’s hand, and it seems to me that is the approach that Pope Francis is taking”. Father Rozansky also speaks of his happiness with the way the Pope “is living up to the name, getting people involved and working on a lot of the issues that for us, Franciscans, are important, and were important to him when he was in Argentina”.

How are Franciscans looking forward to the visit?

“Obviously for us Assisi and its environs are important. But for many different reasons: many people see Assisi as a place of pilgrimage and it depends a lot on how we understand pilgrimage. I’m hoping – just as he did not long ago when he went to visit a center for refugees in Rome, he had some very pointed things to say to religious in general, he asked “what are you doing with your empty convents” he said “you shouldn’t be turning them into hotels” – for me that was great because we had just been doing a reflection on the ethical use of resources. So I think, getting back to Assisi, he could really throw a challenge to us, I hope he does…(…) because it could be for nostalgic reasons that you want to go places like the “carcere” or walk in the steps of St. Francis, but it seems to me we need to retrieve the meaning of those places, what they meant for Francis and what they meant for his life. So for me: when I see the Pope going to Assisi, I hope he will be like his namesake, what he does will challenge us to think more about the gospel, the gospel values and what we are called to do… you need to see and you need to act…”.

“For me, looking to Assisi and to what the Pope will be doing there, I would really like this to be a moment for us to step back and say: “how well are we living the values that we proclaim, our vows, etc., because they are really a call to know the world that we live in and take up the challenges that we see around us today”.

And Father Rozansky continues: “What is it about Francis that after 800 years he is still so popular?” Speaking of a reflection on the subject he was asked to do a while ago, Father Rozansky reveals “I came up with the three “P”s: that he was Polite, he was Persistent and he was Practical. Polite – you could use courteous too; persistence: Francis didn’t give up on things; most of all he was practical: concrete – when God told him “you have to change your life, Francis left his house, left his city and embraced the lepers, literally! When he was praying before the crucifix of St. Damiano and he heard God tell him to rebuild his Church, Francis went out and got building materials and began by repairing the Portiuncula Chapel. And again, in his testament he talks about the Lord telling him to use the greeting of peace: “May the peace of the Lord be with you”. He does and he tells his brothers to do the same thing. And he really goes out, talks to people about the need for peace: Francis address the issue in concrete ways. (…) He was saying: “I know the conflict that you face in your life, we have it in all levels of our society and I challenge you to change that, to live in a different way so that you can find ways to be peaceful”.