il-pont - no 44a Assisi - Italja
February 2002 no 44a
Special issue in English
24 February 2002
- moments, emotions and something more
Brother Sun gave way to his siblings, who all in a way played their part during the Historic Day of Prayer in Assisi. I woke up rather early that morning of January 24, 2002. Sisters Moon and her little Sisters the Stars were still playing hide and seek behind the dark clouds. Assisi was still sound asleep. After dawn there was still a dark black cloud hanging over the city. Around eight thirty, while in Rome the Pope was boarding the "Peace train" (as the press dubbed it), which brought him and all the religious leaders to Assisi, here Sister Rain drizzled for a while and than took a short break. After her Brother Wind entered the scene.
I was not planning to give a weather report. However, I wanted to mention and highlight Brother Wind, who certainly was one of the main protagonists of the day. Twice the Pope himself interrupted his address and referred to the Wind that was blowing. “It is the Wind of the Spirit” – commented John Paul II.
I felt it was like “the strong wind blowing” we read about in the Book of Acts, “which filled all those gathered in one place” (Acts 2:1-2). It seemed to me like another Pentecost where all those present were filled will the “Power from on High” and “came out speaking as the Spirit enabled them to talk” On January 24, it was John Paul II, the successor of Peter who stood up and in a loud and strong voice spoke to the crowd saying: "Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!"
His words were heard by thousands of pilgrims of different religions sheltered in a steel structure built for the occasion in front of the 14th-century Basilica of St. Francis just out side the Sacro Convento where I have been living since last October 23. Thousands more followed the event live, via giant TV screens, at various churches around Assisi. The event was televised and watched by millions of people around the world. I imagine the number includes you also.
Moments and emotions
I just wanted to share with you some moments and emotions, which I experienced during this historic event – The Day Of Prayer for Peace that the Holy Father convoked in here in Assisi the City Blessed by St. Francis.
I felt like a butterfly soaring from one place to another. At six in the morning just before praying Lauds and celebrating Mass with the Conventual Franciscan community on the tomb of St Francis, I hopped into the steel structured tent. I had assisted it construction now it was fully adorned with carpets and chairs, with a big Olive tree and flower arrangements. Nobody was there at that moment. So I reached to the place were the Pope’s Chair stood and silently shared a prayer. I ask God to fill the place with the Power his Spirit of unity and of Peace. I also prayed for God’s protection over the Pope and over all those taking part in the event.
After Mass and my personal devotions, I took a very quick breakfast and run to friary’s common room to watch the Pope’s departure from Rome on television. As Brother Wind was accompanying the Peace train to Assisi, I made a tour within the Sacro Convento to have a last look at the venues for the day’s meeting. Il Refettorio - our dining room where all the tables, including the central table for the Pope were all perfectly laid to host about 280 guests. The different halls of our Istituto Teologico were set aside and transformed into places of worship for the representatives of different religions group prayers. Everywhere was beautifully decorated with carpets and plants. After I paid a visit to the Basilica Inferiore, where the Christian Delegations would assemble for Prayers lead by the Pope himself. Even here everything was very well prearranged to welcome the ecumenical celebration. I also paid a visit again to the Tent outside our Convento. The most of chairs at this moment were already occupied, only the front red chairs reserved for the delegates, who were coming on the train with the Pope still were empty. When it was time I went back to the friary to watch the arrival of the Peace train on television.
I wanted to make the most of the day and I didn’t want to miss any moment. I watch the welcome given to the Pope and the delegates by the religious and civil authorities at Assisi Railway Station. Then I dashed to our Porticato, which overlooks the plain of Assisi. From there I could see all the cars carrying the delegates coming up to the City of Assisi, including the Pope mobile carrying the Pope. I was waving and shouting at the top of my voice. Certainly the Pope at that moment was so far he couldn’t hear me. From there I went on the Terrazzo, the friary’s front terrace, which overlooks the square, from where I could see the Pope’s arrival. I saw the Pontiff approaching and dismounting the mobile. He was so close, not more then two meters away. I waved and this time he heard my greetings, he looked up and waved back. Oh what a feeling have the Pope waving back at you. Pope entered the Tent by the door prepared for him at the back. At that moment the bells of our Basilica were ringing. The first part of the programme was about to start.
Testimonies for Peace
As the John Paul II was welcoming the representatives together with their respective delegations who entered the square from via Frate Elia, I went back in front of the television to watch the beginning of the Meeting. After the representatives took their place on the dais and the Holy Father greeted them, I rushed to the Tent to listen to the Testimonies of Peace. I couldn’t find a better place to watch what was going on. I was next to the Cardinals, Bishops and the other VIPs, only few meters away from the podium. I felt honored and blessed! The Lord seemed to put in the right place at the right moment!
Some religious leaders offered their testimony of peace. I could follow and listen to all of them so closely. The first was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, whom I met just two days before I left Turkey last October. Other speakers included Muslim leader Ali Elsamman of the Al Azhar mosque, the highest Islamic authority of Egypt; Rabbi Israel Singer Bishop Richard Garrard, who read a testimony of the Archbishop of Canterbury; Ishmael Noko, of the World Lutheran Federation, and Setri Nyomi, of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Geshe Tashi Tsering was the Dalai Lama's representative, for Buddhism; Chief Ainadou Gasseto represented African traditional religions; and Didi Talwalkar for Hinduism. Chiara Lubich and Andrea Riccardi were among the Catholic representatives. Bishop Ioan Salagean represented the Romanian Orthodox Patriarchate. The Pope was the last to confer his address and concluded this part of the meeting. At that moment I was taking some notes because I had an interview on the Maltese radio.
Prayer for Peace
Right after the Pope’s address I literally darted to the back of the tent to watch the Pope coming out and making his way into the Lower Basilica. Again I was so close to him. I could also see the religious groups dispersed, each according to its own rite in the places set aside within the Sacro Convento.
On that day I was sprinting rather than walking. I rushed into the Lower Basilica by the back door right in time to see the Pope going up the steps of the Altar, which stands on the Tomb of St Francis. The Ecumenical Celebration was about to start. I was on the right transept. Next to me in this section of the basilica allotted to us friars was Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope’s Household preacher. There were many other friars. I couldn’t stay there till the end of the prayer since I was expecting the Church Radio to call me from Malta. So I left the Basilica again by the back door. The timing was impeccable! As soon as I entered my room the phone rang. I answered the interview and gave my comments on the event live as I did early in the morning on the Maltese News. The day before BCC, Reuters and Cairo Television interviewed me.
After the prayer meetings in groups, the religious leaders were invited to dine together with the Pope in our Refettorio at the Sacro Convento. I consider this was the best moment of the day. I was so inebriated with joy beyond all telling that I didn’t feel like eating any food. I just was going round the tables greeting and talking to these remarkable guests. The guests were served a strictly vegetarian menu, without alcohol, in order to respect the traditions of all. At certain moments I was called to act as translator and speak to the English speaking visitors. At other times I was picking used plates from the tables, including the table on which the Pope was dining.
I had the pleasure of personally greeting so many people. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who was sitting right in front of the Pope waved at me. As I approached him he asked me, “How are you doing here in Assisi?” He remembered the meeting we had together in Istanbul. I greeted Cardinal Arinze and the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. These were sharing the same table with the Pope.
I had the opportunity to talk to lots of people: Cardinals Martini, Tomko, Ruini, Cassidy, Murphy O’Connor and Ratzingar, and many bishops. I talked to Chiara Lubich, the foundress of Opera di Maria (Focolarini) and offered coffee to Kiko Arguello, founder of the Cammino Neocatecumenale. I greeted Frere Denis from the Taize’s Community. I shared some words with Sister Nirmala, the successor of Mother Teresa of Calutta. I spoke to many leaders of various religions: Sikhs, Confucians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, animists, Christians of all denominations, and believers of other creeds. It was such a unique blessing to meet so many important men and women under the same ceiling …and imagine at my home - the place were I live. I wish to have words to describe my emotions and feelings of joy that I experienced during those moments.
Commitment to Peace
The Pope left the dining hall for a short rest. Unfortunately since the programme was running late, the Pope’s meeting envisaged with us Friars of the Sacro Convento was cancelled. I was so looking forward to talk to the Pontiff and ask his blessing! Pity, indeed! Nevertheless, my heart was so filled to the brim that I didn’t have any room to be sad. I rushed to the Basilica where I had to be ready together with other friars. I was one of the 72 friars who were asked to bring the lighted lamps to the podium during the afternoon session.
We were given instructions that if it happens that there would be no one sitting on the chair were we go, we had simple to blow the light out and come down the podium back with the lamp. It happened that the one I was supposed to give the lamp was absent. So I faithfully blow off the light and returned back. It seems that the Lord wanted me to keep the lamp as a remembrance of the Day! How blessed I was! I have this “light of hope” with me in my room still. On my way back I followed the line and passed exactly by the seat were the Pope was sitting. What a happy moment!
Afterwards some of the representatives took their place around the lectern to read the text of the common commitment to peace in different languages holding the lamp in their hands. During the commitment I run to put the lamp in my room and returned back under the Tent. John Paul II ended the joint declaration: "Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!"
At the conclusion of the solemn commitment, the Pope and the representatives placed their lamps on a tripod, which will remain here in St. Francis' Basilica in memory of this historic event. While the Holy Father was exchanging a sign of Peace with all the representatives I went back to the terrace to see the Pope coming out of the Hall. When the Meeting was over the Pope came down the ramp at the back and mounted the Pope mobile. He was just two meters beneath from were I was. I waved at him for the last time with a sense of gratitude for such a memorable day. I saw John Paul II departing from the entrance of the Sacro Convento to go on a private visit to the Poor Claires. Brother Wind had calmed down yet Sister Rain was still coming down.
Later the Pope returned to the Railway Station from where he took back the "peace train," together with the 250 representatives of various religions from Assisi back to the Vatican.
The so much awaited day came and passed away so fast. The “Peace train” returned to Rome. The delegates, pilgrims and all who came to Assisi for the day made their way back home. The laborers dismantled the tent outside the Basilica. Assisi returned to be the silent city. At the end of such a day filled with so many happy moments and emotions I dared asking myself: Now what’s more? What’s next?
Certainly many like myself still cherish happy emotions and memories of the event. The media all over the world covered the event; TV, Radios, newspapers and magazine reported and illustrated the day with memorable photos and videos. I feel, however, we cannot stop at this level. It would be very shallow indeed! What should I (and you) be doing after January 24, 2002?
The answer lays in what the Pope commented the day after the event: "What happened yesterday in Assisi will remain for a long time in our hearts". The Pope continued, "I thank you (the delegates) especially for your resolution in favor of peace and the courage to declare before the whole world that violence and religion can never go together." "In spite of our differences, we are united in the commitment to promote the cause of peace," the Pontiff said. "This commitment is certainly what God expects from us," he added. "It is also what the world seeks from people destined to religion. This commitment is the hope that we can offer at this particular time."
From the Pope’s words it is clear that what remains is “the Commitment for Peace”. A commitment is made once, yet it has to be kept, renewed and lived every day. So I believe must be the Commitment for Peace.
Let Peace begin with me
When I was still in the Philippines we used to sing a song, which says: “Let there be Peace on earth, and let it begin with me”. I strongly believe these words are true! Peace needs to start with me … certainly continues with you. This is what we should be doing. If we only make our share and commit ourselves to be at Peace with God, with ourselves, with others and with all creation, we certainly would be contributing already to promote the cause of Peace in the World.
We would become indeed “Peacemakers” and “Instruments of Peace” as St Francis of Assisi was in his own time. Peace of the Lord be with you.
If you want more information and pictures about the Event please visit our website www.sanfrancescoassisi.org
"Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In the name of God, may every religion bring upon the earth justice and peace, forgiveness and life, love!"