St. Francis’ Ark

The fourth of October is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). The Church commemorates him already on the previous Sunday as one of the greatest saints, who gave human dignity and hope back to the poor, the dispossessed, the despised and the persecuted. In doing so, by the way, he supported alone the collapsing building of the Church – as Pope Innocent III saw in his dream, as seen in the Assisi fresco attributed to Giotto – thereby giving an example for the following centuries as to what should be done by him who does not want to abandon this permanently shaking building.

The weekend before the Feast of St. Francis, the Pope visited Georgia, where on the first day he and the Chaldean and Assyrian Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq prayed together. During a ceremony sung in the Chaldean and Aramaic languages, as reported in the Italian Franciscan publication San Francesco, he gave a homily referring to St. Francis:

“Our Lord Jesus! By Your glorious passion defeat the hardness of hearts fallen into the captivity of hatred and selfishness. By the power of Your resurrection liberate the victims of injustice and oppression. Through the fidelity of Your coming annihilate the culture of death, and shine on the victory of life. At the foot of Your cross unite the many innocent victims, the children, the elderly, the persecuted Christians. In the light of your Easter embrace those who are deeply wounded, who have suffered violence, who are deprived of their liberty and dignity. Show the strength of Your country to those who live in uncertainty, to the exiles, the refugees, to them who have lost their faith in life. Spread the shadow of Your cross on the peoples living in war, so they find their way to reconciliation, dialogue and forgiveness. Give the taste of the joy of Your resurrection to the nations annihilated by the bombs. Remove the destruction from Iraq and Syria. Unite under Your kingdom Your scattered sons. Support the Christians living in diaspora, and give them the unity of faith and love.”

In preparation for the feast, the Italian Franciscan province erected a monument in the middle of the large square before the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, as if in memory of the poor manger, which was set up for the first time by St. Francis in Greccio. The weathered boat, only seven meters long, landed on the shores of the infamous Lampedusa in southern Italy with nine refugees on board in March 2014. All nine survived the trip. They were lucky. On the same day, writes a signboard placed in the boat, another boat perished on the Aegean Sea with seven Syrian refugees on board, another one in the Gulf of Aden, with forty-two people fleeing the civil war in Yemen, and one on the Albert Lake with two hundred and fifty one people, including fifty-seven children, who tried to reach the Ugandan shore in flight from the war in Congo, which has killed so far five and a half million people:

“This boat, set up in Assisi, in front of the Monastery of St. Francis, symbolizes all the other boats that safely reach the other shore and those that sink on the sea. It is an unnamed boat, which only carried nine refugees, but it symbolizes all the thousands of people who need help and who are in need of and entitled to international help. Jesus wants to be born in the darkness of this boat to bring us the light and peace.”

Andre, die das Land so sehr nicht liebten. Music: Zupfgeigenhans, text: Theodor Kramer, fleeing the Anschluss (1938)

Andre, die das Land so sehr nicht liebten
War’n von Anfang an gewillt zu geh’n
Ihnen – manche sind schon fort – ist besser
Ich doch müsste mit dem eig’nen Messer
Meine Wurzeln aus der Erde dreh’n
Others, who did not love this country as much
were willing to leave from the beginning.
Them – some have already left – it is easier,
but I had to unearth my roots
with my own knife from this soil.

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