When Br. Gregory Lucrezia, SA, talks about Assisi, Italy, you can hear the love in his voice. “I think Assisi is really the place to be. It’s incredible.” Roughly two hours from Rome, Assisi is accustomed to visitors who want to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis.
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement have had a Formation House in Assisi, Italy, for years. Here young men can study the life of St. Francis and not only get a glimpse into the life of a Friar, but actually step into the role. Although the study of theology is a crucial piece, the key to their formation is experiencing daily life the Franciscan way. From helping locals with projects to pointing a tourist in the right direction, the formation process involves a lot of work and prayer, and plenty of celebration around feast days.
“Italians seem to love processions!” said Br. Gregory. “During feast days there is usually a procession in the town, it’s a beautiful tradition.”
In addition to celebrating the feast of St. Clare on August 11, the “Catholic celebration town,” as Br. Gregory calls it, has a myriad of activities for the feast of St. Francis. On October 3, the vigil of St. Francis’ feast day, locals celebrate “Transitus,” which is the passing of St. Francis at Santa Maria degli Angeli, or Our Lady of the Angels. St. Francis is buried at the Basilica Papale di San Francesco.
Aside from celebrating this special feast day in the place that St. Francis made famous, Br. Gregory enjoys the daily opportunities to share the Gospel, even in the most unlikely situations. He is one of about six friars who speak English in Assisi and he often finds himself acting as a pseudo guide for English-speaking tourists.
Br. Gregory mentions that Assisi is usually one spot on a full touring list, so many people only spend one or maybe two days in the town. Because of this, the Friars work to be as hospitable and friendly as possible so they can share the love of God, even if they only meet someone for a few minutes.
“To walk where St. Francis walked, to be where he was, to go to his Basilica and to St. Clare’s, to talk to people who travel here and show them what an incredible place this is…this is the best work.”
In doing this kind of work, Br. Gregory knows the novices are getting the best kind of formation available. “When you’re able to see the young people of the town pray and celebrate, it helps you understand your own spirituality.”
On September 15, Giovanni and Gregorio, the current novices at the Formation House, will be taking vows to enter fully into consecrated life. They will also be traveling to Rome to connect with Atonement Friars there, and then return to Assisi to continue their primary work of sharing the Gospel by loving their neighbors.
The beauty of living in a tourist town revolves around the opportunities to meet new people and share the joy of Christ with them. Once while chatting with visitors, Br. Gregory was asked his vocation story. He explained how he had grown up in Yonkers, NY, and that after he entered religious life, he obtained his nursing and alcohol treatment licenses through the State of New York. He wanted to be able to serve in St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor, helping men on the road to recovery from chemical addiction. After their discussion, two women who had overheard the conversation approached him. “They were from Vermont and both had sons who struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. I was able to connect them with resources at Graymoor even though we were all on another continent!” said Br. Gregory. Situations like this (there have been many others!) remind Br. Gregory that the Holy Spirit is at work.
The Formation House at Assisi provides the perfect backdrop to celebrate the way St. Francis and St. Clare lived, not only in August and October, but every day throughout the year.