The following reflection is from George Nemanich (left), who is a summer ministry intern with the Friars. George took the Friars’ summer course in Italy on, “Ecumenical & Interreligious Movements from a Catholic Perspective.” He reflects on his visit to Assisi:
Going into our travels to Italy, I knew that Assisi would be a highlight. I had heard wonderful things about it from everyone that I knew who had gone there. This compounded with the fact that I was going there with Franciscans and with a special appreciation for it now that I have been living and working with Franciscans for almost a month. What I soon came to realize was that this weekend would be the highlight of my entire experience in Italy.
The first thing that one notices about Umbria are the towering mountains that dominate the horizon. Nestled atop of one of these mountains is the small ancient city of Assisi, possibly shining gold in the sunset. Upon arrival, the mood is significantly different from that felt in Rome. While both give strong senses of history and holiness, Assisi is clean, quiet, and serene in contrast to Rome’s magnanimity and chaos. The strongest source of this feeling is in the people. Everyone seems to be in harmonious states of joy, appreciating creation in a way that brings honor to the city’s most famous son. The spirit of Francis is omnipresent in Assisi. It is in the sights of churches and nature; it is in the interactions with the residents and pilgrims. There nevertheless remains a pull of distraction away from the spirit. This was evident with the man on the train who I was talking to that only had complaints about how expensive Assisi is and also in how Eric continually jokingly referred to it as “Super-Franciscan-land”, attempting to make a joke out of the number of Friars and Sisters we saw when we were there. Not that this can’t be commented on, but when it is your first responses to any conversation about Assisi there appears to be a disconnect between our respective experiences. To me, all commentaries on Assisi that didn’t hold the spirituality of St. Francis at the center were inadequate descriptions. This perceived disconnect made me feel bad that not everyone seemed to have as wonderful of an experience as I felt that I had. But, I suppose that it is a reminder to always be attentive to the spiritual experiences that surround us in everyday life. I am sure there are moments where I am making inadequate descriptions of spiritual experiences in other people’s eyes. Assisi holds a place of spiritual importance in my heart, but that is not to say there aren’t other opportunities to gain such spiritual growth in everyday life.