La Verna: St. Francis’ Hilltop Home-Away-From-Home

All the bells summon the monks to prayer.

St. Francis, after whom our new pope is named, is most often associated with the Italian village  of Assisi.  And fair enough:  Assisi was home base for Francis and the other monks of the Order of Friars Minor. Sometimes, though, he just needed to get away.  That’s what happened when, in August 1224, Francis withdrew to La Verna, about a day’s walk away, for an extended 40-day period of prayer and fasting. Pope Francis has invited the monks of La Verna to attend his inaugural Mass … [Read more...]

Pope Benedict’s New Digs

A breathtaking view of the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, seen from the rear of the Vatican Gardens

By now you’ve probably seen this picture: It’s the Mater Ecclesiae—the former convent inside the walls of Vatican City where Pope Benedict will reside in quiet prayer. Four times in the last decade, it has been my privilege to lead a group tour through the Vatican Gardens, where the Mater Ecclesiae is located.  I remember its story:  The residence has been occupied by a community of cloistered sisters whose mission was to tend a small garden, help with some domestic tasks, and pray … [Read more...]

Orvieto and the Feast of Corpus Christi

Orvieto atop a butte

The town of Orvieto is an Etruscan city located in the scenic region of Umbria, between Firenze (Florence) and Roma (Rome). I first visited the medieval town of Orvieto in 2002, and again in 2006.  It’s the eucharistic miracle which is preserved there that I want to tell you about today—but first, let me tell you a little about this picturesque little town. *     *     *     *     * Getting Up There - Orvieto sits atop a volcanic rock, on a high butte overlooking the … [Read more...]


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