Wednesday, March 25, 2009

April 2009 World's Franciscan monks gather to celebrate 800 years of their order

Monks from around the world will gather in Assisi

in April to celebrate the founding of the Franciscans

Some 2000 monks from around the world will gather in Assisi in April to celebrate the founding of the Franciscans, a major Catholic religious order. The official date of the founding is Apr 16. The members of the order follow the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi, one of Catholics' best loved and best known saints, and one of the patron saints of Italy. Eight-hundred years on, there is some controversy over his teachings, but questions over the authenticity of several items preserved as relics of the saint have been resolved for the present.

On Apr 18, the monks will travel by special train to Rome for a Mass with Pope Benedict XVI.

St. Francis dedicated himself to the poor, preached the way of peace and founded three religious orders. He gave each of the three orders a special rule. Religious scholars argue over whether he wrote only one rule with several versions or several rules, whether he received it from Heaven through revelation or whether it was the fruit of his life experience. The only certainty is that Francis wrote the first rule or the first version in 1209 and he presented it to Pope Innocent III for approval that year.

The best known of Francis' followers is the mendicant Order of Friars Minor.

Depictions of the saint show him dressed in a brown robe with a rope belt -- the habit still worn by his order. Four Franciscan churches claim they house the saint's relics, according to Britain's Telegraph newspaper, which covered tests on the garments in 2007. Carbon dating showed that one tunic, in the Church of Saint Francis, Cortona, in Tuscany, dated from his lifetime. A second robe, from Florence's Church of Santa Croce, did not match the dates, though the belt around it did.

The other two robes are kept in churches in Assisi and Arezzo. They belong to a different branch of the order and were not included in the tests, which used accelerator mass spectrometry to measure the ratios of carbon isotopes present in samples of cloth.

The son of a prosperous businessman, Francesco di Pietro di Bernardone was born in 1181 or 1182 and died in 1226. He gave up his worldly goods and set out to preach repentance. He was canonized two years after his death by ater by Pope Gregory IX.

The monks will stay in hotels, divided into linguistic groups. Conferences are to be held in the square in front of Santa Maria degli Angeli church in Assisi with the instantaneous translation in English, Spanish, Polish and Italian. The first Mass will be celebrated by father José Rodríguez Carballo, General Minister of Monks Minor. The day after there will be a conference on the Rule with S. E. Mons. John Corriveau, Bishop of Nelson (Canada). On Friday the visit to St. Francis tomb is scheduled.

Assisi, attracts millions of Christian pilgrims every year. Pope Benedict visited the town in June for the 800th anniversary of St Francis' conversion. Italy celebrated the conversion with the issue of a stamp depicting Pope Innocent II approving the rule.