We are thinking Pilgrimage here at the Monastery as two of our Sisters are preparing to head out with Friar Tom Hartle to Assisi. There are two ways to look at Pilgrimage: one focus is on the going, and the other is on the arrival— you might call the latter a “destination” pilgrimage.
San Damiano, the proto monastery of the women’s branch of the Franciscan family, is the focus of my muse these days.
Why did Francis take Clare to San Damiano or why did Clare insist on going to San Damiano? It was a wreck of a place( Fortini…)—and very dangerous outside the walls of Assisi. Maybe that was the point: to get out from behind the walls. Maybe they wanted to get out of Assisi with freedom to be poor, vulnerable, available, interdependent. If that was the case they got what they were looking for. But…as soon as Clare died the nuns scuttled inside the walls.
I put the question to one of my favorite Franciscan specialists, Jean Francois Godet:
Regarding your question, I think you already have the right answer. Clare and her companions wanted to join the evangelical/penitential movement started by Francis. That meant leaving Assisi, its wealth, its power, its protection, its privileges, and getting close to the outcasts, the nobodies, in particular the people with leprosy. San Damiano was an ideal place: it was outside the city, close to the leper colonies, had the three ingredients of the early Franciscan settlements: a little church, a spring of water, and near a road (the Assisi-Foligno road). It was the property of the diocese. Since bishop Guido was blessing, protecting and promoting the new movement, there was no obstacle. Soon after Clare died, the sisters were moved inside the walls, not only the walls of the city, but also the walls of a monastery. That was a major change that separated them from the people, and in particular the people that Clare, like Francis, wanted to be close to and to serve. But by that time, the same thing had already happened to the brothers. I believe that the spirit and life of Clare and Francis will always survive because it is simply, but radically, living the Gospel. However, the future is in the roots. We need to go back to the sources and rebuild the Franciscan movement.
I would just add that Francis and Clare were motivated by one thing: to do mercy, facere misericordiam, because it was in that experience that they were experiencing who God is, the Father of mercies as Clare says at the beginning of her testament, quoting Paul in 2 Corinthians. The whole Franciscan adventure began with Francis’ experience with the outcasts of Assisi, the people with leprosy: feci misericordiam cum illis, I did mercy with them, writes Francis at the beginning of his testament, quoting Luke and the parable of the good Samaritan.