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Pope Francis in Assisi: first-hand impressions

(Vatican Radio) So, what does it feel like to be here in Assisi? It’s overcast and cold, with light rain coming down in spurts. You look up from the train station and see the ancient town on the hill, dominated by the Basilica of San Francesco. Listen to this report from our correspondent in Assisi Christopher Wells: RealAudioMP3

From early morning the streets have been crowded. Residents and pilgrims, security personnel, journalists, workers are everywhere. There’s a sense of happy anticipation, excitement. The Pope is coming! While everyone is waiting to see what Pope Francis will say and do, the overwhelming spirit is one of welcome and gratitude. “Benevenuto, Sua Santità” proclaim signs on houses and businesses throughout the town. There is, it seems, a mutual feeling of love and affection, and of greeting. Pope Francis has spoken often of the spirit of welcome, of encounter, and that is the mood here, people waiting not so much to see the spectacle of a papal visit, but to be present with the Pope, to meet him, to be with him.

That’s already been the feeling so far, in his meeting with the sick and disabled at the Seraphic Institute, and his meeting with the poor at the chapel of the “spogliazione” of Saint Francis at the Bishop’s residence. His visit with the sick was particularly moving. As he stopped to meet each person, they would reach out to him, clasp his hand, lean in close to him and share with him their thoughts and feelings. One disabled child played with his pectoral Cross as the Pope beamed. Each individual encounter was a precious moment. And each meeting seems more important than the greetings and speeches that have so far marked his various stops.

And as the Pope moves from station to station, following the footsteps of his namesake on Saint Francis’ feast day, the people, braving the cold and the wind and the rain, await their own personal moment with the Successor of Saint Peter.