Pope Francis traveled to the bucolic Umbrian hillside town of Assisi on Friday where he paid his first visit to the birthplace of his namesake, St. Francis, the Italian patron saint who shed his life of riches to live and pray amongst the poor in the early 13th century.
Continuing in his mission to follow in St. Francis' footsteps, the pontiff spent time blessing disabled children and dining with the poor.
Speaking from the spot where St. Francis is said to have undressed to show his modesty and reverence to Christ, Francis called on the church to “undress” and “divest ourselves of worldliness,” which he said leads to vanity, arrogance and pride and is the "cancer of society and the enemy of Christ."
Francis also made mention of Thursday’s shipwreck off the coast of Italy, in which at least 111 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Northern Africa.
“This is a wild world,” he said. “It seems it doesn’t care about the people fleeing poverty, slavery in search of freedom… Today is a day for crying.”
Since being named pope in March, Francis has made a point – in interviews, masses and actions – to practice what St. Francis preached in terms of humility and simplicity.
Shortly after the conclave, Francis visited a detention center near Rome where he washed young prisoners’ feet in one of his first public events. He has also shunned the apostolic apartments, choosing to live in a more modest dwelling where he said he feels less isolated. And last month, Francis got his own personal car to drive within Vatican City: a 29-year-old Renault beater with 186,000 miles on it.
Earlier this week, in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica, the pontiff mentioned his namesake, saying that St. Francis had “longed for a poor Church that looked after others, accepted monetary help and used it to help others with no thought of itself.”
“Eight hundred years have passed and times have changed, but the ideal of a missionary and poor Church is still more than valid,” he said.
Francis, who traveled to Assisi with the eight cardinals he has been meeting with behind closed doors this week to discuss Vatican reform, also delivered a papal mass to throngs of people crowding the town's picturesque main square. In his homily, he invoked St. Francis' devotion to the less fortunate and called on Christians to endeavor to care for the poor.
Dan Schmucker and Zuzana Zaltnicka were visiting Assisi from America, unaware that the pope would be coming to town until their hotel informed them. Seeing how the locals have prepared for the papal visit is “unbelievable,” Schmucker said. “The love pouring out of these people for this pope is amazing.”