The Porziuncola: a land of continuous reconciliation

Br. Giuseppe Buffon and the indulgence of Assisi

31 July 2023

On the occasion of the Feast of Pardon of Assisi, which we celebrate throughout the world every year on the 2nd August, we receive and publish an article on the indulgence of the Porziuncola written by fr Giuseppe Buffon, OFM, professor of History and Integral Ecology at the Faculty of Theology of the Pontifical Antonianum University in Rome. 

This year, when gaining the Indulgence of the Porziuncola we will cross the threshold of the small chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, moving our footsteps on that ground, imbued with forgiveness, the echo of a trampling of feet will resound in the distance: they are those of the first friars, who came to Chapter from everywhere, to write the Rule of fraternity. Yes, in this year of the eighth centenary of the Rule, we cannot fail to recall that one of the few times, only two, in which the term Porziuncola appears in the writings of Francis is precisely in the Rule. The other quote, equally significant, is that of the "Parable of perfect joy". It also echoes that juncture of the painful confrontation on the drafting of the minority code: Francis is put at the door by a fraternity that has now become an Order, numerous, powerful and learned. He thus discovers the peace of an otherwise happy vulnerability.

 The Rule itself, in fact, speaks of the Porziuncola not only as a place of meeting, but of verification and also of confrontation and therefore of reconciliation, laboriously sought and never completely obtained. In the code that gives shape to the life of the fraternity, it is established, for example, that during the Chapter of Pentecost at the Porziuncola, the friars may possibly report to the Minister General any misdeeds of their Ministers. The Minister General himself can be evaluated by the friars and, if found in default, be replaced with a more suitable confrere. According to some biographers, it was during the Chapter at the Porziuncola that Francis decided to resign, renouncing the leadership of the fraternity. A serious gesture, he is keen to specify: "Internally and outwardly, spirit and body, Francis was very upset, so much so that sometimes the company of his brothers fled because, overwhelmed by that torture, he could not show himself to them in his usual serenity". 

These were the years of the great crisis in relations between Francis and his brothers, who often took positions and initiatives far from his own, if not entirely opposed. These are the years of the "most serious temptation", as it is defined by biographers, which Francis overcomes only by immersing himself in listening to the Word, ruminated in the maternal silence of the Porziuncola: "If you had a faith as big as a mustard seed and told that mountain to transport itself from one place to another, it would happen like this". These are the years in which Francis, almost exasperated by the current of the "educated friars", who insisted on referring to other Rules, during a Chapter pronounces those dramatic words, which sound like a lacerating cry: "I do not want to be spoken to me about any Rule, neither of Saint Benedict, nor of Saint Augustine, nor of Saint Bernard, nor of any other ideal and way of life other than that which has been mercifully revealed and granted to me by the Lord. The Lord told me that I had to be like a new madman in this world, and He did not want to lead us by any other way than that of this science."

This is why the Parable of Perfect Joy, in which Francis speaks of his exclusion from fraternity because he is "simple and idiotic", portrays in an emblematic way the experience of fraternity to the test, of fraternity torn in search of reconciliation, of fraternity wounded, which invokes healing, of fraternity that must welcome its own vulnerability, finding only in it the "perfect joy". Accepting vulnerability rather than seeking justice is for Francis the only way to forgiveness, which is above all reconciliation with oneself. It is new science, almost madness, evangelical madness. 

The proposal is certainly radical, but it often proves to be the only possible one to start processes of reconciliation, social and even political pacification. When, in fact, the conflict becomes a massacre as in Rwanda, and the massacre spreads in a viral, pandemic way, turning into a planetary war, not confined to any neighbourhood, as demonstrated by the countless conflicts of today, which are often fought in the heart of the cities, inside the houses, killing children, the radicality of the forgiveness of Francis, who finds perfect joy in vulnerability, It is perhaps the only really viable way out. To the podestà (The Local Governing Body) and the Bishop lined up on opposite sides, Francis proposes, in fact,  forgiveness without conditions, without reasons, we can say, if not those of love, which is unconditional vulnerability: "Praised be my Lord for those who forgive for your love"

In the radicalization of violence, a characteristic of this epochal passage, the only response seems therefore to be that of Francis, "crazy guest" of Malik al Kamil: the barefoot vulnerability of love!

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