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Ancient rock touched by St. Francis donated to shrine
Rick DelVecchio
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009
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SAN FRANCISCO (CNS)—Two Franciscan friars from Assisi, Italy, came to San Francisco in April bearing a rare gift for the city and the archdiocese: a small rock from the Porziuncola, the stone chapel built by St. Francis of Assisi and his early followers more than 800 years ago.
Banded with a red ribbon and bearing the wax seal of the Franciscan community in the saint's native town, the angular chunk of pink granite arrived in a felt-lined leather case with the gold-embossed image of the Porziuncola, where the Franciscan order was born, gracing its lid. The chapel in Assisi is sometimes known by its Latin name, Portiuncula.
The rock circulated among admiring guests at a welcoming party at San Francisco International Airport April 22, 2008, and later starred at an April 24 reception at the de Young Museum.
The rock's final destination is a replica of the Porziuncola under construction at the National Shrine of St. Francis in North Beach. Possibly the first relic of the 13th-century saint to enter the United States, it will be installed on the altar of the sister Porziuncola.
"This rock isn't only a rock," said Brother Gianpaolo Masotti of Santa Maria degli Angeli Basilica in Assisi. "It's the story of a sanctity, a holiness that has lasted 800 years. It's a rock that has seen pass in front of its eyes the life of St. Francis himself, St. Clare and many, many other saints and apostles who have worked very hard to live Francis' life."
The rock is to remain at the de Young Museum until the Porziuncola was dedicated Sept. 27, 2008, by Cardinal William J. Levada, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former archbishop of San Francisco.
The 72 friars of the Assisi community met in 2006 and agreed to donate the relic "with the hope that the joy this rock gives us will also give that joy to the city of San Francisco," Brother Gianpaolo said.
The rock was one of two that had been removed from the Porziuncola over the years during repairs and kept in the museum at the basilica that was built to enclose the chapel in the 1600s.
"That church is the original church St. Francis repaired and loved during his life," Brother Gianpaolo told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper. "Was he the only one who handled the rocks? At the beginning he was alone but then probably some of his followers helped him to restore the church. Of course we don't know which part of the church was repaired by St. Francis. But we know the first community of St. Francis and the brothers worked together to repair the church."
Greeting the friars at the airport was former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, a key supporter of the Porziuncola project.
"Just imagine what this rock has seen," she said. "It has seen St. Francis cry, it has seen him laugh, it has seen him sing, it has seen him do everything we know he did that created an order that 800 years later is taking care of the sick and the poor. That could not be cooler to someone like me and to the city that carries his name."
Bishop-designate William J. Justice, the archdiocesan vicar for clergy who is to be ordained a bishop May 28 and will serve as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco, welcomed the friars on behalf of San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer.
St. Francis gave his life in service to the poor and to creation, Bishop-designate Justice said, paraphrasing the reading from the previous Sunday's liturgy.
"This actual rock and the Porziuncola in which it will reside will encourage each of us to be living stones, to be more like St. Francis and to build a spiritual base," he said.
Father Robert Cipriano, rector at the national shrine, offered the welcoming party a poem in the spirit of St. Francis, who is revered by Catholics and non-Catholics alike for his love of the poor, animals and the earth. He chose "Prayer of Thanksgiving" by Walter Rauschenbusch:
"We thank you for this earth, home for the wide sky and blessed sun, for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills and the never-resting winds, for trees and the common grass underfoot. We thank you, Lord, for our senses, by which we hear the song of the birds."

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