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'Stone-for-stone' Porziuncola reproduction erected
By
Dan Morris-Young
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Thursday, April 2, 2009
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SAN FRANCISCO (CNS)—A rock-for-rock, stone-for-stone, fresco-for-fresco replica of St. Francis of Assisi's tiny Porziuncola church near Assisi, Italy, now graces a building adjoining the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi in San Francisco.
 
A Sept. 27, 2008, dedication of the structure will cap a nearly 15-month construction effort that has pulled together the efforts of a team of international artists, stone masons, metalsmiths, muralists, tile experts and others—including students earning their master's degree of fine arts at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
 
U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and former archbishop of San Francisco, was scheduled to preside and Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco to be principal celebrant at the morning dedication rite.
 
Housed within what was formerly the gymnasium of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, the Porziuncola Chapel will be designated an archdiocesan shrine in its own right.
 
Built on a scale of 78 percent of the original to accommodate available space, the structure features duplications of a 14th-century fresco, of original doors and windows, and of other details of its Italian forerunner.
 
The original Porziuncola was restored in the 13th century by St. Francis and his followers, and today draws thousands of pilgrims annually. It is contained in a nave of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi.
 
A featured aspect of the Porziuncola in San Francisco is the encased display of a stone used more than eight centuries ago in the repair of the original Porziuncola, perhaps by St. Francis himself.
 
The 72 Franciscan friars of the Assisi community met in 2006 and agreed to donate the relic to the San Francisco shrine. Members of that community delivered the rock in late April of this year and representatives will be present for the dedication Mass.
 
A San Francisco attorney and former president of the board of supervisors, Angela Alioto, spearheaded the $2.9 million Porziuncola undertaking; it is part of a larger Renaissance Project of which she is director and vice chair.
 
She and others see the Porziuncola Chapel as a major step toward generating local, national and global interest in the National Shrine of St. Francis.
 
"Our goal is to transform this beautiful but sadly underutilized facility into an international spiritual center where people of all faiths—or even no faith—can come and feel the power of St. Francis' message of universal love," said Alioto, a native of San Francisco and the daughter of former Mayor Joseph Alioto.
 
"This will change San Francisco," said Father Robert Cipriano, the shrine's rector. "We'll have a depth of spirituality not yet experienced here. It will open pathways to ecumenical dialogue, a welcoming of all people."
 
After the dedication, he said, "people will start to come, perhaps slowly at first."
 
"First it will be the poor of San Francisco, then the people of California, then the people of the West Coast, then the people of the United States, and then it will become world-known," he told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.
 
"It's absolutely magnificent that we have this holy place now. Francis is so loved by people, even non-Christians," he said.
 
In a reflection on the Porziuncola replica written for Catholic San Francisco, Cardinal Levada also called attention to the ecumenical and interreligious appeal of St. Francis, saying he hoped the new structure will be "a place where Catholics and all people of good will would feel spiritually at home."
 
It was Cardinal Levada as archbishop of San Francisco who oversaw the reopening of St. Francis Church in 1998 as the St. Francis Shrine Church. A year later, the U.S. bishops' conference recognized the church as the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi.
 
Having two official church shrines—one national, one archdiocesan—sharing the same location is perhaps unique in the church, archdiocesan officials said.
 
The Porziuncola Chapel's frescos, doors and marble floors were created by artisans in Assisi and in Citta del Castello, in Umbria, Italy, according to a Renaissance Project fact sheet.
 
An original mural in the style of medieval artist Giotto di Bondone adorns the entrance to the building which houses the Porziuncola Chapel.
 
Alioto also has helped found the Archconfraternity of the Knights of St. Francis of Assisi, an organization of individuals who are committing themselves to provide security for the Porziuncola Chapel and National Shrine of St. Francis.


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