By Mary Stadick
Today, the words, “church” and “peace” are often not synonymous; certainly not when we worship at the altar of comfort and consumption in the church of me and mine, anxious that the security of our ideology and our stuff may be threatened, afraid that someone less deserving may get to the goodies before we have our fill. We have so many things, but we have so little joy. We are often not at peace within ourselves, with other people, or within and among our churches and communities.
I experienced an alternative when I visited Assisi [pictured above], nestled in the gentle landscape of Umbria, Italy. A very old new way of peace and church are embodied there in the legacy of Assisi’s most famous citizens, Francis and Clare, and their call of paz y bien, peace and good. Peace and good not just for themselves, or the people of Assisi, or Italy, or Europe, but for all people on the planet, for all life and the planet itself. Liberating themselves from the heavy burdens of power, money, and patriarchy, they did not merely tolerate the poor, the ill, and the outcast. Francis, Clare, and their followers lived among them, served them, and embraced them.
Assisi stands in vivid contrast to the Vatican, just a few hours away by train. Both have their shares of grand churches, but Assisi is free of the excess of everything that is the Vatican. I felt a sense of equal footing on the narrow, stony streets of Assisi that open to an expansive view and flexibility of mind, freedom from absolute power, control, and top-down thinking. My experience of the Vatican was quite different, packed with crowds standing in lines at metal detectors, jostling and elbowing for a better view, maybe even a glimpse of the Big Guy – the Pope himself. The Swiss Guard was very apparent in their brightly striped, velvety finery, looking like rare exotic birds. They are, however, an army in every sense; military-schooled young men who are required to be expert marksmen.
Brightly dressed groups of people were found in Assisi, too, but no army, and no metal detectors. Rather, saffron-robed Buddhist monks stood in deep conversation with a group of Franciscan friars.
Assisi offers a renewed model of church. Grounded in humility and service, united with the earth and all its residents, the lives of Francis, Clare, and their followers are proof that churches of material treasure, intolerance and worldly power can evolve to churches of the spirit when we are freed from the excess of things, living fully where we are with what we have, reverencing all of life in the cathedral of the open air; when we embrace paz y bien – peace and good.
First published September, 2010. Reprinted with permission from Peace Begins, published by the Loft Literary Center Peace and Social Justice Writers Group. Copies of the book may be purchased here.