Pt. 7: Among the Lions of Assisi
The peacefulness and beauty of the city of Assisi is legendary. Around every corner there is an idyllic walkway, filled with flowers, ancient arches, and charming vignettes to beguile the pilgrim. But there is danger beneath this serene facade. Assisi is filled with lions! They are everywhere; in fountains, as sentries by stone walls, crouching at doorways. The medieval city that was known to St. Francis and St. Clare, was built on pagan Roman ruins. Pagan temples and ruins are beneath the feet of pilgrims as they enter churches such as Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and San Rufino. But, the lions are out in the open, a symbol of the strength and power of ancient Rome and a silent reminder today of the persecution of Christians and the many martyrs who chose death rather than deny their faith.
Before entering the Holy Door of San Rufino Church, one can’t help but to contemplate the lions at the center door; one is eating a lamb, the other gnawing on the face of a Christian–a graphic reminder of the ultimate blasphemy and goal of the evil one, which is to attempt to destroy the image of the Face of God in souls.
San Rufino, the first bishop of Assisi, was also a martyr, who died for the faith in 296. Martyrdom is not, however, something from the distant past; it is tragically present in our world today in ever-increasing numbers. We were reminded of this fact as we stood in the long security line to enter St. Francis’s Basilica and other holy sites. Armed soldiers were ever present, automatic weapons in hand, to try to maintain a peace; to protect the lambs from the lions.
I have read many statistics on the number of Christians martyred: Seventy million since the time of Christ, most of them in the past century, an estimated “one every five minutes” according to a 2015 report by Christian Freedom International. I don’t know how these statistics are gathered, but one need only turn on the evening news to see a new report of Christians being killed in the world.
In the face of so much suffering and persecution some may ask the question, “Where is your God?” Take another look at the photo at the top of the baby between the lions. Although the baby and the viewer are perhaps unaware; the father’s loving presence is there–seen only in shadow. We too, are often unaware of the Father’s loving presence and concern. He has sent us, just as He sent His only Son, as a lamb among lions.