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In Perugia the plot only thickens. In 1202, at the age of 20, Francis joins others in an elite cavalry to defend the interests of Asissi in battle against the neighboring Perugians. Struck down in battle at Collestrada, his armor signals his potential value to his captors, who take him back to Perugia and hold him for ransom. Francis spends about a year there as a prisoner of war.

We follow him to Perugia, where we go first to the National Gallery of Umbrian Art to behold the images of Christ, Mary and the saints that stud its walls. Quietly we take in the beauty of intimacy between mother and child, the reality of the living God sacralizing the human story.

Sated, we descend the escalators and walk silently through the medieval maze below the modern city, where it is easy to imagine Francis’ year of imprisonment. The contrast of luxury and light up above to the dank darkness down below could hardly be more stark. We remember all those still trapped in spaces of darkness, violence, injustice, and distress and head back to Assisi for long conversation.


La-Maddalena“When I was in sin, it seemed too bitter to me to see lepers. But then God drew me near them, and I felt loving kindness for them. Then after some thought, I left the world.”

This paraphrase of Francis’ Testament helps us to understand the primacy of the scorned and rejected in his experience of God. Most of his biographers do not highlight the centrality of how Francis came to find God (and, concurrently, to grow toward his own authenticity as a person) in this space of profound tenderness. (In fact, the famous Giotto fresco cycle in the upper basilica of San Francesco eliminates this central moment in the narrative of Francis’ life entirely, whitewashing, as it were, the lepers from viewers’ understanding of Francis’ story.

Consequently, most visual and textual sources do not capture the centrality of encounter and of relationship with god, known through the marginalized, that is the core of the Franciscan charism. But those of us who enter this tender space, the church built over one of the leper colonies in the valley below Assisi, honor God’s invitation to poverty, simplicity, and the joy of living together in love.

The church of San Damiano, outside the city walls, is indelibly linked to the “revolution of tenderness” that Francis and Clare began. I like to think of it as the cradle of the reform movement.


La Verna2Our journey ends at La Verna, site of deep importance to Francis and to the entire Christian tradition. The land here was given to Francis in 1213, as a place “apt for spiritual retreat and renewal.” During his first visit here, the tradition speaks of Francis’ experience of Christ speaking with him tenderly in friendship.

Toward the end of his life, in 1224, Francis returned to La Verna for a period of 40 days’ prayer and fasting. It is this stay that has been immortalized in art and literature as the full realization of Francis’ partnership with Christ. We call it the “stigmatization,” the sharing of Christ’s wounds on the cross. In his description of this moment in Francis’ life, Bonaventure describes how Francis’ ardent love for God now literally burst forth from his body and the union of the two was made incarnate.

Surrounded by the piercing beauty of the Casentine National Forest, our stay at La Verna makes it easy to settle into the loving embrace of God.

An international congress on Teresa was held at St. Mary’s University in London June 18-20, 2015. Her address, entitled “New Life in a World of Suffering and Injustice: Teresa of Avila’s Vision for Today,” focused on the relevance of Teresa’s teachings and life to us today.

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Gillian Ahlgren was recently named an ATHENA finalist by the Cincinnati magazine. Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage the ATHENA award honors individuals who have actively assisted women in realizing their full leadership potential, who have achieved success in their careers and have given back to their communities. Eleven local women were recognized, and the 2014 ATHENA award will be presented in a luncheon ceremony at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University on October 21, 2014.

Over eighty people across the city gathered for workshops this month held by Xavier’s new Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice (ISSJ). Facilitated in both English and Spanish, the workshops focused on Pope’s Francis’ understanding of a universal call to discipleship that is sparked in each person by means of encounter.

The workshops were the first in a series of programs offered by the ISSJ under the leadership of Dr. Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology and one of the workshops’ two co-facilitators.   “We based the workshop sessions on the pope’s letter The Joy of the Gospel, which is really a beautiful document that speaks to our need to recover the depths of our humanity in light of what the pope calls the ‘globalization of indifference,’” Ahlgren explained.   “In the document Pope Francis calls all of us to an ‘ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of the times’ because he sees that we are stuck in patterns of dehumanization that we have to reverse.”Dan Hartnett, SJ, pastor of Bellarmine Chapel and adjunct professor in the Philosophy Department, also facilitated the workshop, contributing a careful review of the social and economic dimensions of the document, informed by decades of work with the marginalized in Peru.

Participants represented over twenty different churches in the area, Catholic and Protestant,all seated at roundtables. “The workshop’s intent was to gather people for a careful consideration of the message of this document and to spark hopeful and challenging discussion,”Ahlgren said. “People left really energized by Pope Francis’ invitation to a whole new way of living together more thoughtfully, more compassionately, more justly. It’s what he calls ‘la mística de vivirjuntos’—the mystical life that we share together.”

The program will be repeated in the fall, and more ISSJ workshops will be offered on Saturday, August 16. For more information contact the ISSJ at (513) 745-2894 or visit www.xavier.edu/issj

By: Tatum Hunter ~Staff Writer~

Pope Francis’ unique approach to the papacy has many people talking. Next week, students, faculty and administrators at Xavier will gather to offer their opinions on Pope Francis’ leadership style and teachings.

The Brueggeman Center for Dialogue is holding an open discussion of the election and papacy of Pope Francis at Bellarmine Chapel at 7 p.m. on March 18 in Bellarmine Chapel.

The event is co-sponsored by various campus groups, including the Catholic Ministry Team and the Center for Mission and Identity.

The discussion will feature Dr. Gillian Ahlgren, who specializes in church history and mysticism, and Dr. Chris Pramuk, who studies issues of racial justice in society and the Church. Ahlgren and Pramuk will offer their perspectives on the papacy of Pope Francis as they field questions and lead discussion.

The event is geared mainly toward members of the Catholic community but is open to anyone who would like to attend.

“This pope is touching people from all walks of life and faith traditions,” Cynthia Cummins, administrative assistant at the Brueggeman Center, said.

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Hear how Dr. Gillian Ahlgren’s (Professor of Theology at Xavier University) approach to Jesuit education was influenced by the Jesuit martyrs in El Salvador.

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