On the day after Christmas, I boarded a plane and headed back to Assisi. It was a short trip, two full days of it spent getting to and from Italy. I returned on Sunday night.
My time in Assisi was marked more by thoughts of life and death than by the reality of the cold and snow. In the early morning hours of December 30th, Padre Gerhard Ruf, an 81 year old German Conventual friar died in his room after a heart attack. His knowledge of the art within the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was virtually unsurpassed. He dedicated his life to helping pilgrims better understand and appreciate the magnificent art that graces the walls of the church. He lived at the Sacro Convento at Basilica of St. Francis for 50 years, and his books on the basilica are filled with a lifetime of wisdom and knowledge. His body was placed in a simple room in the Convento within hours of the discovery of his death for the brothers in Assisi to say farewell. I was fortunate to be allowed to spend time in the room. The funeral Mass was celebrated on December 31st in the lower church of the Basilica. The Bishop of Assisi was the celebrant and it was a beautiful farewell to a man who truly lived his call. Before the Mass, I was privileged to be with a small gathering of friars and sisters as Fr. Ruf’s coffin was sealed; it was a simple yet deeply moving ceremony, preformed with dignity and grace.
Padre Ruf’s passing offered me the chance to reflect on the mystery of life and death as I begin the New Year and think about challenges in my personal life and in the life of The San Damiano Foundation. I hope each of us can live each day as if it were our last, doing what we love out of love. Let us try to greet each day of the coming year with love in our hearts.