New programs to explore the “ecological spirituality” of Saint Francis

ASSISI – Coinciding with Earth Day, the town of Assisi launched an ambitious new project, for its visitors to explore in-depth Saint Francis’ famous Canticle of the Creatures and the Laudato Si’ encyclical that it inspired, written by Pope Francis. The initiative was launched in preparation for the “Laudato Si’ Jubilee” of 2025, the double anniversary of the 800 years of the Franciscan canticle and the 10 years of the encyclical, coinciding also with the Holy Year to take place at the Vatican. 

Entitled “ASSISI Terra Laudato Si’”, Italian for “ASSISI The Land of Laudato Si’”, it will offer pilgrims an opportunity to learn in depth about the “integral ecology” messages of both texts in the place that inspired them. By connecting ancient sanctuaries and forests where the medieval saint experienced a deep sense of connection with the natural world, the initiative will support pilgrims to taste the “ecological spirituality” proposed by Pope Francis in his encyclical. 

It is a fruit of a collaboration between the Franciscans, the Laudato Si’ Movement, the Diocese of Assisi, and other local actors. After the announcement last year by Bishop Domenico Sorrentino together with Cardinal Michael Czerny of the Vatican, the project is now ready to begin receiving visitors.

Attracting over 2 million pilgrims annually, Assisi is one of the most vibrant hearts of Christendom. Moreover, as a UNESCO “World Heritage Site”, it is also appealing to non-Christians due to the universal significance of Saint Francis. For the first time, those visitors will have the opportunity to understand experientially why he is the patron saint of ecology, as declared by Pope John Paul II in 1979.

As explained on the website, the project will offer a series of programs and initiatives aimed at spreading the values of integral ecology, accompanied by the natural beauty of the mountains of central Italy. For example, the offering includes Laudato Si’ spiritual retreats, immersive programs in the silence of the forest, guided pilgrimages to relevant Franciscan sanctuaries, formation courses, and screenings of the YouTube Originals film “The Letter: A Message for our Earth”, partly shot in Assisi. 

At a time of an ever-worsening ecological crisis, the city of Assisi is becoming an ecological hub to inspire the transformation that scientists and environmental activists call for. On one hand, the Assisi mayor Stefania Proietti, a key partner of the new project, is an environmental engineer with an ambitious sustainability plan to model the required transformation. On the other hand, the Franciscans and other church actors are opening up their sacred spaces to inspire the deeper spiritual conversion that is needed to enable such transformation.

The official inaugural events took place on Earth Day, featuring speakers such as climate scientist Vito Stanzione, bishop Domenico Sorrentino, mayor Stefania Proietti, and Laudato Si’ Movement executive director Susana Réfega. An interfaith prayer service closed the day with leaders of different Christian denominations and religious traditions, stressing how care for the earth is an issue that brings people together regardless of their beliefs. The event was part of Earth Day Italy’s #OnePeopleOnePlanet multimedia “marathon”.

The initiative is formally sponsored by the Diocese of Assisi, the Franciscan families, the Assisi municipality, and other local organizations as Pro Civitate Christiana and FAI. The Laudato Si’ Center, the Assisi branch of the Laudato Si’ Movement, serves as facilitator of the project.