Reflections on Assisi Spring Retreat 2015 by Selma Sevenhuijsen

Reflections on Assisi Spring Retreat 2015 by Selma Sevenhuijsen

It’s nearly half a year already, our meeting in Assisi. I greatly enjoyed being there with the InClaritas group and getting acquainted with its way of working. It inspired me to continue my work in Italy, since several years centred on the life and heritage of Matilda di Canossa. She was perhaps the most important woman of the Middle Ages, known for having arranged the famous meeting between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Enrico IV in 1077. This year – 2015 – sees the celebration of her passing 900 years ago, and it becomes clear that we have to remember her for many more reasons:

  • For 39 years she was Grancontessa of Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, who governed her territory with a rare combination of compassion, good care and smart political and military strategy.
  • She supported with perseverance the Gregorian programme of Church reform, long after Gregory had died.
  • She laid the basis for the separation between Church and State, and for the independence of the Italian city states, and thus also for the Renaissance
  • She started the first independent Legal Faculty in Europe, in Bologna, with the intention to establish legal principles that enable women to inherit the property of their fathers, and to implement principles of legal equality and justice.
  • She left an impressive heritage of over 100 churches, monasteries and hospices that protected her people and the pilgrim’s routes through her territory
  • And – last but not least – she is the only woman buried in the S. Pietro in Roma.

For me it was a period of hard, but rewarding work. I have been living in Canossa now for 5 months, right under Matilda’s Castle. At 26 July I presented here the Italian translation of my book on Matilda, followed in August by a presentation in Sovana, the place of birth of Gregory. More presentations will follow. At 26 August we went with a delegation from Canossa to Pope Francesco, where I brought the book to the Pope. Standing on the Piazza di S. Pietro I felt the link with our work in Assisi at its strongest. Pope Francis is for many people a church leader who provides hope for the future. His choice for the poor, for religious dialogue and peace, for a new radical ecology and for a religion of the heart is rooted in the spirit of Francesco and Chiara di Assisi. When his vision would be accomplished it could lead to a new renaissance – a rebirth of soulful living together on this earth. The only thing we are still waiting for is a further opening of the Church for the feminine. And that exactly is also the unfinished message of Matilda’s life.

My work with Matilda will continue. From 18 to 31 September I will guide a group of 12 Dutch persons from Mantova to Rome, along some of the sacred places that she left. And Matilda’s heart labyrinth – that I made together with the owners of the ground around her castle – is flourishing. Many people walked it as part of the first Matilda Festival that was held here in August, and it begins to get a regional function.

There are also future events to look forward to. The English translation of my book is on its way: it will be available at the end of this year. Next year I hope to guide an international group along Matilda’s footsteps. And with a group of enthusiastic people we are trying to get an International Association off the ground in Canossa, that promotes cultural, artistic and spiritual activities that support Matilda’s heritage for the times in which we are living. The support of new initiatives for sustainability, compassion, reconciliation and peace are part of our intentions.

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