Last night, as I walked from the Basilica of St Francis back to my hotel, I moved slowly, and savoured every moment. I may never be in Assisi again.

Now anyone who knows me knows I’m not very observant. I guess I get lost in my thoughts, since I can easily walk past an acquaintance without seeing them. (On the bright side, custody of the eyes, while advisable, isn’t really a thing for me personally.)

Last night however, since I was consciously drinking in all the sights and sounds, I noticed a window of beautiful gold jewellery which was inspired, the surrounding ads told me, by St Francis of Assisi.

I winced. Maybe the “spirit of Francis” (the ideas and ideals he invokes, not his actual soul) did inspire the jeweller. Maybe the jeweller is a faithful devotee. A tertiary Franciscan even. But it’s gauche, I think, to employ the poor man of Assisi to sell expensive jewellery.

Moments later, when these thoughts conspired with my old habits to divert my attention from the wondrous details of Assisi’s streets and piazzas, a small boy racing towards me on his scooter brought me back to the present. He pulled a face and detoured abruptly. Not because of me, but because of the person walking in front of me, whom I confess I hadn’t noticed til now.

This person was wearing burlap. Potato sacks, roughly hewn together. I noticed bare legs and feet, red from the cold. (I’d guess the temperature was no more than 5 degrees.) The figure stopped another passer by, and as I walked past, I realised I was looking at a friar unlike any friar I have seen before. I realised this is how Francis appeared to his contemporaries – attracting pulled faces from children, and stares from people like me.

I wanted to take his photo, but I thought that would be rude and ungracious. I wanted to speak to him, but I didn’t think we’d speak the same language. So I walked on, and lost sight of him. He did not, however, leave my thoughts.

Hours later, I found him again, this time on the Internet. His name is Massimo Coppo. I wish I had spoken to him. He’s fluent in English:

This video raises many questions. Does modesty compel him to look down, or is he merely consulting a map? Is he the one who refuses an interview, or is that the hand and voice of a policeman?

I presume this footage was taken during the last conclave. Brother Massimo, who lives in Assisi and sleeps under the basilica porticoes, kept vigil in St Peter’s Square and attracted the attention of many pilgrims and journalists.

When this guy keeps vigil, he really keeps vigil!

When this guy keeps vigil, he really keeps vigil!

I found another YouTube interview, this one in Spanish. I include it for any Spanish-speakers who may be interested, followed by some translated extracts for the rest of us:

I want to urge you that instead of taking pictures of me, to please realize the difficult times we are living in, very difficult indeed. The new pope will have a very difficult job and we have to pray and prepare ourselves for suffering…much suffering is coming to the Church, The Vatican and us as individuals. We are nearing the endtimes, so instead of looking at me, look at the endtimes that we are fast approaching.

If we humble ourselves before God, he will provide for everything, it is especially important to pray together and ask Jesus to have mercy on us in these times where so many people are suffering and don’t know how they will make it through…and the church has so much to give! It is more than a human institution but sometimes people get confused. This is more than an election of a head of State, more than political matters, it is spiritual and we need to ask the holy spirit for a good pope. The next pope will have to suffer greatly because severe times await the church, particularly the Vatican.

The more I learn about Massimo Coppo, the more fascinated I become. In his past life, he earned multiple degrees, lived in America, and married. He was censured back in 1994, but the Bishop of Assisi rehabilitated him in 2005. And . . . wait for it . . . Massimo Coppo has his own blog!