| Assisi, Italy
Going through Assisi means meeting
the history and the stories that are bound to Francis.
Assisi Italy: Map of the old town
|Assisi Italy stretches out on the slopes
of the Monte Subasio, above the plain where the Topino and Chiascio rivers flow.
Although it can boast Roman origins, its present-day appearance, because of the buildings
and also the urban structure. is surely due to the city's development during the Middle
Ages. Assisi's oldest nucleus, which is protected by a defensive apparatus
made up of eight fortified entrance portals and a long belt of town walls, which are still
perfectly preserved, is topped by two castles on peak of the mountain: the Major
Castle, reconstructed by the Cardinal Albornoz in 1367 and the Minor Castle. Apart from
religious buildings too important to not be considered solely the heritage of Assisi
such as the basilica of St. Francis, the tourist can also visit the churches of St. Clare
and St. Peter.
Talking About his hometown, Assisi, brother Francis told the
following words, a few days before his death:
"Oh Lord, I think this town was once a shelter and
home for bad men, with a bad reputation all over the country. But now, thanks to your big
mercy, along the time, I see this town turned into the home for all those who know you and
praise you, giving off a scent of holy life, of right teaching and a good name among the
Christian people. Therefore I pray you, oh my Lord Jesus Christ, father of mercy: do not
look at our ungratefulness, but just remember how good you were to this town. May this
town always be a land and home for everybody who knows you, and glorifies your holy name,
for ever and ever. Amen"
(Legend of Perugia, 99).
One can study history but one must track down stories. The city seems almost made
for this task with its alleys and corners, archways and taverns, churches and chapels.
There awaits the story
of Francis, of him who lived in this city which saw the fateful conflict with his parents'
the tales of San
Rufino and of the Rocca; the meeting with Clare and the clash between spiritual and
lies the story of his call at San Damiano; of the beginnings which entwine themselves
around the Portiuncula; pictures of a man torn between the marketplace and the isolation
of the Carceri; the fascination in the Church of St. Clare; stories and ideas that became
stone, color and life in the Church of St. Francis of Assisi is all that and more, and
such can it become for those who make their way there.
"Unterwegs mit Franziskus")
1 (1991) 17
The Saint's City
" When in Assisi,
many believe time has stood still. But the experience is not of a museum dedicated to the
preservation of history. Rather, it places people into earlier, distantly believed
realities which prove themselves as present, although on a higher level. One does not need
fantasy for such an experience because it is not about creating a historical stage with
images, but about picking up and putting on the life-filled spirit which flows into every
stone, every flower, every corner, every stairway, every church wall and every cry from a
Justin Lang, O.F.M.
Grace Mc Donald, F.S.P.A.
IN THE STORY OF ST. FRANCIS
AND THE BROTHERS OF PENANCE.
Resource Manual - Pages 188 - 196
That is why it's
important for husbands and wives to visit the places where the other grew up. To
understand St. Francis and enter into communion with him, you must visit the places that
were significant for him and which became significant because of him! Just as the room
where a famous author or painter worked is often left untouched as it was on the day of
his death so you can see traces of them in this place so familiar to them just as you can
in their works. (Tournier, P. A Place for you)
These places are
presented so that you can draw power from them and each has a special mystery which can be
entered into. They are "sacred ground' for us and are presented to inspire us with
the ideals and spirit of St. Francis. It is like listening to the sounds of the sea in a
sea shelf. The special message will be found in silence as so much of God's Word was
revealed in silence.
particular place has not escaped modernization or the inundation of tourists being hurried
along by guides. But there are still Franciscan places which seem to be as Francis left
them..... full of silence, conducive to prayer, reminders of his poverty and simplicity.
And of course, even the landscapes have as much to say as sanctuaries or buildings like
the timeworn facade of the Temple of Minerva which witnessed the events of Francis' epic.
Many times he saw the same horizon we see, the unchangeable outline of the hills, the
Tevere river and the brooks, and loved it all and sang of it in his Praises.
For those fortunate
enough to actually be visiting these places, these pages can help you to know Francis the
Penitent of Assisi better and, perhaps, be a means of being renewed in your vocation.
Afterwards, they can be used to return and rediscover what you have visited and lived.
For those friars who
cannot actually visit these places, may these pages help you to go on a pilgrimage in
spirit and to have access to the grace of peace and conversion.
Assisi Francis knew was much smaller than it is today. The remains of the old XIII century
city walls can be seen today, which include the Arco del Seniinario (Via.S. Francesco),
the Arco dei Pucci (Corso Mazzini) and the Via Sant'Apollinare.
winding streets of this little town easily carry us back to the time of Francis. They help
us recall his youth and his conversion. Read: Legend of 3 Comp. 7,8; Legend of 3 Comp.,21;
3 Comp. 26. They lead to places rich with our history: the Monastery of San Quirico
originally a Monastery of TOR nuns founded by Bl. Angeline of Marsciano... so one of the
original sites where the women Penitents of St. Francis evolved into the Third Order
Regular. The old Monastery of St. Anthony, (now a public school) the site of several
General Chapters of the Friars of the Third Order Regular. The house next to the Monte
Frumentario where the friars regrouped after the civil suppression and expulsion from the
original St. Anthony Monastery. The House of St. Francis' family so simple and conducive
to prayer. The Temple of Minerva .... our Church of Santa Maria, provincial center for our
Province of St. Francis. It is not too difficult to mentally picture Francis in these
streets, on the steps of this Temple, in this Piazza at the different stages of his life.
In spite of repairs
and improvements it remains essentially the same as it was in the time of Francis.
The Facade: (The
portico and side buildings are from the 16th century.)
To the left of the
Rose Window and a little below it is the door which leads to the sisters' dormitory but
originally was the entrance door to the monastery situated above ground for security. A
wooden staircase was suspended from it and at night was drawn up to protect the household.
We know this was so here because at the "wake" in 1253 after the death of Agnes,
the sister of S. Clare, so many people were standing on the wooden stairs waiting to view
the body that the chains snapped and the stairway fell!
(Later, in the
houses of the city when more peaceful times prevailed these types of higher doors had
stairs built up to them and the lower doors to shops or stables were cemented over the
"legendary" doors of the dead!) The Crucifix of San Damiano (Now in Basilica of
When Francis heard
the Voice, according to the Legend of the 3 Companions, there was only the chapel
and the little wing with the residence of the priest where the refectory stands.
The Window. He sold
bales of his father's cloth in Foligno. When the priest would not accept the money he
threw the bag onto the ledge of this window. (Legend of the 3 Companions, 13)
He had to learn that God did not need his money but needed Francis to give of himself so
begged stones and worked with others to repair walls as he probably had on the walls of
Assisi when the Rocca was torn down by the people of Assisi.
Legend of Perugia,
42-44 The Canticle of the Creatures written here?
After the death of
S. Francis, Clare lived here for 27 years. The famous Legend of the route of the Saracens
story of St. Clare facing the Saracens from the doorway with the Custodia held aloft and
they ran away. Idea expressed in statues of Clare. However, from the testimony given for
her canonization it didn't happen quite that way, but she did go before the Sacrament and
prayed and the convent was saved.
The Refectory, the
Dormitory have Clare's place marked with flowers.
Reflect upon the
Prayer before the Cross of San Damiano .... its symbolism: light/darkness, heart, faith
& obedience. The prayer of St. Francis during his process of conversion, becoming a
Penitent attached to San Damiano.
GUALDI & S. RUFINO
The- service of Francis to the lepers.
About 1/2 way down
the road that leads from Assisi to the Portiuncula on the right there stands the Casa
Gualdi - a large, fairly expensive looking villa type building. In front of this place
used to run the Via Francesca, the road from Rome to France. Here stood the 13th century
leprosarium "San Salvador of the Walls."
In the Middle Ages
the law required anyone with the disease to live apart from society in such places. This
"exile"' was even conducted within a religious ceremony in which the leper
received his distinctive dress and bell and confided to the mercy of God and charity of
the people. So, it has to be near here that Francis had one of the most liberating
experiences of his life .... he overcame his fears and embraced a leper (Test.) From this
spot he looked up and gave his final blessing to his beloved city of Assisi.
St. Francis also
served at another leperhouse, that of San Ruffino d'Arce close to Rivotorto and the little
Church of San Pietro della Spina, one of the chapels restored by St. Francis. In these
places he volunteered his service to care for these poor "Brother Christians"
(LP 99) and, knowing the value of this contact and this charitable exercise, made it an
experience of the first novitiate:
"That is why
from the very beginning, when the brothers began to multiply, he made it very clear that
they were to live in lazarets to serve the lepers. At that time, when postulants presented
themselves, whether nobles or commoners, they were forewarned that among other things they
would have to serve the lepers and live in their hospitals. " LP 102
As the Friars became
more involved in the clerical mission of preaching and since the Poor Ladies of San
Damiano were cloistered, it was the Brothers and Sisters of Penance who, inspired by
Francis, treasured this among their many charitable activities. They founded or supported
leprosariums by contributing their material goods and personal services to the lepers.
Poverty for them was the practical virtue of seeing Christ "Who made Himself poor for
us" in the poor and ministering to His needs.
- I. In terms of
formation, how important is it to be in contact with "lepers"? Read carefully
SP44 .... what is Francis after?
- 2. Does this example
of Francis and the Brothers and Sisters of Penance say anything normative about the choice
of life-work the brothers are to take or be interested in?
- 3. If you were to
write your own Testament, what "lepers" would you have to embrace before truly
"leaving the world."..i.e. beginning a life of Penance?
- 4. Read A. Van
Corstanje: Francis, Bible of the Poor, p. 38ff. for the Ritual of the Lepers.
This was a small
dilapated chapel by a path in the woods. After Francis repaired San Damiano, then San
Pietro, he did the same for St. Mary of the Angels or Portiuncula. I Cel 21.
All that he was
familiar with is gone..... replaced by a Basilica, a city and a highway .... except for
the little chapel inside. If we think on it, it helps us to remove the
"romantic" ideas of Franciscan life that we might be tempted to copy ... to
indulge in pious theatre. We have to grasp the essential ideas of his life and
spirituality so that we can live them in our contemporary society.
Legend of Perugia 8:
The Benedictines "rent" the chapel to Francis.
Fioretti 18: The
Chapter of Mats of May 1217 & 5000 friars ... to meet and encourage one another, and
to make decisions with Francis. It might be good to reflect on our General and Provincial
Chapters and see that we continue in this line of coming together as brothers to make
A place of Mission:
From here Francis sent out his friars to evangelize the world. Are we conscious that this
is an essential aspect of our life and how is this communicated to those in Formation?
PIETRO DELLA SPINA
San Damiano and the
Portiuncula are cherished and visited by Franciscans as holy places rebuilt by St. Francis
with his own hands. There is a third church which constant tradition identifies as the
church which St. Francis repaired .... the little church of San Pietro della Spina some 3
kilometers from San Damiano about midway to the Portiuncula along the old Via Cupa di
S.Petrignano, in the zone of Rivotorto. Fortini cites a document dating from 1030 which
mentions it for the first time.
two of the churches St. Francis repaired, San Damiano and Santa Maria degli Angeli, are in
their glory as places of prayer and pilgrimage, the this third church is again derelict,
used as a barn for the storage of hay and farm implements. The family which owns the
property also has the original bell cote and a painting of St. Francis which hung in the
It needs someone to
listen again to the words Francis heard from the Crucifix! A member of the SFO in one of
our fraternities has proposed that this would be a good task for the followers of the
Poverello of Assisi to undertake..... to reclaim this church and rededicate it to the
service of God as the motherhouse and headquarters for all the Secular Franciscans of the
- 1 . The little chapel
of St. Peter in Assisi and the great basilica in Rome symbolized for Francis the faith of
the Church. What does it mean to share the faith of the apostles? ( Leg. mag. chap. 11, n.
- 2. What was the
relationship of St. Francis and his followers to the Pope and to the priests and bishops?
- 3. The Secular
Franciscan Order has always found encouragement by the Successors of Peter as a means to
revitalize the Church. What is the relationship between us and the SFO? How can you
encourage and better serve these Franciscan brothers and sisters?
OF ST. FRANCIS
are numerous guidebooks to describe this beautiful church but we want to go down to the TOMB of ST. FRANCIS. Happily, here there are no
ornaments of gold or silver. We see the sarcophagus of rough stones under which Francis
was buried. Francis lived divested of riches and divested he remains, his spirit is not
profaned. No miracle interfered with the natural process of the disintegration of his
body. Here he awaits the Resurrection surrounded by the remains of his faithful friends:
Angelo, Rufino, Leo, Masseo, and Lady Jacqueline.
Here we experience
the joy of being a son of St. Francis .... in his presence. Here we pray for our
Franciscan brothers and sisters in the words of the first brothers:
Draw us to yourself,
worthy father, that we may run after thee "to the odor of thy ointments," we who
you see are lukewarm because of our sloth, languid because of our idleness, half alive
because of our negligence. The little flock is following you with hesitant steps; our
weakened eyes cannot bear the dazzling rays of your perfection. Renew our days as in the
beginning, 0 mirror and Model, and do not allow that we who are like you in your
profession be unlike you in our life...... Remember all your sons and daughters, O Holy
Francis, who surrounded by so many dangers follow your footsteps, although from how great
a distance you, Holy Father, know perfectly! Give them strength that they may resist;
purify them that they may shine forth; rejoice them that they might be happy. Pray that
the spirit of grace and of prayer be poured upon them; .... that they may be filled with
the charity with which you always loved Christ Crucified..."
Church of St. Rocco.
Portiuncula" of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis On July 25, 1448, in a scene
reminiscent of the chapter of Mats, some 300 Friars of the Order of Penance came together
around the little Church of San Rocco, Montefalco. These representatives of the
fraternities of Italy were responding to the Bull "Pastoralis Officii" of Pope
Nicholas V to hold the Ist General Chapter of the Order under the presidency of Bishop
Antonio Severini of Gubbio, Bishop Venturino Marni of Cremona, and the Abbot of St. Paul
Outside the Walls, Rome. Fr. Bartolomeo Bonamati of Perugia was elected the first Minister
General. In this place were also held the 2nd (August 3, 1451) and the 10th (May
15, 1475) General Chapters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance.
In 1526 the Church
was returned to the Bishop and became the responsibility of a diocesan rector. In 1536 the
church became the site of a Poor Clare monastery. For many years it was more or less
abandoned. Don Amico Amici, pastor of San Fortunato, was responsible for heading a
restoration project, 1947. The site of the church is known as Camiano, Colle Podioli or
G. Andreozzi, ANALECTA, vol V.
San Rocco was a
"place of decision" for the origins of our Order with its own duplication of the
famous "chapter of mats. " Do we reflect on tile important fact that each
brother is called to contribute his prayer and opinion in the various chapters of the
Fraternity..... and not leave this to others or experts?
MARIA DELLA "SELVA MATTUTINA"
This small church
stands in a field between Montefalco and Castel Rinaidi and was a a house of the Order for
400 years. In it were held several General Chapters. It has some precious frescos
depicting St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua in the traditional TOR habit with the
pointed capuce. There is also a beautiful example of the coat of arms of the Order.
In 1206, after
hearing the Voice from the Crucifix, Francis took some bolts of cloth from his father's
store and rode off to the nearby city of Foligno to sell them and his horse for money to
rebuild San Daniiano.
The Church of San
Francesco contains the tombs of the 2 Angelas.
Angela of Foligno (d. 1309)
and Blessed Angeline of Marsciano (d. 1445)
established a monastery of Sisters of the Third Order here in 1397. She founded several
other monasteries of T.O. "Regular" Nuns and in 1428 applied to the Pope for
permission to unite these communities into a congregation . Angeline was the first
"Ministra General. " This seems to be the first documented status of Franciscans
of the Order of Penance as a professed religious community. In the course of time so many
convents arose from these first monasteries, with many later developing into Congregations
that Blessed Angelina is often called the Foundress of the Regular Third Order of women.
- I. We are reminded
that the women were there before us!.. and they still are the most numerous part of the
Third Order Regular Family.
- 2. Above the 17th
century choir stalls of the Basilica of Sts. Cosmas and Damian, Rome, one side has
paintings of the "blessed" brothers while the other those of the sisters
venerated as "blessed." (Also, the wing where the Minister General's office is
located.) Do we appreciate the fact that our Rule is directed to the Brothers AND Sisters
of the Third Order Regular?
- 3 . What is our
relation with communities of Franciscan Sisters? Do we try to extend fraternal service to
them? Do we value their witness and therefore promote vocations to their congregations?
This place is a
reminder of the strong eremitical tradition from the early days of our Order. The
hermitage of Montecasale is a jewel of Franciscan simplicity. It stands out among the
terraces on the mountain some 2000 feet high in thickly wooded area. At the beginning of
the 13th century there had been a small hospital dedicated to St. Mary. In 1213 the Bishop
of Citta Castello offered the place to St. Francis. The Saint seemed to have a special
love for this spot and often spent time here especially after the Stigmata during his long
return journey from La Verna. He named as Guardian of this little friary Brother Angelo
whom he honored for his generosity and vocation. It is said that St. Francis wrote his
Rule for Hermitages for the friars who lived here. (Legenda Major X,2; II Cel 98: Prayer)
(Rule for Hermitages.)
It is the place of
the famous encounter with the robbers and the story of their conversion ... (Fioretti
26)...and we see the door where Francis welcomed them. It moves us to pray for a renewal
of that grace of Penance/Conversion. For here we celebrate one of the dominant traits of
Franciscan Spirituality and the special Charism of our Franciscan Order of Penance. We
praise God for His goodness in calling us to a life of continually turning to Him and are
encourage to work at announcing Peace and reconciling extremes. (TOR Rule, chap. ix)
As you enter the
convento there is a plaque with a litany of all the things for which the Sanctuary is
memorable. There is the chapel and the statue of the Virgin which Francis venerated, the
cloister and the small, austere cells where St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony lived for a
When the Friars
Minor left Montecasale to live in the town, some hermit-friars of Penance took over the
friary with the approval of the bishop and remained here until 1531 when it passed into
the care of the Capuchin Friars Minor.
- 1. The Rule for
Hermitages proves that some brothers were "oratores" dedicated more totally
to the contemplative life. Francis himself always had a certain preference for it. The
desire for a contemplative way of life was very strong in the Order of Penance as noted in
the lives of so many "Blesseds" of those early years. It is that facet of our
Charism that the Nuns of the Third Order Regular keep before us by the witness of their
Cloisters. What is the meaning of the contemplative aspect of Franciscan life? Become more
informed about our contemplative sisters.
- 2. As we noted,
Francis was torn between a life of preaching and a life of contemplation. How did he solve
his dilemna? What is the meaning of his solution for us today?
- 3. Suggested Reading:
The Constitutions of the TOR Nuns (1992 text)
St. Francis loved
this region and especially the valley area surrounded by the mountain heights. He passed
through here many times on his journeys to and from Rome and spent a great part of the
last years of his life in this area. Besides Assisi and La Verna, no other place is so
filled with memories of Francis. There are 4 special Franciscan sanctuaries here: Greccio,
Fonte Colombo, La Foresta and Poggio Bustone. They breathe a spirit of peace, silence and
humility. Their charm is to be found in the beauty of nature and in the riches of Lady
The City of Rieti is
an ancient city surrounded by mediaeval wall fortifications. The Bishop's Palace is where
St. Francis often stayed as a guest but little of the original building remains since it
has all been rebuilt. Rieti was a favorite place for the Popes. During the lifetime of St.
Francis, Pope Honorius spent much time here.
It is a place which
should be very special to Secular and Religious Brothers and Sisters of the Order of
Penance of St. Francis. It was here on August 18, 1289 that the Franciscan, Pope Nicholas
IV issued the Bull Supra Montem which approved the Rule professed by the Secular
Franciscans until that of Leo XIII in 1883 and by the Friars of the Third Order Regular
and many Congregations until 1927.
A little village
perched high on a hill about 10 miles from Rieti. In 1209, shortly after his conversion,
the Saint greeted the townspeople with "Good Morning, Good People!" There is a
commemorative tablet engraved with these words and on the Feast of St. Francis a herald
goes from street to street awakening the people with that greeting of Francis.
One of his reasons
for coming to this far off place was to be unknown and able to weep quietly and secretly
over his recent past. 1 Celano 26. In a cave above the town he prayed and received
assurance from God that his sins had indeed been forgiven and the past was over. This
Peace with God was the source of his peace with all men and women.
He saw in a vision
that his Order would grow, spreading to many lands and this filled him and his little band
of 6 brothers with confidence. Filled with the joy of God's approval, Francis sent his
brothers in pairs to preach the peace and joy which they had received. 1 Cel 26 - 27.
- 1 . How does this
connect with Chapter IX of our TOR Rule?
- 2. Remember special
moments of peace and joy received in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.... Give thanks to
God and pray for confessors and spiritual directors.
- 3. Friar-priests
should reflect upon their privileged ministry of sacramental reconciliation and the words
of peace and compassion to be offered to sinners.
- 4. Pray for the
blessing of many vocations attracted to Francis that they might go from Francis to others.
Sanctuary of the Madonna of Piratello.
St. Francis was very
devoted to Mary as can be seen from his writings and the many stories about the way he and
his friars honored Mary. This particular Church of Our Lady can represent many of our
friaries and churches dedicated to Mary.
In 1488 the Blessed
Virgin appeared to a penitent on pilgrimage to Rome. This man was very dedicated to Mary
and had brought along a quantity of candles and he would light one at each Marian shrine
along his route to Rome. The Virgin appeared to him and directed him to the town's
authorities to ask that a chapel be built there. The Lady Caterina Sforza decided to build
a Church and a convent and asked the Pope, Innocent VIII to entrust it to the Brothers of
Penance of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis. And so Blessed Jeremias Lambertenghi
was sent to supervise the work of building this House of Mary. In joyful imitation of St.
Francis and out of devotion to Mary, he even carried the bricks and cement for the new
church. For 20 years, he served in this sanctuary as Vicar, as Procurator, as Local
Minister and proved to be an ideal Superior. Fittingly he is buried there.
The apostolate at
this Marian Sanctuary from his time until ours is typical of such places. The Friars
welcome pilgrims, foster prayer and devotion to Mary, and are Instruments of conversion by
preaching and offering the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- 1 . Reflect upon the
role of the Virgin Mary in Francis' discovery of his vocation. LM 3/1.
- 2. Compare the texts:
LM IX, 3 and 2 Cel 198 in order to discover St. Francis' devotion to Mary.
- 3. Make your own The
Salutation to the Blessed Virgin which he wrote. 2Cel 19.
- 4. Look up the titles
he gives to Mary in the Sacrum Commercium to see what they reveal about his understanding
Almost without fail,
wherever there was a fraternity of Franciscan Brothers and Sisters of Penance they would
be involved in caring for the sick as administrators or nurses. Many times it was through
their efforts of fundraising and maintenance that such hospices were built.
A typical example is
at Florence, in the Piazza of Sta. Maria Novella, where the famous Hospital of St. Paul is
located. In 1221 St. Francis may well have stayed in or near it when he gave the habit of
Penance to some men there. For 200 years, the friars ministered to the sick and dying
- 1. Many Congregations
of Franciscan Sisters and Brothers are dedicated to the service of the sick. How can we
friars recover the aspect of practical service to the sick so characteristic of our Order
- 2. Do you think our
programs of formation should have an experience of serving the sick as an essential part?
How would you do this?
Entrance to Basilica
the Friars of the Third Order Regular administered 2 hospitals: St. Girolamo della Carita
near the Palazzo Farnese (Sta. Maria della Carita in Catinari?) and S. Girolamo al Celio
near S. Stefano Rotondo. It was his familiarity and appreciation of their work which moved
Cardinal Alexander Farnese in 1512 to have the Friars assigned to the care of the Basilica
of the Holy Physician-Martyrs, Sts. Cosmas and Damian. One of the treasures of the
Basilica is the icon of the Madonna della Salute. Devotion to Mary under this title has
been carried by our Friars to many parts of the world.
The Convent of Sts.
Cosmas and Damian is the centuries old residence of the Minister General and his Curia.
Compiled from the
Analecta T. O.R., Rome.
Desbonnets, Theophile. Assisi in the Footsteps of St. Francis. Paris: Ed.
Dubois, A. Conversations in Umbria. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1980.
Fortini, Arnaldo. Francis
of Assisi. New York: Crossroads Publ., 1985. ( p. 248 - 249)
Pilgrimage" - Assisi Experience booklet.
Isabel, Damien. The
Franciscan Workbook. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1979.
Elizabeth. "Lady Poverty Fraternity." Winter Park, Florida, USA.
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