Many centuries ago, years before Marco Polo, a Franciscan friar named John from Piano Carpini left the banks of the placid Trasimeno River in Umbria to embark upon a fascinating and uncertain journey. He brought a papal message to the Great Khan, who was envious of every civilization and the Emperor of East and West, from China to Persia and Europe.
John crossed mysterious lands full of legends, struggling against human adversaries and harsh natural conditions. He encountered huge crowds and their vast dwellings: he would have flown towards hope if he could!
He rushed towards the center of the world where it was dangerous merely to raise one’s eyes towards the emperor’s horde. Finally, he saw the land and people of his dreams. He saw endless prairies sparkling with snow or mitigated by emerald meadows and the delicate silhouette of mountains, so similar to those in his homeland, where a gentle breeze smelling of gentian could caress you and then begin to howl and rage so suddenly that you were forced to throw yourself to the ground to save your life.
He saw nomad civilizations with their tents and animals, shepherds who were kind and loutish, and ruthless and uncatchable warriors “on galloping horses leaning into the wind, their bodies shuddering as the horse’s hooves pounded the ground so uneven that it would make them lose their spurs, if they had them, or their reins, if they used them, running so swiftly that one only saw the flat prairie and a headless figure flee before them.”
A soft yet durable thread was woven. That thread has never been broken and still remains. Thus, when the friendly and mysterious eyes of these people meet ours, we see flashes of that proud population of warriors and the unknowing tenacity of unbounded love for their land. We think they are as ephemeral as their migrating tents, which seem light enough “to move with just a slight touch,” but are not, because they are lodged in their centuries-old history.
Like us, they love their identity and are frugal, austere, theatrical, generous, and hardworking people. Like us, they are the Soul of the World and a Thought from the Heart. The same thread woven with Benedictine diligence by Friar John has crossed space and time.
Today and forever, it is an ideal bond uniting the humanity of the people of Umbria and Mongolia, so far and so near, and sending a spiritual message to other people around the globe.