HIS EARLY LIFE
St Francis was born in Assisi, Italy. His father, Peter Bernardone was a wealthy silk merchant and his mother was Pica de Bourlemont. When he was born his mother named him Giovanni (John) after John the Baptist but at the time his father was on a sea voyage and when he returned his father changed the boy’s name to Francis. As Francis grew up he received a good education and there are stories that as a young man he liked to party and drink with his friends. He also went to fight as a soldier for Assisi and was captured and held prisoner for over a year. After his release he was ill and returned home to recover but then he set off again to rejoin the army. Halfway through the journey, he had a vision that led him back to Assisi. This vision changed his life; he turned back to God and started preaching in the streets. He gave away all his possessions and began living a life of poverty and simplicity based on the Gospel message of Christ.
The godly life of Francis attracted many others and he quickly gathered a group of followers around him. These became the first Franciscans and his Order was authorized by Pope Innocent III. He also developed an order for women, known as the Poor Clares, as well as the Order of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance. At one time he walked into the ruins of the San Damiano church, and led by the Spirit, he knelt down before the crucifix. Then he heard a voice saying, “Francis, Francis can’t you see my house is in ruins? Go and rebuild it.” Francis took this literally and began to restore the church building. But he soon realised that God was calling him to rebuild, not just the church buildings but the whole Church; that is the people of God. So he started travelling around and went to many places including the Holy Land and Egypt to preach, following the words of Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
HIS LOVE FOR NATURE
Francis loved nature; he could see God in all created things. He especially loved animals, and God gave him a special ability to talk to them – again following the instructions of Jesus to preach the Gospel to all creation. There is a story told of a wolf in the town of Gubbio that was killing all the livestock and attacking the people there. The mayor of the town called for Francis, knowing that he had a special way with animals. Francis came to the forest where the wolf lived and as he approached, the wolf appeared and encircled the holy man. Francis said to him “Brother Wolf I will not hurt you. Come, let us talk in peace.” The wolf realized that Francis meant no harm and went to him. Seeing the wolf’s injured leg Francis realised that he couldn’t catch wild animals and that was why he was taking the farm animals. Francis spoke to the wolf and tamed it and soon the people and the wolf became friends. This shows that Francis had great faith that God would protect him when he approached wild animals. It says in Matthew 17:20, “Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.”
STIGMATA AND DEATH
There are many amazing stories told about Francis. One Christmas, when Francis was setting up a Nativity scene, people saw the statue of baby Jesus playing in Francis’ hands! Francis had a great devotion to Christ crucified and two years before his death, when he was praying, during a 40 day fast on a mountain, he had a visit from an angel and felt a tingling pain in his hands that made him feel joyful. When he looked at his hands, he saw that he had the same wounds that Jesus had when he was crucified! Francis was the first person to have the stigmata. He tried his best to hide the wounds, but soon the word had spread. Francis died on October 3rd 1226 and the man’s holy soul departed to heaven.
St Francis is one of two patron saints of Italy, along with St Catherine of Siena. He is also patron saint of animals, merchants and the environment. The feast day of St Francis is October 4th. Through the life of St Francis, God shows us how we can build up our faith by obedience and prayer. St. Francis was loving and kind to everyone, from lepers to birds. He recognized that our Father in heaven loves everything that he has made, and we should too. He also knew that true happiness is found in God alone and so he gave up all his possessions and lived a very simple life.
Written by Christine Sabu