Franciscans International unites followers and friends of St. Francis in working towards a more just and peaceful world. The life of St.Francis inspires our work for integrity of creation, peacemaking, and concern for the poor.
Francis’s world was a medieval world of non-unified Italian city-states warring among themselves for the lands surrounding their walled cities. He was born in the Umbrian town of Assisi in 1182. He was baptised, John whilst his father, a cloth merchant, was away for business in France; upon his return, he changed his son’s name to Francesco, the Frenchman.
True to his name, the boy grew up enamored with the French language and the tales of Knights and Ladies related to French Romance. He was a carefree, generous young man who pursued the'good life' with friends. Throughout his younger years, he dreamt of becoming a knight. aWhen war broke out between Assisi and its neighbour, Perugia, he grode off to war as a knight of Assisi, only to be captured as a prisoner of war in the defeat of Assisi in the very first battle.
The defeat of his town and his year of imprisonment in a Perugian prison changed him deeply? At just 21 years old, Francis returned home to Assisi a broken man and rested in bed for a year.
He tried to go to war again as a knight in the papal army to fight the Holy Roman Emperor, but God has other plans. In a vision, God told Francis to return to Assisi where it was to be revealed to him what he should do next. And so Francis returned home, and one day whilst he was praying before the crucifix of the dilapidated little chapel of San Damiano, outside the walls of Assisi, he received his call from God. From the crucifix came the voice, “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”
Francis began to build and repair the run-down chapel of San Damiano, which Francis believed was the 'house' or little church in his vision. However, it was also the larger house, the Christian Church itself that he was to repair.
Francis learned this larger implication of the vision the day he saw a leper on the road and impulsively jumped from his horse, gave coins to the leper and embraced him. Unbelievably, he was not repulsed but filled with joy, for he realised he had embraced his Lord, Jesus Christ.
Francis went to live among the lepers, to minister to them and learn from them. Here, he realised, were the living stones; and together, they were building the Kingdom of God on earth. Here was God among the rejected, the despised, the poor.
Thus began the Franciscan rebuilding of the Church. Others soon joined Francis and became a brotherhood. The Church approved their way of living with the poor as poor men observing the Holy Gospel wholeheartedly.
Francis and the brothers preached and worked with their hands for their daily bread; and when they received nothing for their labour, they begged for food. They continued to live with the lepers, made peace with them, all people and all creation by making peace with their own aversion to the lepers. They embraced them instead of running away.
The first woman inspoired to join them was Clare; the daughter of the knight, Favarone. The Bishop of Assisi gave Clare and her future sisters their own cloister. This was the San Damiano - the church Francis had himself restored with his own hands. There they lived in poverty and in contemplation of the Poor Crucified Christ. They worked with their hands and depended on the begging of the brothers for their sustenance. They prayed for and ministered to the sick who were brought to their door.
Francis, in the meantime, was expanding the brothers’ ministry beyond Assisi to all of Italy and beyond. He himself, with one or two brothers, make missionary journeys to preach conversion and forgiveness which he saw as THE means of peacemaking.
He travelled to Spain, France, Switzerland, Dalmatia, Syria, the Holy Land, and Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. He tried to be a peace-maker between the Christians and Muslims. He entered the camp of the Sultan where he preached conversion of heart and forgiveness. The Sultan listened and gave Francis safe passage through his kingdom.
The animal and plant worlds, too, receive Francis’ compassionate love. He reaches out to and reveres all created things. He preaches to the animals and birds and fish. He embraces and tames the ravening wolf of Gubbio.
He preached always about Jesus Christ. Francis tried to make him visible and tangible, as when, three years before his death, he celebrated Midnight Mass with live animals to recreate the first Christmas nativity scene. This is now known as Gubbio.
The following year, while Francis was in deep prayer on the mountain of LaVerna in Tuscany, he received the sacred stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, and himself became a visible image of his crucified Lord.
Shortly afterward he sang his Canticle of the Creatures, his swan song that illustrates his life and attests to the peace, joy, and integration that a life of love and forgiveness brings. He sang of all creatures as his brothers and sisters and bid them to forgive one another if they wanted to be crowned by God. He even welcomed death as his sister and embraced her.
Francis died in the Porziuncola, a small church he had helped restore at the beginning of his vocation, on 4 October 1226. This date is now celebrated as the Feast of St. Francis.
The man who longed to be a knight, a man of war, died a man of peace at peace with God, with himself, and with all of creation. God changed his heart, and his changed heart changed the world.
There are over a million of Franciscans (brothers, sisters and lay people) who choose to follow the life of St. Francis - a life caring for the poor and creation and in obedience to God.