Our Spiritual Roots
Francis and Clare of Assisi
Before his conversion, Francis was known as Giovanni di Bernardone (1182-1226), the son of a wealthy cloth merchant in the Umbrian commune of Assisi. After taking part to a military expedition against a rival commune, wherein he was held captive as a prisoner for a year and subsequently fell ill, he underwent a profound conversion. He relinquished his family’s wealth and adopted a life of evangelical poverty and radical Christian discipleship. Devoting his life to serving and living with the most marginalized, Francis lived outside the protection of Assisi’s walls, where he prayed, preached, and cared for lepers.
Attending lepers, a radical action for the times, was a key moment in Francis spiritual growth and understanding of his mission. By embracing the lepers, he realized that human dignity shall always being respected and protected. At the same time, this was a first seedling of what became his understanding of brotherhood with all creation, famously described in the Canticle of Creatures.
These concepts of universal brotherhood and respect of human dignity are also reflected in Francis’ pursue of peace, nonviolence, and dialogue. During the Fifth Crusade, in 1219, Francis travelled to Damietta, Egypt, where he met with Malik al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt and a nephew of Saladin the Great. He attempted to broker peace between warring factions by bringing a message of peace. Although his effort ultimately failed, Francis showed the extent of his repudiation of hostility and violence, and his understanding of universal kinship – the belief in our inherent dignity and worth as brothers and sisters.
Francis’ example garnered the attention and admiration of several notable citizens of Assisi and, within a short period, a fraternity of Lesser Brothers (the Order of Friars Minor) was formed. By 1209, their way of life was recognized by Pope Innocent III. In 1211, Clare Offreduccio, a member of a local noble family, joined Francis and established the women’s branch of the order, the Poor Ladies of San Damiano (eventually the Poor Clares).
Together, Francis and Clare founded and inspired a movement of men and women who called for the transformation of society through a life of voluntary poverty, fraternity, and solidarity with the most marginalized—the three pillars of the Franciscan concept of minoritas.
The Franciscan and Clarian insistence on minoritas (the “universal fraternity of all creation,” as Franciscan scholar Michael Cusato, OFM notes) is joyfully and dynamically lived out in active engagement with the world in order to affect mutual transformation. To be Franciscan, to be “voluntarily poor” and be a Lesser brother or sister, is to be in relationship with, rather than to stand apart from, those who are experiencing oppression, marginalization, and all forms of injustice.
Drawing on the rich spiritual legacy of Francis and Clare of Assisi, countless men and women, both lay and religious, have committed themselves to serving and working with some of the most economically poor and marginalized populations. Today, Franciscans are working all over the world on the front lines in areas experiencing conflict, environmental degradation, and extreme poverty. These Franciscan men and women work tirelessly to promote, defend, and uphold human rights.
Their work is brought to the international arena by Franciscans International, the non-governmental organization that represents the Franciscan family at the United Nations. Taking Francis and Clare’s example as a guiding light, Franciscans International works to protect people and communities affected by human rights violations and abuses, and the environment through advocacy. By upholding and defending human rights, Franciscans International aspires to create a global community in which the dignity of every person is respected, resources are shared equitably, the environment is sustained, and nations and peoples live in peace.
Franciscan Family Map
The Franciscan Family Today
The Franciscan Family is one of the largest and most diverse groupings of men and women within the Catholic Church today. The family is broken down into three branches.
The First Order is comprised of consecrated male religious and is be divided into three Orders:
- Observants (Order of Friars Minor or OFM)
- Conventuals (Order of Friars Minor Conventuals or OFM Conv.)
- Capuchins (Order of Friars Minor Capuchins or OFM Cap.)
The Second Order, called Order of Saint Clare, is comprised of consecrated female religious. Today, there are various groups of Poor Clare nuns, which are organized by federations.
The Third Order is comprised of various congregations of religious men and women (Third Order Regular), as well as lay men and women (Secular Franciscan Order or OFS).
Most of Franciscans are represented by the Conference of the Franciscan Family (CFF), which is headed by the Ministers General of the First Orders, Third Order Regular (TOR), Secular Franciscan Order, and the President of the International Franciscan Conference of the Sisters and Brothers of the Third Order Regular (IFC-TOR).
The message of peace expressed by Francis and Clare transcended the Catholic Church. In fact, there are also expressions of Franciscan life within the Anglican Communion (Society of Saint Francis or SSF), which mirrors the classification present in the Catholic Church.
Headed by the CFF, Franciscan International represents the Franciscan Family (including the Society of Saint Francis) at the United Nations.
Order of Friars Minor – https://www.ofm.org
Order of Friars Minor Conventuals - http://www.ofmconv.net
Order of Friars Minor Capuchins - https://www.ofmcap.org
Third Order Regular - http://francescanitor.org
International Franciscan Conference of the Sisters and Brothers of
the Third Order Regular – https://www.ifc-tor.org
Secular Franciscan Order – http://www.ciofs.org
Society of Saint Francis – www.anglicanfranciscans.org