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Saint Francis of Assisi

  • International
  • October 4, 2012
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Francesco di Bernadonne was born in 1182 in Assisi, to a wealthy merchant family. His youth was filled with romantic ideals, and he tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to become a knight. At the age of 23, he heard the crucifix in the church of San Damiano in Assisi challenge him: “Francis, go repair my house! It is falling into ruin.” Taking these words to heart, he divested himself of his wealth, his fine clothes and his property, and left home a beggar. His mission: the ‘repair’ of the entire Christian Church.

A small group gathered around him, his first companions: Giles, Bernard, Peter, Angelo and others. Thus was born the “little brothers”, or Friars Minor, as they were known, who pledged themselves to a rule inspired by the Gospels. In 1210 the Pope gave this his formal approval.

In 1212, the young girl, Chiara Favaronne joined his group, and the “Poor Clares”, were born.

Then in 1221, a “Third Order” of lay people, men and women, inspired by his ideals but living them out in the world, was instituted.

Francis’s inspiration swept like wildfire across Italy and elsewhere – in 1219, for the first general assembly, there were 5000 friars.

Francis was enamoured of the incarnate Christ, and in 1223, he re-created the first Nativity scene in a manger, thus giving the world its first Christmas crib.

In 1224, while meditating on the passion, he was blessed with the first ever stigmata – the imprint of the five wounds of Christ on his flesh.

Deeply attached to nature as a mirror of the divine, he addressed the elements as ‘Brother Sun’, ‘Sister Moon’,‘Mother Earth’ and so on. Afflicted by blindness and illness in later life, he joyfully prepared for ‘Sister Death’ – a complete emptying out of himself, as his Lord and Master Jesus had done. He died in 1226 in the small church of St Mary at the Portiuncula, the very place which had seen the birth of his mission.

Benedict 15th said: "probably no one in history has ever set himself so seriously to imitate the life of Christ, and to carry out Christ’s work in his own way as Francis of Assisi. Truly the most perfect image of Christ that ever lived.”
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