Francis of Assisi
Francis of Assisi is one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church. His radical love of God and His creation made him an “alter Christus” (“a second Christ”).
Francesco Bernardone was born in 1181 or 1182 in Assisi in the Italian region of Umbria. His father was a rich textile merchant. Francis grew up in luxury and dreamed of a future as a knight. In 1201 he took part in a war against the city of Perugia. He was taken captive and lived for a year under appalling conditions in a dungeon. His father bought his freedom and Francis returned to Assisi, sick and depressed.
Francis had his first mystical experience around 1205. In 1206 he received his crucial vision in the dilapidated church of San Damiano. There Francis heard Christ speaking to him from the cross: “Restore my Church”. Francis interpreted this literally and began to restore the little church, unaware that he would be the initiator of one of the most important renewal movements in the history of the Church.
His experience in San Damiano was followed by overwhelming joy and sorrow: joy at Christ’s calling; sorrow that he had been a sinner for so long. Francis decided therefore to forego his inheritance, which distanced him from his father. He began to live a life of radical poverty, extreme penance and self-forsaking love.
Francis preached the Good News according to the words of the Apostle Paul “in season and out of season”. In Assisi this lead to him being ridiculed, to sneering and hostility. After all, people knew him there as a debauched son-of-the-rich. Even so, he quickly attracted a following. Francis of Assisi founded the order of Friars Minor (O.F.M.) and wrote for them a new religious rule. With Clare, also from Assisi, he founded an order of contemplative sisters, the Poor Clare Sisters (O.S.C.). He also founded a Third Order, a community of lay people who strove for the ideal of poverty in their lifestyle. Among the most well-known saint-followers of Francis are Anthony of Padua and Bonaventura.
Francis kept striving for his ideals until his death. In doing so he encountered much resistance, even within his own order. During a spiritual crisis in La Verna he received in a miraculous way the stigmata, the five crucifixion wounds of Christ. Francis died in 1226 in Portiuncula, surrounded by his brothers. Two years later Francis was canonised. His body is venerated in the basilica in Assisi that bears his name.
Assisi is one of the most visited places of pilgrimage in the world. Because of the Franciscan motto “Pax et Bonum” (“Peace and the good”), world peace is an important theme there. On 12 October 1986 Pope John Paul II organised an historical meeting of representatives of all the world religions. In response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, John Paul organised again an interreligious meeting, which took place on 24 January 2002. De message of the spiritual leaders who were present was that religion may never be the cause of war.
On 13 March 2013 Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope. As a surprise to many, this Argentinean Jesuit took the name “Francis”. The new pope said he longed for “a poor Church for the poor”, the reason for his choice of name. On 4 October 2013, the pope, together with is College of Cardinals, went on pilgrimage to Assisi.