The Basilica in Assisi, where Saint Francis of Assisi is buried.
Of all the wondrous places I visited in Italy, the town of Assisi in Umbria is my favorite. I liked it so much that I’ll need two blogs, one about the town itself, and this one about the reason millions and millions of people go there: Saint Francis of Assisi. Recently, the new pope chose to adopt the name of Francis (Francesco in Italian), and I suspect the Saint would be amused. He himself was named Giovanni by his father, but dad, on his return from a successful business trip to France, renamed his son Francesco, which means “The Frenchman.”
Inside the Basilica. No signs of Holy Poverty here.
Born the son of a successful cloth merchant in 1181, Francis lived in comfort and behaved like most well-off young men behave (or don’t behave). He loved music. Parties. Hunting. But one day, selling his father’s goods in the marketplace, a beggar approached him and pleaded for alms. Francis gave him everything in his pockets, including the money for what he’d been selling. His father was furious.
One of several side chapels in the basilica. When I was there, glorious music was being made by a large group of students from Dallas TX, who had come to Assisi to sing a Mass. I wanted to stay there and listen, but I had to catch up with my tour group.
Later, he joined a military expedition, was captured, and was kept prisoner for a year. Back in Assisi, he rejoined his friends for good times and worked with his father, but was also plagued with a serious illness. He began to refocus on the beauty of simple things, especially nature, which is why he is honored as the Patron Saint of Animals and the Environment.
Francis tended the poor and the sick, particularly lepers. Here, he bathes a man who needs his help, and Lonzo supervises.
Legends have bloomed like the flowers Francis loved, and it’s hard to distinguish truth from wishful thinking. But some events are recorded, as when the always furious father dragged him to a public meeting with the Bishop. Francis had been helping restore a countryside church, using money from his father’s business. Ordered to return whatever had been given him by his father, he passed over everything his carried and removed all his clothes, for they had come from his father as well. Buck-nekkid, he stood in front of everyone who was anyone in Assisi, and then he returned to the countryside.
A friend joined him there, and another, and others as well. He must have had a compelling personality. They worked on the derelict churches he was rebuilding, and accompanied him to Rome where Francis and the rag-tag group of young men asked for the Church’s permission to establish a religious order. It was granted. Later, Francis helped a wealthy young woman, whose goals marched along with his, to establish a convent of cloistered nuns. The Poor Clares, they were called, and like the Franciscan order of men, they still exist today. In Spain, Pat and I saw the convents of many Poor Clares communities.
Where Francis slept when staying at the church he was rebuilding.
Francis died when he was in his mid-forties, and centuries later, the Franciscan Order continues to thrive. At the core of it’s mission lies this goal: “To follow the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” There is a strong commitment to poverty, respect for all of God’s creations, and care for those in need. He was canonized as saint two years after his death, and at that time, the pope laid the cornerstone for his basilica.
This poem has been put to music many times. You can find several of them on YouTube
Let’s give the last words to Francis himself:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; Where there is sadness, joy.
Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.