Francis of Assisi
Since Pope Francis occupied the papal throne in 2013, his namesake, Francis of Assisi, gained prominence. He was born in Italy in 1181 into a rich family in Assisi. He grew up in luxury and was promiscuous until a serious illness, coupled with a spiritual experience, changed his outlook on life. A vision in which Jesus Christ told him “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins” converted him and from then on he preached the word of Christ, supported the poor and nursed the sick, including lepers. Pope Innocent III granted him permission to form the Franciscan order and he and his 11 closest disciples were tonsured. This partial shaving of the head was a visible sign of having the blessing from papal authority to preach the word of God and Jesus.
Francis was very fond of nature and two legends from the historic book Fioretti di San Francesco (Little Flowers of St. Francis) illustrate religious mysticism in the 12th century. The first story reads as follows:
‘One day, while Francis was travelling with some companions, they came upon a place where birds filled the trees on either side of the path. Francis told his companions to ‘wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters – the birds’. The birds surrounded him, intrigued by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away.
Another legend tells us how a ‘terrifying and ferocious wolf’ in the town of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was ‘devouring men as well as domestic animals.’ Francis had compassion with the townsfolk and went to the hills to find the wolf. When he found him, he made the sign of the cross and commanded him to come forward and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis who explained to him:
‘Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you……but, brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.’
Francis then led the wolf into town and, surrounded by startled citizens, made a pact between them and the wolf. He declared that, because the wolf had committed evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner the village of Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs that they would refrain from bothering the wolf. Finally, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, Francis blessed the wolf. Can we take this simplistic metaphor as a lesson for our aggressive and gun-obsessed society? Legend also has it that on his deathbed, St. Francis thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him throughout his life, and his donkey wept.