Like all fathers, the father of Francesco Bernardone (the future St. Francis of Assisi) wanted the best for his son. As a very successful cloth merchant himself, Pietro Bernardone’s dream was that his son would enter the ranks of nobility and as Francis came of age, he encouraged him to go to battle.
Whilst on his way to battle Francis encountered a landowner who had spent one year in the Holyland fighting the Muslims in defence of the Catholic Church. The absence of the man led to his land been neglected, and he was left with little. It is said that actions speak louder than words and it was here that Francis’s true character shone through when he dismounted his horse, gave it to the landowner and slept that night in a tent.
During that night he heard a voice which he believed to be that of God which asked him the question “Why follow the servant when you can follow the Master?” The voice had told him to return to Assisi.
The beginning of the Conversion of Francis
One of the turning points in the conversion of Francis was his encounter with a leper. The sight of a leper would fill Francis with a sense of fear and disgust, he would often walk in the opposite direction. One day while riding his horse in the countryside Francis spotted a leper. His instinct, as always, was to turn back however, on this occasion Francis continued in the direction of the leper, dismounted his horse, and warmly embraced the leper. This meeting was to be a pivotal point in the life of Francis.
St Francis and the leper
"Rebuild my House which, as you can see, is falling into ruin"
A confused Francis returned to Assisi and turned to God to pray for guidance. Francis’ journey of conversion would begin whilst praying before the Byzantine-Style cross in the old Church of San Damiano. As Francis knelt in prayer, he heard the voice of Our Lord saying to him, “Francis, rebuild my house which you can see is falling into ruins.” Francis understood that our Lord was referring to the structure of the church and set about rebuilding the Church of San Damiano which stood outside the walls of Assisi.
On the 6th of January 1903, at the age of 15 years, Francesco left for the novitiate in Morcone. His heartbroken mother declared My son, you must not think of the pain of your mothers suffering. Francis has called you and you must go. At the door of the capuchin friary at Morcone the young Francesco was greeted by Fra Camillo who declared you have been faithful to your promise and to the call of St. Francis of Assisi.
Cross of Damiano
Convent of San Damiano
Cradle of the Franciscan Order - Chapel of the Porziuncola
While attending Mass in the nearby Chapel of the Porziuncola, Francis heard these words from the Gospel of St. Matthew: Go preach the message. 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not keep gold or silver, or money in your purses, no wallet for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or staff; for the labourer deserves his living."
Chapel of the Proziuncola
It was at this point that Francis began to understand the true meaning of the Lord’s words - he had not called on him to restore chapels, but to rebuild the Church of God throughout the world. At last he had found his vocation!
Francis would throw away his shoes, cloak, pilgrim staff and replaced his fine clothes for the rough tunic of a peasant.
"The Reluctant Pope"
Francis would ignore those who mocked him and began to preach the Gospel in simple words that pierced the hearts of those who heard him. The humble young man soon attracted some of his peers and together they preached to the people, cared for the lepers and the poor.
Francis would have to write a rule for this new way of life and, along with his brothers, travelled to Rome to seek approval for this new way of life. Pope Innocent III did not believe it possible to live such a life of poverty, however that same night the Pope dreamt that the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome was falling down, when he looked closer he saw that there was a small man leaning against the basilica, holding up the basilica. The man he recognises is Francis! Pope Innocent III, the following day, approved this "Rule of St. Francis".
Fresco from the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Assisi
Francis would return from Rome with his brothers and through the generosity of the Benedictines of Monte Subasio, the ancient chapel of the Porziuncola would become the home of the Franciscan Order and the adjoining huts the first Franciscan convent.
The Word Goes Out
From the settlement at the Chapel of the Porziuncola, the cradle of the Franciscan Order, the Friars Minor went forth two by two and would travel to all parts preaching the Gospel.
Francis himself travelled to the Holyland where he met with the Sultan. Although failing to convert the Sultan, the two become firm friends.
His words attracted so many people that the Franciscan Order would multiply, beyond control. The Pope called upon Francis to re-organise the brotherhood which he did.
"God's Seal of Approval"
Francis would often retreat to the nearby mountain of La Verna which was his haven of peace and opportunity for private prayer. It would be here in the September of 1224, the feast of the Holy Cross, that Francis would receive the wounds of Christ which bled like the wounds which Christ bore upon the Cross.
Despite all the care he received and with his deteriorating health, Francis felt the one he called "Sister Death" approach nearer every day and begged his brothers to carry him back to the chapel of the Porziuncola. It was here, on the 3rd of October 1226, Francis welcomed Sister Death into his presence. He died singing the 141 Psalm down to the words 'Lead my soul out of prison'. Francis of Assisi had entered heaven, singing…
Just two years after his death in July 1228, Francis would be canonised by Pope Gregory IX - his followers now numbering in their thousands and spreading the Gospel throughout Europe and the Middle East.
The essence of this Franciscan life remains the same today. Despite changes in times and circumstances through eight centuries of history, the message and vision of Francis has never grown old it still has the power to bring people closer to God and each other, in peace.
& PRICES IN SHRINES OF ITALY
IN SHRINES OF ITALY