By Amy Smith, Westminster Justice and Peace Communications Volunteer, who has been learning about the life of St Francis, his connection to the Season of Creation and the inspiration he provided for Pope Francis.
Giovanni di Petro di Bernardone, better known as Saint Francis of Assisi, was born in Assisi in 1181. He founded the Franciscan order of monks, the Poor Clares (female), and a lay community. He died in 1226 and was later canonised after 2 years as the patron saint of animals and ecology. His feast day is celebrated on the 4th October.
His consecration to poverty and charity drew thousands of followers. As the son of a cloth merchant, he dreamed of becoming a knight but after several visions from God eventually dedicated himself to solitude and prayer. One such vision where he felt God commanding him to ‘repair the church’ lead him to renounce his own troubled family relationships and possessions and commit himself to God and those in poverty.
He began to preach repentance as a layperson and attracted many followers from all walks of life.
His vision was for an order that expressed God’s brotherhood and love to all creation, including the natural world. He encountered God in all things viewing it as an expression of His generous love:
‘Praised be you my Lord, through our sister mother earth, who sustains us and directs us, bringing forth all kinds of fruits and coloured flowers and herbs.’
One famous story tells of Francis preaching to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their independence and His care. According to the story the birds remained still and only flew away when Francis allowed them to leave.
Pope Francis comments on his radical approach in Laudato Si’:
‘The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.’Laudato Si’, 11 (2015)
Hopefully his mark on the world leads us to question our own relationship with nature, to treat it with dignity and respect all of life as uniquely created by God.
Prayer of St Francis
Dear Mother Earth,
Who day by day unfolds rich blessing on our way
O Praise God! Alleluia!
The fruits and flowers that verdant grow,
Let them his praise abundant show.
O praise God, O praise God,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.