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Saint Francis of Assisi - San Francesco d'Assisi

Mystic & Founder of the Franciscans - from Assisi, Italy
c 1181 - 3 October 1226
Canonised in 1228 by Pope Gregory IX in Assisi
Feast Day - 4th October


Both Leo XIII & Pius XI wrote encyclicals on St Francis: Auspicato Concessum (in 1882) & Rite Expiatis (in 1926). St John Paul II was three times a pilgrim to Assisi: in 1982, 1986 & 1993. Papa Benedict XVI was twice a pilgrim, in 2007 & 2011, and Pope Francis has visited Assisi on the feast of St Francis 2013 & then again in 2016.

3 2us by Fr Emmanuel Mansford CFR      
"St Francis had everything - from a very wealthy family, properous father, very popular young man, bit of a party boy, went off to be a knight when he was about 20 which was sort of the equivalent of being the winner of the X-Factor, very respected and loved by his friends, the one who was at the centre of the life in Assisi - and yet when Jesus came into his life, it was like a revolution for him and he simply responded whole-heartedly. Just as he had given himself totally to partying, totally to fighting in the war, suddenly when Christ comes into his life he's changed and the encouraging thing for all of us is that it wasn't just overnight. Sometimes we think with the saints they're bad and then they become good but for Francis it was probably over a period of 5 years where Jesus is taking more and more of his heart captive."

Tom, a seminarian, chose Francis as his Incredible Saint      
"I have been really caught up with St Francis of Assisi since being a teenager. One of the ways that I was inspired by him is the way that he tried to follow in the footsteps of Christ in 3 different areas: through the Incarnation, through the Cross and through the Eucharist. The Incarnation of Christ coming to us as a child, and the way he held the manger up to people, but also how God is in the world in the face of our neighbour, in creation, and is to praised in all things. The cross for St Francis was the centre part of his following of Christ, of taking up the cross, of that complete outpouring of love; so much so, that he talked about carrying the cross on his own back and he actually received the wounds of Christ on his own body, he was so enveloped in the passion of Christ. And the Eucharist for St Francis was the most important thing about is spirituality, about his relationship with Jesus, that meeting in the Eucharist which has been given to the Church and that wonderful opportunity of communion with Christ each day. And for me there are 3 simple words that sum that spirituality: blessed, broken and given - and that is what St Francis means to me."

Catechesis by Papa Benedict XVI      
General Audience, Wednesday 27 January 2010 - also in Croatian, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish & here below in Italian

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In a recent catechesis, I have already illustrated the providential role that the Order of Friars Minor and the Order of Friar Preachers, founded respectively by St Francis of Assisi and St Dominic de Guzman, had in the renewal of the Church in their time. Today I would like to present to you the figure of Francis, an authentic "giant" of holiness, who continues to fascinate so many people of every age and every religion.

"A sun was born into the world". With these words, in the Divine Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XI), the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri alludes to the birth of Francis, which took place in Assisi at the end of 1181 or the beginning of 1182. Belonging to a wealthy family - his father was a cloth merchant -, Francis spent a carefree adolescence and youth, cultivating the chivalrous ideals of the time. At twenty, he took part in a military campaign and was taken prisoner. He fell ill and was freed. After his return to Assisi, a slow process of spiritual conversion began in him, which gradually brought him to abandon the worldly lifestyle that he had practiced up until then. Dating from this period are the famous episodes of his meeting with a leper to whom Francis, getting off his horse, gave the kiss of peace, and of the message from the Crucifix in the small Church of St Damian. Three times Christ on the Cross came to life, and told him: "Go, Francis, and repair my Church in ruins." This simple event of the word of God heard in the Church of St Damian hides a profound symbolism. St Francis was immediately called to repair this little church, but the ruinous state of this building was a symbol of the dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church herself at that time, with a superficial faith that did not form or transform life, with a clergy that was hardly zealous, with a chilling of love; an interior destruction of the Church that also brought a decomposition of unity, with the birth of heretical movements. However, in the centre of this Church in ruins was the Crucified Lord and he spoke: he called for renewal, he called Francis to the manual labour of concretely repairing the little Church of St Damian, symbol of the deeper call to renew the very Church of Christ, with her radicality of faith and her enthusiasm of love for Christ. This event, which probably occurred in 1205, makes one think of another similar event which took place in 1207: the dream of Pope Innocent III. He saw in a dream the Basilica of St John Lateran, mother of all churches, collapsing and a small and insignificant religious brother supporting the church on his shoulders so that it didn't fall. It is interesting to note, on the one hand, that it was not the Pope who gave the help for the church not to collapse but a small and insignificant religious brother, whom the Pope recognized in Francis when he later visited him. Innocent III was a powerful Pope, of great theological culture, as well as of great political power, however it was not he who renewed the Church but the small and insignificant religious brother: it was St Francis, called by God. On the other hand, however, it is important to note that St Francis did not renew the Church either without or against the Pope, but only in communion with him. The two realities go together: the Successor of Peter, the Bishops, the Church founded on the succession of the Apostles and the new charism that the Holy Spirit created at that time to renew the Church. Together true renewal grew.

Let us return to the life of St Francis. Since his father Bernardone reproved of him for being too generous to the poor, Francis, in front of the Bishop of Assisi, with a symbolic gesture stripped off his clothes, intending thus to renounce his paternal inheritance: as at the moment of being created, Francis did not have anything except the life that God had given him, into whose hands he entrusted himself. He then lived as a hermit until, in 1208, another fundamental event in the itinerary of his conversion took place. Listening to a passage from the Gospel of Matthew - Jesus' discourse to the apostles sent out on mission -, Francis felt called to live in poverty and dedicate himself to preaching. Other companions joined him and in 1209 he traveled to Rome, to submit to Pope Innocent III the project of a new form of Christian life. He received a fatherly welcome from this great Pontiff who, illuminated by the Lord, intuited the divine origin of the movement awakened by Francis. The Poverello of Assisi had understood that every charism given by the Holy Spirit should be placed at the service of the Body of Christ, which is the Church; therefore he always acted in full communion with ecclesiastical authority. In the lives of the saints there is no conflict between prophetic charism and the charism of governance and, if any tension is created, they know to wait with patience for the timings of the Holy Spirit.

In reality, several historians in the 19th and also the last century tried to create behind the Francis of tradition a so-called historical Francis, just as they tried to create behind the Jesus of the Gospels a so-called historical Jesus. Such an historical Francis would not have been a man of the Church, but a man linked immediately only to Christ, a man who wanted to create a renewal of the people of God, without canonical form and without hierarchy. The truth is that St Francis really had a very immediate relationship with Jesus and with the word of God, which he wanted to follow sine glossa, just as it was, in all its radicality and truth. It is also true that initially he had no intention of creating an Order with the necessary canonical forms but, simply, with the word of God and the presence of the Lord, he had wanted to renew the people of God, calling them anew to listening to the word and to literal obedience to Christ. Moreover, he knew that Christ is never "mine", but is always "ours", that "I" cannot have Christ and that "I" cannot rebuild in opposition to the Church, her will and her teaching, but only in communion with the Church built on the succession of the Apostles is obedience to the word of God also renewed.

It is also true that he had no intention of creating a new order, but only of renewing the people of God for the Lord who comes. But he understood through suffering and pain that everything must have its own order, that the law of the Church is also necessary to give form to renewal and thus he really placed himself in a total way, with his heart, in the communion of the Church, with the Pope and with the Bishops. He always knew that the centre of the Church is the Eucharist, where the Body and Blood of Christ become present. By means of the priesthood, the Eucharist is the Church. Where the Priesthood and Christ and communion of the Church go together, only there dwells also the word of God. The true historical Francis is the Francis of the Church and precisely in this way he also speaks to non-believers, to believers of other confessions and religions.

Francis and his ever more numerous brother established themselves at the Porziuncula, or the Church of St Mary of the Angels, the sacred place par excellence of Franciscan spirituality. Clare, a young woman of Assisi from a noble family, also placed herself at the school of Francis. Thus was the origin of the Second Franciscan Order, that of the Poor Clares, another experience destined to produce outstanding fruits of holiness in the Church.

The successor of Innocent III, Pope Honorius III, with his bull Cum Dilecti of 1218 also supported the singular development of the first Friars Minor, who were opening missions in various countries in Europe, and even in Morocco. In 1219 Francis obtained permission to go to speak with the Muslim sultan Malik al-Klmil in Egypt, to preach the Gospel of Jesus there too. I want to underline this episode in the life of St Francis, which is very timely. In an era in which there was a clash underway between Christianity and Islam, Francis, deliberately armed only with his faith and his personal gentleness, traveled the way of dialogue with efficacy. The chronicles tell us of a benevolent welcome and cordial reception by the Muslim sultan. It is a model that today should also inspire relations between Christians and Muslims: to promote a dialogue in truth, in reciprocal respect and mutual understanding (cf Nostra Aetate, 3). It seems then that in 1220 Francis visited the Holy Land, thus sowing a seed which would bear much fruit: his spiritual sons, in fact, made a privileged space of their mission in the places where Jesus had lived. With gratitude I think today of the great merits of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

Returning to Italy, Francis consigned the governance of the Order to his vicar, Friar Pietro Cattani, while the Order, which gathered more and more followers, was entrusted by the Pope to the protection of Cardinal Ugolino, the future Supreme Pontiff Gregory IX. For his part the Founder, totally dedicated to preaching which met with great success, drew up a Rule, later approved by the Pope.

In 1224, in the hermitage of La Verna, Francis saw the Crucified Lord in the form of a seraphim and from the encounter with the crucified seraphim, he received the stigmata; thus he became one with Christ crucified: a gift, henceforth, which expressed his intimate identification with the Lord.<

The death of Francis - his own transitus - occurred on the evening of 3 October 1226, at the Porziuncula. After having blessed his spiritual children, he died, lying on the bare ground. Two years later Pope Gregory IX inscribed him in the roll of the saints. Shortly after, a great basilica was built in his honour in Assisi, still today a destination for many pilgrims, who can venerate the tomb of the saint and enjoy the vision of Giotto's frescoes, a painter who has illustrated the life of Francis in a magnificent way.

It has been said that Francis represents an alter Christus, that he was truly a living icon of Christ. He has also been called "the brother of Jesus". In fact, this was his ideal: to be like Jesus, to contemplate the Christ of the Gospel, to love him intensely, to imitate his virtues. In particular, he wished to give a fundamental value to interior and exterior poverty, teaching this also to his spiritual children. The first beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount - "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5, 3) - found a luminous realization in the life and words of St Francis. Truly, dear friends, the saints are the best interpreters of the Bible; incarnating the Word of God in their own lives, they render it more attractive than ever, so that it really speaks to us. The witness of Francis, who loved poverty so as to follow Christ with dedication and total freedom, continues to be for us too an invitation to cultivate interior poverty so as to to grow in trust of God, combining a sober lifestyle with a detachment from material goods.

In Francis love for Christ expressed itself in a special way in adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Moving expressions can be read in the Franciscan Sources, such as: "Let all of humanity fear, the entire universe tremble and the heavens exult, when on the altar, in the hands of the priest, there is Christ, the Son of the living God. O stupendous favour! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, so humbles himself as to hide himself for our salvation, under the modest form of bread" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, Franciscan Publishers, Padua 2002, 401).

In this Year for Priests, it pleases me to recall as well a recommendation addressed by Francis to priests: "When you wish to celebrate Mass, in a pure way, with reverence carry out the true sacrifice of the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, 399). Francis always showed a great deference towards priests, and recommended that they always be respected, even in cases where they personally were hardly worthy. The motivation for this profound respect was the fact that they have received the gift of consecrating the Eucharist. Dear brothers in the priesthood, let us never forget this teaching: the holiness of the Eucharist calls us to be pure, to live in a way coherent with the Mystery that we celebrate.

From the love for Christ is born love towards persons and also towards all God's creatures. Here is another characteristic trait of Francis' spirituality: the sense of universal brotherhood and love for created matter, which inspired his famous Canticle of creatures. It is a very timely message. As I recalled in my recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, only a development that respects creation and does not damage the environment is sustainable (cf n 48-52) and in the Message for the World Day of Peace this year I underlined that the construction of a solid peace is also linked to respect for created matter. Francis reminds us that in creation is unfolded the wisdom and benevolence of the Creator. Nature is for him understood precisely as a language in which God speaks with us, in which reality becomes transparent and we can speak of God and with God.

Dear friends, Francis was a great saint and a joyful man. His simplicity, his humility, his faith, his love for Christ, his goodness towards every man and every woman made him happy in every situation. Indeed, there subsists an intimate and indissoluble relationship between holiness and joy. A French writer said that in the world there is only one sadness: that of not being saints, that is, of not being close to God. Looking at the witness of St Francis, we understand that this is the secret of true happiness: to become saints, close to God!

May the Virgin, so tenderly loved by Francis, obtain this gift for us. We entrust ourselves to her with the words of the Poverello of Assisi himself: "Holy Virgin Mary, no one like you among women has ever been born in the world, daughter and handmaid of the Most High King and heavenly Father, Mother of our Most Holy Lord Jesus Christ, spouse of the Holy Spirit: pray for us... to your most holy beloved Son, Lord and Master" (Francis of Assisi, Writings, 163)."

San Francesco d'Assisi
Catechesi di Papa Benedetto XVI      
Aula Paolo VI, Mercoledì, 27 gennaio 2010

"Cari fratelli e sorelle,
in una recente catechesi, ho già illustrato il ruolo provvidenziale che l’Ordine dei Frati Minori e l’Ordine dei Frati Predicatori, fondati rispettivamente da san Francesco d’Assisi e da san Domenico da Guzman, ebbero nel rinnovamento della Chiesa del loro tempo. Oggi vorrei presentarvi la figura di Francesco, un autentico “gigante” della santità, che continua ad affascinare moltissime persone di ogni età e di ogni religione.

“Nacque al mondo un sole”. Con queste parole, nella Divina Commedia (Paradiso, Canto XI), il sommo poeta italiano Dante Alighieri allude alla nascita di Francesco, avvenuta alla fine del 1181 o agli inizi del 1182, ad Assisi. Appartenente a una ricca famiglia – il padre era commerciante di stoffe –, Francesco trascorse un’adolescenza e una giovinezza spensierate, coltivando gli ideali cavallereschi del tempo. A vent’anni prese parte ad una campagna militare, e fu fatto prigioniero. Si ammalò e fu liberato. Dopo il ritorno ad Assisi, cominciò in lui un lento processo di conversione spirituale, che lo portò ad abbandonare gradualmente lo stile di vita mondano, che aveva praticato fino ad allora. Risalgono a questo periodo i celebri episodi dell’incontro con il lebbroso, a cui Francesco, sceso da cavallo, donò il bacio della pace, e del messaggio del Crocifisso nella chiesetta di San Damiano. Per tre volte il Cristo in croce si animò, e gli disse: “Va’, Francesco, e ripara la mia Chiesa in rovina”. Questo semplice avvenimento della parola del Signore udita nella chiesa di S. Damiano nasconde un simbolismo profondo. Immediatamente san Francesco è chiamato a riparare questa chiesetta, ma lo stato rovinoso di questo edificio è simbolo della situazione drammatica e inquietante della Chiesa stessa in quel tempo, con una fede superficiale che non forma e non trasforma la vita, con un clero poco zelante, con il raffreddarsi dell’amore; una distruzione interiore della Chiesa che comporta anche una decomposizione dell’unità, con la nascita di movimenti ereticali. Tuttavia, in questa Chiesa in rovina sta nel centro il Crocifisso e parla: chiama al rinnovamento, chiama Francesco ad un lavoro manuale per riparare concretamente la chiesetta di san Damiano, simbolo della chiamata più profonda a rinnovare la Chiesa stessa di Cristo, con la sua radicalità di fede e con il suo entusiasmo di amore per Cristo. Questo avvenimento, accaduto probabilmente nel 1205, fa pensare ad un altro avvenimento simile verificatosi nel 1207: il sogno del Papa Innocenzo III. Questi vede in sogno che la Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, la chiesa madre di tutte le chiese, sta crollando e un religioso piccolo e insignificante puntella con le sue spalle la chiesa affinché non cada. E’ interessante notare, da una parte, che non è il Papa che dà l’aiuto affinché la chiesa non crolli, ma un piccolo e insignificante religioso, che il Papa riconosce in Francesco che Gli fa visita. Innocenzo III era un Papa potente, di grande cultura teologica, come pure di grande potere politico, tuttavia non è lui a rinnovare la Chiesa, ma il piccolo e insignificante religioso: è san Francesco, chiamato da Dio. Dall’altra parte, però, è importante notare che san Francesco non rinnova la Chiesa senza o contro il Papa, ma solo in comunione con lui. Le due realtà vanno insieme: il Successore di Pietro, i Vescovi, la Chiesa fondata sulla successione degli Apostoli e il carisma nuovo che lo Spirito Santo crea in questo momento per rinnovare la Chiesa. Insieme cresce il vero rinnovamento.

Ritorniamo alla vita di san Francesco. Poiché il padre Bernardone gli rimproverava troppa generosità verso i poveri, Francesco, dinanzi al Vescovo di Assisi, con un gesto simbolico si spogliò dei suoi abiti, intendendo così rinunciare all’eredità paterna: come nel momento della creazione, Francesco non ha niente, ma solo la vita che gli ha donato Dio, alle cui mani egli si consegna. Poi visse come un eremita, fino a quando, nel 1208, ebbe luogo un altro avvenimento fondamentale nell’itinerario della sua conversione. Ascoltando un brano del Vangelo di Matteo – il discorso di Gesù agli apostoli inviati in missione –, Francesco si sentì chiamato a vivere nella povertà e a dedicarsi alla predicazione. Altri compagni si associarono a lui, e nel 1209 si recò a Roma, per sottoporre al Papa Innocenzo III il progetto di una nuova forma di vita cristiana. Ricevette un’accoglienza paterna da quel grande Pontefice, che, illuminato dal Signore, intuì l’origine divina del movimento suscitato da Francesco. Il Poverello di Assisi aveva compreso che ogni carisma donato dallo Spirito Santo va posto a servizio del Corpo di Cristo, che è la Chiesa; pertanto agì sempre in piena comunione con l’autorità ecclesiastica. Nella vita dei santi non c’è contrasto tra carisma profetico e carisma di governo e, se qualche tensione viene a crearsi, essi sanno attendere con pazienza i tempi dello Spirito Santo.

In realtà, alcuni storici nell’Ottocento e anche nel secolo scorso hanno cercato di creare dietro il Francesco della tradizione, un cosiddetto Francesco storico, così come si cerca di creare dietro il Gesù dei Vangeli, un cosiddetto Gesù storico. Tale Francesco storico non sarebbe stato un uomo di Chiesa, ma un uomo collegato immediatamente solo a Cristo, un uomo che voleva creare un rinnovamento del popolo di Dio, senza forme canoniche e senza gerarchia. La verità è che san Francesco ha avuto realmente una relazione immediatissima con Gesù e con la parola di Dio, che voleva seguire sine glossa, così com’è, in tutta la sua radicalità e verità. E’ anche vero che inizialmente non aveva l’intenzione di creare un Ordine con le forme canoniche necessarie, ma, semplicemente, con la parola di Dio e la presenza del Signore, egli voleva rinnovare il popolo di Dio, convocarlo di nuovo all’ascolto della parola e all’obbedienza verbale con Cristo. Inoltre, sapeva che Cristo non è mai “mio”, ma è sempre “nostro”, che il Cristo non posso averlo “io” e ricostruire “io” contro la Chiesa, la sua volontà e il suo insegnamento, ma solo nella comunione della Chiesa costruita sulla successione degli Apostoli si rinnova anche l’obbedienza alla parola di Dio.

E’ anche vero che non aveva intenzione di creare un nuovo ordine, ma solamente rinnovare il popolo di Dio per il Signore che viene. Ma capì con sofferenza e con dolore che tutto deve avere il suo ordine, che anche il diritto della Chiesa è necessario per dar forma al rinnovamento e così realmente si inserì in modo totale, col cuore, nella comunione della Chiesa, con il Papa e con i Vescovi. Sapeva sempre che il centro della Chiesa è l'Eucaristia, dove il Corpo di Cristo e il suo Sangue diventano presenti. Tramite il Sacerdozio, l'Eucaristia è la Chiesa. Dove Sacerdozio e Cristo e comunione della Chiesa vanno insieme, solo qui abita anche la parola di Dio. Il vero Francesco storico è il Francesco della Chiesa e proprio in questo modo parla anche ai non credenti, ai credenti di altre confessioni e religioni.

Francesco e i suoi frati, sempre più numerosi, si stabilirono alla Porziuncola, o chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli, luogo sacro per eccellenza della spiritualità francescana. Anche Chiara, una giovane donna di Assisi, di nobile famiglia, si mise alla scuola di Francesco. Ebbe così origine il Secondo Ordine francescano, quello delle Clarisse, un’altra esperienza destinata a produrre frutti insigni di santità nella Chiesa.

Anche il successore di Innocenzo III, il Papa Onorio III, con la sua bolla Cum dilecti del 1218 sostenne il singolare sviluppo dei primi Frati Minori, che andavano aprendo le loro missioni in diversi paesi dell’Europa, e persino in Marocco. Nel 1219 Francesco ottenne il permesso di recarsi a parlare, in Egitto, con il sultano musulmano Melek-el-Kâmel, per predicare anche lì il Vangelo di Gesù. Desidero sottolineare questo episodio della vita di san Francesco, che ha una grande attualità. In un’epoca in cui era in atto uno scontro tra il Cristianesimo e l’Islam, Francesco, armato volutamente solo della sua fede e della sua mitezza personale, percorse con efficacia la via del dialogo. Le cronache ci parlano di un’accoglienza benevola e cordiale ricevuta dal sultano musulmano. È un modello al quale anche oggi dovrebbero ispirarsi i rapporti tra cristiani e musulmani: promuovere un dialogo nella verità, nel rispetto reciproco e nella mutua comprensione (cfr Nostra Aetate, 3). Sembra poi che nel 1220 Francesco abbia visitato la Terra Santa, gettando così un seme, che avrebbe portato molto frutto: i suoi figli spirituali, infatti, fecero dei Luoghi in cui visse Gesù un ambito privilegiato della loro missione. Con gratitudine penso oggi ai grandi meriti della Custodia francescana di Terra Santa.

Rientrato in Italia, Francesco consegnò il governo dell’Ordine al suo vicario, fra Pietro Cattani, mentre il Papa affidò alla protezione del Cardinal Ugolino, il futuro Sommo Pontefice Gregorio IX, l’Ordine, che raccoglieva sempre più aderenti. Da parte sua il Fondatore, tutto dedito alla predicazione che svolgeva con grande successo, redasse una Regola, poi approvata dal Papa.

Nel 1224, nell’eremo della Verna, Francesco vede il Crocifisso nella forma di un serafino e dall’incontro con il serafino crocifisso, ricevette le stimmate; egli diventa così uno col Cristo crocifisso: un dono, quindi, che esprime la sua intima identificazione col Signore.

La morte di Francesco – il suo transitus - avvenne la sera del 3 ottobre 1226, alla Porziuncola. Dopo aver benedetto i suoi figli spirituali, egli morì, disteso sulla nuda terra. Due anni più tardi il Papa Gregorio IX lo iscrisse nell’albo dei santi. Poco tempo dopo, una grande basilica in suo onore veniva innalzata ad Assisi, meta ancor oggi di moltissimi pellegrini, che possono venerare la tomba del santo e godere la visione degli affreschi di Giotto, pittore che ha illustrato in modo magnifico la vita di Francesco.

È stato detto che Francesco rappresenta un alter Christus, era veramente un’icona viva di Cristo. Egli fu chiamato anche “il fratello di Gesù”. In effetti, questo era il suo ideale: essere come Gesù; contemplare il Cristo del Vangelo, amarlo intensamente, imitarne le virtù. In particolare, egli ha voluto dare un valore fondamentale alla povertà interiore ed esteriore, insegnandola anche ai suoi figli spirituali. La prima beatitudine del Discorso della Montagna - Beati i poveri in spirito perché di essi è il regno dei cieli (Mt 5,3) - ha trovato una luminosa realizzazione nella vita e nelle parole di san Francesco. Davvero, cari amici, i santi sono i migliori interpreti della Bibbia; essi, incarnando nella loro vita la Parola di Dio, la rendono più che mai attraente, così che parla realmente con noi. La testimonianza di Francesco, che ha amato la povertà per seguire Cristo con dedizione e libertà totali, continua ad essere anche per noi un invito a coltivare la povertà interiore per crescere nella fiducia in Dio, unendo anche uno stile di vita sobrio e un distacco dai beni materiali.

In Francesco l’amore per Cristo si espresse in modo speciale nell’adorazione del Santissimo Sacramento dell’Eucaristia. Nelle Fonti francescane si leggono espressioni commoventi, come questa: “Tutta l’umanità tema, l’universo intero tremi e il cielo esulti, quando sull’altare, nella mano del sacerdote, vi è Cristo, il Figlio del Dio vivente. O favore stupendo! O sublimità umile, che il Signore dell’universo, Dio e Figlio di Dio, così si umili da nascondersi per la nostra salvezza, sotto una modica forma di pane” (Francesco di Assisi, Scritti, Editrici Francescane, Padova 2002, 401).

In quest’anno sacerdotale, mi piace pure ricordare una raccomandazione rivolta da Francesco ai sacerdoti: “Quando vorranno celebrare la Messa, puri in modo puro, facciano con riverenza il vero sacrificio del santissimo Corpo e Sangue del Signore nostro Gesù Cristo” (Francesco di Assisi, Scritti, 399). Francesco mostrava sempre una grande deferenza verso i sacerdoti, e raccomandava di rispettarli sempre, anche nel caso in cui fossero personalmente poco degni. Portava come motivazione di questo profondo rispetto il fatto che essi hanno ricevuto il dono di consacrare l’Eucaristia. Cari fratelli nel sacerdozio, non dimentichiamo mai questo insegnamento: la santità dell’Eucaristia ci chiede di essere puri, di vivere in modo coerente con il Mistero che celebriamo.

Dall’amore per Cristo nasce l’amore verso le persone e anche verso tutte le creature di Dio. Ecco un altro tratto caratteristico della spiritualità di Francesco: il senso della fraternità universale e l’amore per il creato, che gli ispirò il celebre Cantico delle creature. È un messaggio molto attuale. Come ho ricordato nella mia recente Enciclica Caritas in veritate, è sostenibile solo uno sviluppo che rispetti la creazione e che non danneggi l’ambiente (cfr nn. 48-52), e nel Messaggio per la Giornata Mondiale della Pace di quest’anno ho sottolineato che anche la costruzione di una pace solida è legata al rispetto del creato. Francesco ci ricorda che nella creazione si dispiega la sapienza e la benevolenza del Creatore. La natura è da lui intesa proprio come un linguaggio nel quale Dio parla con noi, nel quale la realtà diventa trasparente e possiamo noi parlare di Dio e con Dio.

Cari amici, Francesco è stato un grande santo e un uomo gioioso. La sua semplicità, la sua umiltà, la sua fede, il suo amore per Cristo, la sua bontà verso ogni uomo e ogni donna l’hanno reso lieto in ogni situazione. Infatti, tra la santità e la gioia sussiste un intimo e indissolubile rapporto. Uno scrittore francese ha detto che al mondo vi è una sola tristezza: quella di non essere santi, cioè di non essere vicini a Dio. Guardando alla testimonianza di san Francesco, comprendiamo che è questo il segreto della vera felicità: diventare santi, vicini a Dio!

Ci ottenga la Vergine, teneramente amata da Francesco, questo dono. Ci affidiamo a Lei con le parole stesse del Poverello di Assisi: “Santa Maria Vergine, non vi è alcuna simile a te nata nel mondo tra le donne, figlia e ancella dell’altissimo Re e Padre celeste, Madre del santissimo Signor nostro Gesù Cristo, sposa dello Spirito Santo: prega per noi... presso il tuo santissimo diletto Figlio, Signore e Maestro” (Francesco di Assisi, Scritti, 163)."

Saluti:

"Je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins francophones présents, en particulier Mgr Perrier, Evêque de Tarbes et Lourdes qui accompagne un groupe de l’Hospitalité Notre-Dame de Lourdes. Prions Dieu afin qu’il donne à son Église des saints, qui soient eux-aussi des ‘autres Christ’. Bon pèlerinage à tous!

A warm welcome to all of the English speaking pilgrims present at today’s audience! I particularly greet high school students from Jordan and Israel, members of the initiative Aqabat Eilat: “one more step towards peace”, students and faculty from the Bossey Graduate School of Ecumenical Studies, as well as pilgrims from England, Gibraltar, Hong Kong and the United States. God bless you all!

Ganz herzlich grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Brüder und Schwestern. Die Heiligen, die Freunde Jesu, sind die besten Kenner und Ausleger der Heiligen Schrift. Das können wir gerade an Franz sehen. Sie machen das Wort Gottes in ihrem Leben sichtbar, machen es gegenwärtig, geben ihm gleichsam wieder Fleisch und Blut und laden uns ein, nach ihrem Beispiel eine tiefe und persönliche Beziehung zu Christus zu suchen, besonders in der Eucharistie, in der der Sohn Gottes in der demütigen Gestalt des Brotes wahrhaft unter uns ist und uns Freude schenkt. Heiligkeit bedeutet Freude. An Franziskus sehen wir das ganz besonders. Diese Freude wünsche ich euch allen und eine gesegnete Pilgerschaft! Ein besonderes Anliegen ist es mir heute, an den Holocaust-Gedenktag zu erinnern. Vor genau 65 Jahren, am 27. Januar 1945, wurde das Konzentrationslager Auschwitz durch die Rote Armee befreit. Die erschütternden Berichte der Überlebenden zeigen der Welt, zu welchen abscheulichen Verbrechen der menschenverachtende Größenwahn und Rassenhaß der Nazi-Ideologie in Deutschland geführt hat. Das Gedenken an diese Taten, insbesondere die Tragödie der Shoah am jüdischen Volk, wie auch das Zeugnis all jener, die sich unter Einsatz ihres Lebens diesem Wahnsinn widersetzt haben, gemahnt uns stets aufs neue an den absoluten Respekt vor der Würde der Person und des menschlichen Lebens. Alle Menschen jedes Volkes und jedes Erdteils sollen sich als eine einzige große Familie verstehen. Der Allmächtige Gott erleuchte die Herzen und den Verstand, auf daß sich solche furchtbaren Vergehen nie wiederholen. Der Segen und der Friede des Herrn begleite uns allezeit.

Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, venidos de España, México y otros países latinoamericanos. Que el ejemplo de San Francisco aumente la confianza en Dios y fomente un estilo de vida sobrio, sin apego a los bienes materiales. Muchas gracias.

Amados peregrinos de língua portuguesa, o testemunho da vida de São Francisco de Assis ensina que o segredo da verdadeira felicidade é tornar-se santo. Que a Virgem Maria conceda este dom a vós e aos vossos familiares que de coração abençôo. Ide em paz!

Serdecznie witam polskich pielgrzymów. Wpatrzeni w postać świętego Franciszka, uczmy się od niego ewangelicznej prostoty i radości, miłości dla ludzi i poszanowania dzieł stworzenia, głębokiej modlitwy i dążenia do świętości. Bądźmy ludźmi pokoju i nieśmy innym prawdziwe szczęście, które odnajdujemy w Bogu. Niech Jego błogosławieństwo stale wam towarzyszy.

S láskou pozdravujem slovenských pútnikov, osobitne z farností Čadca – Kýčerka, Kysucké Nové Mesto a Žilina. Bratia a sestry, prajem vám, aby vaša návšteva posvätných miest Ríma znamenala pre každého z vás obnovu kresťanskej viery. Zo srdca vás žehnám. Pochválený buď Ježiš Kristus!"

APPELLO

"Sessantacinque anni fa, il 27 gennaio 1945, venivano aperti i cancelli del campo di concentramento nazista della città polacca di Oświęcim, nota con il nome tedesco di Auschwitz, e vennero liberati i pochi superstiti. Tale evento e le testimonianze dei sopravvissuti rivelarono al mondo l'orrore di crimini di inaudita efferatezza, commessi nei campi di sterminio creati dalla Germania nazista.

Oggi, si celebra il “Giorno della memoria”, in ricordo di tutte le vittime di quei crimini, specialmente dell’annientamento pianificato degli Ebrei, e in onore di quanti, a rischio della propria vita, hanno protetto i perseguitati, opponendosi alla follia omicida. Con animo commosso pensiamo alle innumerevoli vittime di un cieco odio razziale e religioso, che hanno subito la deportazione, la prigionia, la morte in quei luoghi aberranti e disumani. La memoria di tali fatti, in particolare del dramma della Shoah che ha colpito il popolo ebraico, susciti un sempre più convinto rispetto della dignità di ogni persona, perché tutti gli uomini si percepiscano una sola grande famiglia. Dio onnipotente illumini i cuori e le menti, affinché non si ripetano più tali tragedie!

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini di lingua italiana. In particolare, saluto i vari gruppi di militari qui presenti, augurando a ciascuno di arricchire il proprio servizio al paese con la personale testimonianza.

Saluto, infine, voi, cari giovani, cari malati e cari sposi novelli, ed auspico che ciascuno nella propria condizione, contribuisca con generosità a diffondere la gioia di amare e servire Gesù Cristo."

Fr Emmanuel Mansford on the CFRs       
"The Franciscan Friars of Renewal are a new community in the Franciscan tradition, founded in 1987 by 8 men who were already Franciscans from the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan Order. St Francis lived 800 years ago and began the order that we now call the Franciscans. As a young man he had a powerful conversion experience of the love of Jesus and gave everything away in response to the Gospel where it says 'take nothing with you for the journey, neither gold nor silver, nor haversack nor staff and go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.' And so he responded radically to the words of Jesus and began to live as a poor man, preaching and caring for the poor, for the lepers. Within months other men came to join, so much so that after 20 years there were 5000 friars in Europe. That was 800 years ago. In 1987 the friars who began our community left the Capuchins because they wanted to recover and rediscover something of the orginal inspiration of St Francis. So they were given permission by the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal O'Connor, at the time to begin this little reform in New York, in the Bronx. They were given an old parish church that was fallen down. The area was known as Fort Apache because it was an area characterised for riots and drugs and burnt out buildings. So they moved into this poor little area with $800 and there were 8 friars. They began to just live a Franciscan life together, a life of prayer, fraternity and service of the poor, preaching of the Gospel. Little by little, God has blessed us and there are now 120 friars in 15 friaries in different places throughout the world."

Blessed John Paul II: (16.01.82)

"St Francis! We all know what the birth of the great Saint of Assisi has meant for mankind!

With him, Dante said, "a sun was born to the world." There are many reasons why he exerted and goes on exerting a marked fascination in the Church, and outside her as well: his was an optimistic vision of the whole of creation as the epiphany of God and the homeland of Christ, whom he celebrated in his very well known "Canticle of Creatures"; he chose poverty as the expression of his whole life, and called it "My Lady - Madonna", the term used by knights to their ladies and by Christians to the Mother of God.

But supporting it was an integrally practiced theological virtue. He rarely calls it by name, because it became his state of mind and made him concentrate everything on God, made him expect everything from Him, made him happy not to possess anything but from Him. He expressed this state of mind in passionate tones in the "Chartula", the "Little Charter", which he gave to Friar Leo on Mount La Verna: "Thou art the good, very good, the supreme good, Lord, God living and true ... Thou art our hope." Yes, because true hope, this gift of the Spirit which does not disappoint derives from unique certainty that "the Son of God ... loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

Recovery of this certainty is urgent for the world of today, furrowed by so many disquiets, which are like an assault upon the hope brought by Christ to all: "Take courage! I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33)."

St Bonaventure - in Life of Saint François, Legenda major:

One day while he was devoutly hearing a Mass of the Apostles, the Gospel was read in which Christ sends out his disciples to preach and gives them the Gospel form of life, that they may not keep “gold or silver or money in their belts, nor have a wallet for their journey, nor may they have two tunics, nor shoes, nor staff." Hearing, understanding and committing this to memory, this friend of apostolic poverty was then overwhelmed with an indescribable joy. "This is what I want," he said, "this is what I desire with all my heart!" Immediately, he took off the shoes from his feet. put down his staff, denounced his wallet and money, and, satisfied with one tunic, threw away his leather belt and put on a piece of rope for a belt. He directed all his heart's desire to carry out what he had heard and to conform in every way to the rule of right living given to the apostles.

Through divine prompting the man of God began to become a model of evangelical perfection and to invite others to penance. His statements were... filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, they penetrated the marrow of the heart, so that they moved those hearing them in stunned amazement. In all his preaching, he announced peace by saying: "May/he Lordgiveyou peace." Thus he greeted the people at the beginning of his talk. As he later testified, he had learned this greeting by the Lord revealing it to him...

Therefore, as the truth of the man of God's simple teaching and life became known to many, some men began to be moved to penance and, abandoning all things, joined him in habit and life. (ch. 3 - trans. ©Franciscan Institute of Saint Bonaventure University, 2000)

St Francis' Letter to all the faithful (2nd version)

Oh, how happy and blessed are those who love God and do as the Lord himself says in the Gospel: "You shall love the lord your God with all your heart and all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself." Let us love God, therefore, and adore Him with a pure heart and a pure mind...

And let us love our neighbours as ourselves. And if there is anyone who does not wish to love them as himself, at least let him do no harm to them, but rather do good. But those who have received the power to judge others should exercise judgement with mercy as they themselves desire to receive mercy from the Lord... Let us then have charity and humility; let us give alms since this washes our souls from the stains of our sins. For people lose everything they leave behind in this world; but they carry with them the rewards of charity and the alms which they gave, for which they will have a reward and a suitable remuneration from the Lord...

Upon all men and women, if they have done these things and have persevered to the end, the Spirit of the Lord will rest and he will make his home and dwelling among them. They will be children of the heavenly Father whose works they do. And they are spouses, brothers and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ... Oh, how glorious it is, how holy and great, to have a Father in heaven! Oh, how holy, consoling, beautiful and wondrous it is to have a Spouse! Oh, how holy... humble, peaceful, sweet, lovable, and desirable above all things to have such a Brother and Son, who laid down his life for his sheep and who prayed to the Father for us, saying: "Holy Father, protect those in your name whom you have given to me...; and I wish, Father, that where I am they also may be with me so that they may see my glory in your kingdom."

St Francis's First Rule, 17

In the love that is God, I beg all my brothers – those who preach, those who pray, those who work manually, clerics and lay brothers – to make every effort towards being humble in all things; not to glorify themselves, to find their joy or to become interiorly proud because of good words and good actions, which God sometimes says or does in them or through them. According to the Lord's word: “Do not rejoice... in the fact that the devils are subject to you.” (Lk 10:20) Let us be firmly convinced of the fact that of ourselves we have only faults and sins. Let us rather rejoice in trials when, in our soul and in our body, we have to bear all kinds of tribulations in this world for eternal life.

Brothers, let us thus beware of all pride and vainglory; let us beware of the wisdom of this world and of selfish prudence. The person who is enslaved by his selfish tendencies puts a great deal of effort into making speeches, but much less into passing on to action. Instead of seeking the interior religion and sanctity of the spirit, he desires an external religion and sanctity that are very visible to the eyes of human beings. It is of them that the Lord said: “You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid.” (Mt 6:2) On the contrary, the person who is docile to the Lord's spirit wants to humiliate what is selfish, vile and abject in the flesh. He puts great effort into being humble and patient, with pure simplicity and true peace of spirit. What he desires always above all other things is childlike fear of God, wisdom of God and love of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

St Francis of Assisi - Letter to a Franciscan provincial

May the Lord bless you (cf. Num 6:24a)! I speak to you, as I can, concerning the state of your soul. You should accept as a grace all those things which deter you from loving the Lord God and whoever has become an impediment to you, whether [they are] brothers or others (...) And love those who do these things to you. And do not expect anything different from them, unless it is something which the Lord shall have given to you (...)

And by this I wish to know if you love the Lord God and me, his servant and yours - if you have acted in this manner: that is, there should not be any brother in the world who has sinned, however much he may have possibly sinned, who, after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not to seek mercy, you should ask him if he wants mercy. And if he should sin thereafter a thousand times before your very eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him back to the Lord. Always be merciful to brothers such as these. And announce this to the guardians [of our communities], as you can, that on your part you are resolved to act in this way.