Who was St Francis of Assisi?
Francis was born in Assisi, Italy in 1182. He grew up in a wealthy family. His father was a highly successful cloth merchant and he led a privileged life. Francis was a good student and be enjoyed learning and singing as a boy. As part of his education, he was taught French culture. His father taught him about the family business and wanted him to become a businessman.
St Francis as a Young Man:
About the age of nineteen Francis became a soldier and went into battle against the nearby town of Perugia. Francis was captured and taken prisoner. He was held in a dungeon for a year and was only released when his father paid ransom money in return for his freedom.
Over the next few years, Francis began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was sick with a high fever. At first he thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to"repair my church, which is falling in ruins."
Francis gave all his money to the church. His father became very angry with him. Francis then left his father's home and took a vow of poverty.
The Franciscan Order:
As Francis lived his life of poverty and preached to people about the life of Jesus Christ, people began to follow him. By 1209, he had around 11 followers. He had one basic rule which was "To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps". This required his followers to also take a vow of poverty. As numbers continued to grow, Francis travelled with many of his followers to Rome to get the approval for their religious Order from the pope. At first the pope was confronted by their vow of poverty but eventually he agreed to allow Francis to start the Franciscan Order because of his strong devotion to the Catholic Church.
Francis had a friend who lived in Assisi, a woman named Clare. Clare wanted to take similar vows, so Francis helped her start the Order of the Poor Ladies (Order of Saint Clare).
He also started another order (later called the Third Order of Saint Francis) that was for men and women who didn't take vows or leave their jobs, but lived out the principles of the Franciscan Order in their daily lives. Francis believed that actions provided the best example of a Christian life, telling his followers to "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words."
Love for Creation:
Francis immersed himself in nature. He loved writing about God's creation and there are many stories about Saint Francis preaching to animals. He talked to birds and some suggest that they sang back to him. It was also said that Francis could tame wild animals with the sign of the cross. Francis set up the first known Nativity scene which incorporated animals to celebrate Christmas in 1220.
Stigmata & Death:
Francis was the first person in recorded history to receive the 'stigmata'. This is where unexplained wounds appear on the hands, feet and side of the body which reflect the wounds of Christ's crucifixion. Francis experienced stigmata around 1224. The last few years of his life Francis was mostly blind. He died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141. He was declared a saint of the Catholic Church only two years after his death and his feast day is celebrated on the 4th October.