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The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
By Kim Aranha
Oct 1, 2007 - 4:08:58 PM

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The Feast of St. Francis of Assisi .

On Thursday, October 4th, churches all over the world will be celebrating St. Francis of Assisi Day. This much loved Saint was born in 1181 and died in 1226. It is truly remarkable that we are still celebrating his love of animals some 800 years after his life. It certainly goes to show what a remarkable person he must have been. I thought it would be interesting for the animal lovers if I did a little research and wrote about St. Francis.

He was born of a wealthy father, a cloth merchant, Pietro di Bernadone and a French mother called Pica. Little is known about his mother. It is, however, documented, that his father was away on business when Francis was born and that his mother, Pica, baptized him Giovanni di Bernadone after John the Baptist, in the hopes, that, her son would grow up to be a pious man of the Church. The Father was enraged on his return as he had no desire for his son to join the Church and renamed him Francesco (Francis) in honour of having a French mother.

In his youth Francis was a very rebellious young man, He hated his Father’s business and constant pursuit for money and spend endless hours reading. Of course, not to be forgotten was the fact that his wealthy Father was in a position to ensure that Francis received an excellent education and could read in several languages.

Though a scholarly youth it appears from various sources that he was also a party-going womanizer, and because he was wealthy he was surrounded by rowdy friends for whom he invariably paid! It did not take long for him to become disillusioned by this “wild” life and it came to a head one day, when, he was out with friends and approached by a beggar, his friends ignored the beggar, and mocked Francis for turning out his pockets and giving the pauper everything he had on him.

In 1201 he joined the military to fight Perugia , and was taken prisoner in Collestrada, after being held for a year he returned to his native Assisi , and resumed his wanton ways. In 1205 he was headed to enlist in the army of Gualtiero di Brienne when he had a vision that changed his ways and life.

He became deeply religious, and took to nursing the lepers He claimed to have had a mystical experience at the Church of San Damiano , when the Crucified Christ spoke to him. After this, his life became one of denial and “Lady Poverty” became his “bride”.   His merchant father attempted to bring him to his senses but to no avail...

His humility and kindness soon attracted other young men who chose to give up worldly pleasures and follow Francis to help the poor and spread the gospel. The Franciscan Order of Monks was formed in the early 1200’s. As the brotherhood grew its members spread to preach in France , Germany , Spain , and England . A sister Order was formed for women called the Franciscan Nuns or Poor Clares. I remember when I lived in Italy, these humble yet noble men, always regarded with affection,  in the brown robes and sandals, would enter places of business or cafés, making the sign of the cross saying “Pace, e bene” (peace and goodwill). People would always dig into their pockets and give them something.

Francis had a great love of animals. He was very fond of birds. He would refer to all animals as his brother and sisters. Legend has it that wild animals were not afraid of Francis, and nor was he afraid of them. They even came to him for safety when in danger of being harmed or sick. They say he could communicate with the animals. One day when Francis was travelling with friends, they came upon a place where there were many birds gathered. Francis told his friends to: “ wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds.” The birds surrounded him, attracted by the resonnance of his voice, they stayed and listened as he spoke to them, not moving:

“My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

There is also a lovely story about him and a wild wolf near the city of Gubbio, everybody was afraid of this wolf and maintained that he was   “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals.” When he found the wolf he made the sign of the cross and bid him lie down besides him, at his feet. . “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people.”. He then led the wolf to the town,   and in the midst of the amazed townspeople he made a “pact” with the wolf that the people would feed him regularily so he no longer needed to attack them or their animals. He also made a pact on behalf of the town dogs that they would no longer bother the wolf.. Many of these tales and more can be read in “Fioretti”, a collection of stories and legends collected after the Saint’s death.

These stories showcase his feeling towards animals and nature. In his “Canticle of the Sun”, written in 1224 he displays a love and appreciation of “Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, etc.” and all of God's creations personified in their fundamental forms. In "Canticle of the Creatures," he wrote: "All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.”

Legend has it that Saint Francis’s donkey was at his bedside and he thanked his donkey for carrying and helping him through his life and the donkey cried.

Francis died young, at age 44, in 1226 Pope Gregory IX declared him a Saint. His Order of Franciscan Monks continues to grow and these good men care for the aged and the poor, performing good deeds all over the world.

He believed that all men and animals should praise and obey the Lord and that it was their duty to ensure that nature be protected and nurtered because nature was created by God for us, his creatures, to protect.

His poems are highly regarded by critics, and he is considered to be the first Italian poet. It was his belief that people should pray in their own tongue and he therefore wrote in the Umbria dialect as opposed to Latin. His works are of great artisitc value as well as great religious value.  

I visited Assisi some 16 years ago. It is a very beautiful small city, perched atop of a hill. The small church is a very holey experience, I honestly felt his presence there.

Hats off to Archdeacon Keith Cartwright of St. Christopher’s Church, Lyford Cay, who is holding a special Blessing of the Animals on Thursday, October 4th at 1:00p.m.   What a blessing to have Clergy who care about animals too! Hopefully Archdeacon is not the only one in the Bahamas who will hold a special service, if he is, then perhaps others may be inspired to follow suit next year!

About the author: Kim Aranha grew up in the Berry Islands with her first dog, a beloved potcake named “Friendly” (who was anything but!).  First educated at home, and then in boarding school in Switzerland, Kim moved to Rome, Italy in 1974 to pursue a career in the dramatic arts and ended up working as an interpreter.  She moved back to The Bahamas in 1980, and now lives in Nassau with her husband Paul, and their two teenaged sons.  Kim has 3 dogs (soon to be 4), 5 fish (1 Beta, 4 Goldfish), 10 turtles (6 babies, 4 adolescents), 1 Asian box turtle and 4 Budgerigars. Her idea of relaxing is being home to take care of all her pets. Kim is a member of the board of the Bahamas Humane Society. Kim can be contacted at kimbva@coralwave.com


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