Saint Francis of Assisi was born circa 1181. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant who owned farmland around Assisi, Italy, and his mother was a beautiful Frenchwoman. He wanted for nothing as a child, and indulged in all the luxuries available to him. He lived in a time of troubadours, or poet-musicians, and Francis had the best of their characteristics. He was happy, he sang, he loved nature, and he spoke to the birds and animals and they listened to him.
Though he led a charmed life as a young man, he had a vision that encouraged him to give up all his worldly possessions and assume the life of a pauper. He committed his life to helping people and animals, and caring for the environment. His dedication to poverty, humility, obedience, patience, and compassion soon attracted followers and, in 1209, he received permission from Pope Innocent III to form a new religious order known as the Friars Minor (commonly called the Franciscans).
In 1224, Francis became the first saint in history to receive the stigmata (the wounds of Christ crucified). On October 4, 1226, Francis died in the town of Assisi and was quickly canonized by Pope Gregory IX. Today, over 3 million people a year make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Francis, revealing him to be one of the most popular and beloved saints of all time.
Every year on or around October 4, Christians throughout the world celebrate the Feast of St. Francis with prayers for creation and a blessing of the animals.
There are many stories about the life of Saint Francis and the following is perhaps one of the best known:
The following is perhaps the most popular story about Saint Francis:
In the city of Gubbio, Italy, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and so he went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.
“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.” Then Francis led the wolf into the town, and surrounded by startled citizens made a pact between them and the wolf. Because the wolf had “done evil out of hunger, the townsfolk were to feed the wolf regularly. In return, the wolf would no longer prey upon them or their flocks. In this manner Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again. Finally, to show the townspeople that they would not be harmed, Francis blessed the wolf.
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